U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a preventative measure against the coronavirus, or COVID-19, despite warnings that it can cause heart problems.
“I think it gives you an additional level of safety,” Trump told reporters after attending an event with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “But you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. Many frontline workers won’t go there unless they have the hydroxy.”
“This is an individual decision to make,” he added. “But it’s had a great reputation and if it was somebody else other than me people would say, ‘Gee isn’t that smart.'”
Trump told reporters on Monday that he has taken hydroxychloroquine, which he has touted as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, on a daily basis.
“A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it,” he said. “All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK.”White House physician Sean Conley, in a memo released hours after Trump made the declaration, said that he and Trump “concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks” after their “numerous” discussions regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine.
“In consultation with our inter-agency partners and subject matter experts around the country, I continued to monitor the myriad studies investigating potential COVID-19 therapies, and I anticipate employing the same shared medical decision making based on the evidence at hand in the future,” Conley said.
The assessment was at odds with studies from the medical community, which have highlighted the drug’s unproven efficacy and known potential side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in late April against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 “outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.”
“Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19,” the FDA said in a release. “They are being studied in clinical trials for COVID-19.”
Separately, a study released by the U.S. Veterans Health Administration last month suggested the drug was ineffective in treating patients with COVID-19 and found that the two primary outcomes for patients treated with the drug were the need for mechanical ventilation and death.
Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told CNBC in an interview on Monday that he thinks doctors who were taking hydroxychloroquine “prophylactically” have pulled back.
“Because a lot of the subsequent data hasn’t been encouraging,” Gottlieb said. “We want this to work, but it doesn’t seem like it’s working, at least in the studies that we have right now.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed to CBS News on Tuesday that Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine. “I can absolutely confirm that,” McEnany said. “The president said himself he’s taking it. That’s a given fact. He said it. The president should be taken at his word.”
In another interview with Fox News, McEnany urged caution in using hydroxychloroquine.”Any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor.
You have to have a prescription. That’s the way it must be done,” she said. “The president has said pretty widely that this is a drug that he had looked at with optimism, but nevertheless he said that this is a decision that must be made with the doctor.”
Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that he is not taking hydroxychloroquine. “My physician hasn’t recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise,” Pence told Fox News in an interview.