By Mike Murphy
President Donald Trump stunned many observers Monday by saying he’s been taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19, even though there’s no scientific evidence that it treats the coronavirus, much less prevents it.
Hydroxychloroquine is known to have potentially severe side effects, including heart-rhythm problems. Trump said that, while it was not recommended by his doctor, he requested the drug from the White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley.
Conley issued a statement late Monday, saying “we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” though he did not explicitly say he prescribed hydroxychloroquine to Trump, or that Trump is actually taking it.
Trump’s admission drew a sharp response from doctors, lawmakers and even Fox News.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto appeared stunned, warning his audience that the drug can lead to fatal consequences for some people.
“A VA study showed that among a population in a hospital receiving this treatment, those with vulnerable conditions — respiratory conditions, heart ailments — they died,” Cavuto said. “I want to stress again: They died. If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus or in a worst-case scenario you are dealing with the virus, and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you. I cannot stress enough: This will kill you.
“So again, whatever benefits the president says this has — and certainly has had for those suffering from malaria, dealing with lupus — this is a leap that should not be taken casually by those watching at home who are assuming, well, the president of the United States says it’s OK,” Cavuto continued. “Even the FDA was very cautious about this, unless in a clinical trial safely and deliberately watched. I only make this [observation] not to make a political point here, but a life-and-death point. Be very, very careful.”
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta agreed. “He shouldn’t be taking it,” he said on air of Trump, noting that “there’s no evidence” to suggest hydroxychloroquine works as a preventative measure.
“This is one of those things that I think is going to cause a lot of confusion in people, but, according to his own FDA, it should not be used outside a clinical trial or for patients not in the hospital,” Gupta said. “I hope, given his history of heart disease, he’s being monitored in some way so he doesn’t develop a problem. I’m not suggesting that he would ... but he obviously has to be careful.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, also pointed out Trump’s risk factors: “He’s our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group — morbidly obese, they say.”
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former Planned Parenthood president, tweeted her concerns, saying she’s “very concerned” about Trump “continuing to model behavior that could harm many Americans.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center, told the Wall Street Journal : “I certainly would not recommend that people in the U.S. ask their physicians to prescribe hydroxychloroquine for the prevention of COVID. Its use is entirely speculative.”
In a tweet, Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, warned: “It has potentially deadly side effects. I can’t stress this enough: Do NOT self-medicate with it.”
Others on social media and in public life were circumspect about Trump’s sudden assertion that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, and could be asserting the claim to confirm he was right all along about the drug he’d championed as a prospective game changer or to distract attention from other issues facing his administration at present, leading the phrase “He’s LYING” to trend on Twitter.
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, meanwhile, equated the currently serving president’s use of an unapproved COVID-19 remedy as a prophylactic against the pandemic disease to a former president’s use of an illegal recreational drug in his teen years, asking early Tuesday, “If the remedy is useless, so what? Why do [the media] care?”