President Donald Trump on Sunday again strongly backed hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with COVID-19, despite scant scientific evidence that it’s an effective treatment.
“ “What do you have to lose?” ”
That’s what Trump said Sunday during a White House news briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, adding: “I’m not looking at it one way or another. But we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early.”
“What do I know? I’m not a doctor,” Trump said. “But I have common sense. The FDA feels good about it, as you know, they approved it.”
The FDA has not approved hydroxychloroquine, a popular malaria and lupus treatment, to treat COVID-19, though it has granted it limited emergency-use authorization. But medical experts warn that reports of the drug’s benefits for COVID-19 patients are anecdotal and small-scale, and there is little scientific evidence yet that it works against the coronavirus.
Trump said the U.S. government has stockpiled 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills, and other administration officials have also pushed the drug’s use.
“We don’t have time to say, ‘Gee, let’s take a couple of years and test it out, and let’s go and test with the test tubes and the laboratories,’” Trump said Sunday, claiming that even if it’s not effective against the coronavirus, there’s no harm in trying because “it doesn’t kill people.”
It actually could, though. Medical experts warn of its potentially severe side effects, which can include impaired vision, hearing loss, paranoia and cardiac arrhythmias, which could be fatal for patients with heart problems or who are taking certain anti-depressants. “It is not like water. It is not harmless,” one emergency room doctor and research scientist said.
Health experts also worry that the administration’s touting of chloroquine has already created a shortage, making it unavailable for some patients with longstanding prescriptions for the drug.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly said it’s too soon to say if the drug would be effective.
“In terms of science, I don’t think we can definitively say it works,” Fauci told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
When a reporter asked Fauci’s opinion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment on Sunday, Trump interrupted before he could answer. “He has answered that question 15 times. You don’t have to answer that question,” Trump said.
Earlier Sunday, Axios reported that Fauci and Trump’s top economic adviser, Peter Navarro, got in a testy dispute Saturday during a closed-door meeting over whether the White House should support the use of hydroxychloroquine.