/Trump says hes taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug he touted as coronavirus treatment, despite FDA warnings

Trump says hes taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug he touted as coronavirus treatment, despite FDA warnings

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Monday he is taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug that he’s repeatedly touted as a treatment for coronavirus, despite warnings about its effectiveness. 

“I happen to be taking it,” Trump said during a roundtable discussion with restaurant executives at the White House. “I hope to not be able to take it soon, you know, because I hope that they come up with some answer. But I think people should be allowed to.” 

The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a related drug, for COVID-19 treatment outside of hospitals or clinical trials due to the 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 warned. Both can cause abnormal heart rhythms and a dangerously rapid heart rate, the statement said.

Hydroxychloroquine is FDA-approved to treat or prevent malaria as well as autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Trump, who said he has tested negative for COVID-19, said he has been taking the drug daily for about a week and a half as an added measure to avoid getting the coronavirus. He said the White House physician “didn’t recommend” hydroxychloroquine but offered it to him. 

Two recent observational studies of coronavirus patients suggested the drug has little impact in treating the disease. The studies, while not the same as a clinical trial, suggested that the drug did not significantly reduce complications from the virus or death.

Trump told reporters that along with taking the drug, he is being tested for COVID-19 every couple of days. The president said he is taking zinc and took an initial dose of the antibiotic azithromycin.

The White House tightened safety precautions after two aides tested positive for the COVID-19 and three members of the coronavirus task force entered quarantine over concerns they attended meetings with one of the staff members diagnosed with the virus. 

The West Wing requires aides to wear masks when they are not at their desks and for anyone who is in close proximity to the president and Vice President Mike Pence to be tested daily. 

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The White House has said that people who come in close proximity with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are tested. 

“You’d be surprised about how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers, before you catch it,” Trump said before revealing he was among those taking the drug.

The president had touted the drug for weeks, frequently discussing anecdotal evidence of its impact from the podium during daily White House briefings. His administration stockpiled 29 million doses of the drug earlier in the pandemic. 

Trump has also touted remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug developed by American biotech firm Gilead Sciences for Ebola, that was cleared by the FDA to treat patients with the coronavirus. Early data from a global study released last month found patients given remdesivir recovered faster and may be less likely to die, but another study found no clinical benefits to the drug.

The drug remdesivir has come up about 15 times in official White House remarks, sometimes from the president and sometimes from other health officials. Hydroxychloroquine, by contrast, has been raised about four times as often in those settings.

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The 73-year-old president has been found to generally be in good health, according to his annual physicals, though like many Americans he takes a statin drug designed to lower his cholesterol. Trump took “portions” of his physical exam in November, but the White House never disclosed whether he returned to complete that assessment.

When asked why he’s taking it, the president said he’s “heard a lot of good stories.” 

“And if it’s not good … I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years,” he added. 

The FDA has warned consumers not to buy the drug from online pharmacies without a prescription from a health care professional. 

Doctors, including director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, have said it’s impossible to know if hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine – another drug the president has pushed – is effective or safe to treat COVID-19. 

Several clinical trials to test the drugs on COVID-19 patients are underway. 

Matthew Heinz, who helped coordinate the federal response with health care workers during the Ebola crisis under the Obama administration, said hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause “serious, sometimes life threatening, adverse effects including prolonged QT interval and fatal cardiac arrhythmia.”

“This is especially true when so many people already have underlying cardiac and other medical conditions – they are even more susceptible to such side effects,” he said.

Heinz, a physician at Tucson Medical Center in Arizona, also warned that encouraging off-label use of hydroxychloroquine has caused shortages of the medication for patients who rely on the drug for conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Other health experts were quick to weigh in on Twitter.

“If I were the president’s physician, I would strongly recommend against taking hydroxychloroquine as a ‘preventive,'” tweeted Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “No evidence of benefit Lots of evidence of harm.”

“This is a medication that has serious side effects,” tweeted Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood and former health commissioner for Baltimore. “I am very concerned about @realDonaldTrump continuing to model behavior that could harm many Americans.”

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Contributing: Elizabeth Weise