Coronavirus: Trump taking unproven drug hydroxychloroquine

By on May 19, 2020

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Media captionTrump taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent coronavirus

US President Donald Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus, even though health officials have warned it may be unsafe.

Speaking at the White House, he told reporters he started taking the malaria and lupus medication recently.

“I’m taking it for about a week and a half now and I’m still here, I’m still here,” was his surprise announcement.

There is no evidence hydroxychloroquine can fight off coronavirus, though clinical trials are under way.

What did Trump say?

The 73-year-old president was hosting a meeting devoted to the struggling restaurant industry on Monday, when he caught reporters unawares by revealing he was taking the drug.

“You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers before you catch it, the frontline workers, many, many are taking it,” he told reporters. “I happen to be taking it.”

Asked what was his evidence of hydroxychloroquine’s positive benefits, Mr Trump said: “Here’s my evidence, I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

When asked whether the White House physician recommended he start taking the disputed remedy, Mr Trump said he himself had requested it.

“I asked him, ‘what do you think?’ He said, ‘well, if you’d like it.’ I said, ‘yeah, I’d like it.'”

Though some people in the White House have tested positive for coronavirus, the president said again on Monday he had “zero symptoms” and was being tested frequently.

He added that he has been taking a daily zinc supplement and had a single dose of azithromycin, an antibiotic meant to prevent infection.

Mr Trump also told reporters on Monday that hydroxychloroquine “seems to have an impact”.

“And maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get sick and die.”

He added: “I’ve heard a lot of good stories and if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right I’m not going to get hurt by it.”

What have US health officials said?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month issued an advisory saying that hydroxychloroquine has “not been shown to be safe and effective”.

It cited reports that the drug can cause serious heart rhythm problems in Covid-19 patients.

The FDA warned against use of the medication outside hospitals, where the agency has granted temporary authorisation for its use in some cases.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says there are no approved drugs or therapeutics to prevent or treat Covid-19.

Centre of attention again

Donald Trump knows how to drive a news cycle.

Going into his meeting with restaurant businesses, there were a lot of threads to the day’s events, including the stock market surging based on positive news about a possible coronavirus vaccine. Coming out of the meeting, all anyone in the media could talk about was Mr Trump’s announcement that he has been taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for more than a week now.

Some of the president’s critics will see this unprompted revelation as a nefarious effort to distract from bad news elsewhere. Some will see this as another instance of the president stepping on what should have been a good news day.

Or perhaps he was simply unwilling to acknowledge that his past trumpeting of the drug as a miracle cure wasn’t just premature, it was ill-advised.

Whatever the reason, Mr Trump has once again made himself the centre of attention – and there’s no doubt he’s perfectly happy with that.

What else did Trump say?

The president dismissed reports of severe side effects from hydroxychloroquine, saying the “only negative” he had heard of was from one study where the drug was administered to “people in extraordinarily bad condition”.

He said that that “very unscientific report” was conducted by “people that aren’t big Trump fans”.

Mr Trump was apparently referring to a preliminary study from April of Covid-19 patients in US government-run hospitals for military veterans that suggested hydroxychloroquine had no benefit and may have even caused a greater rate of deaths.

“I get a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydroxy, and I say… what do you have to lose?” the president told reporters. “At some point, I’ll stop.”

Mr Trump dismissed reports of side effects, saying: “All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK.”

According to doctors, the drug has the potential to cause symptoms including heart failure, suicidal thoughts and signs of liver disease.

What have other medical experts said?

Two recent studies, each involving around 1,400 Covid-19 patients in New York, did not find any benefits from hydroxychloroquine.

Another study by French researchers involved 84 hospital patients taking the drug and 97 others who received standard care. It concluded hydroxychloroquine had no impact for better or worse.

Last month, the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists issued a joint statement opposing the use of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 prevention.

They said the drug should be administered if at all “with extreme caution”.

Last month, the former director of a federal vaccine agency claimed in a whistleblower complaint that he was removed for refusing to promote the drug.

The health department has rejected Dr Rick Bright’s complaint, and the president has called him a “disgruntled” employee.

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