President Donald Trump doubled down on his defense of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for use to combat the coronavirus, saying no one would die from the pill.
'You not going to die from this pill. There could be some side effects but the side effects is more so from the Z pack,' he said Tuesday at his daily White House press briefing, referring to the antibiotic Zithromax-Pak, which can adversely affect people with certain heart conditions.
Trump has become a champion for hydroxychloroquine despite doubts from some medical officials about its efficiency in treating the virus, pointing to the lack of reputable scientific studies.
The president was quizzed about the drug's side effects but noted his lack of a medical degree.
'I am not a doctor,' the president said. 'I'm saying that we hear great results.'
President Trump doubled down on his defense of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus
He advised people to get advice from a doctor before taking it.
'Again, I'm not a doctor. I say get a physician's approval. They have physicians in these hospitals, great physicians, brave physicians. They also say it's good for the hospital workers to take them. That it keeps it away,' he noted.
The president was lobbied to use hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus during an Oval Office visit from Fox News host Laura Ingraham and two doctors who are frequent guests on her show.
Side effects of hydroxychloroquine
Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, or headache
slow heartbeat, symptoms of heart failure (such as shortness of breath, swelling ankles/feet, unusual tiredness, unusual/sudden weight gain)
mental/mood changes (such as anxiety, depression, rare thoughts of suicide, hallucinations)
hearing changes (such as ringing in the ears, hearing loss), easy bruising/bleeding
signs of infection or liver disease
muscle weakness, unwanted/uncontrolled movements (including tongue/face twitching), hair loss, hair/skin color changes
low blood sugar, severe dizziness, fainting, fast/irregular heartbeat, seizures
- from WebMD
Trump, in his daily briefing Tuesday, talked about Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who he saw on Ingraham's show the previous evening talking about her experience with the drug.
'A woman last night, I watched her on one of the shows, good show, Laura, and she thought she was dead. She was a representative from Michigan. She was just in horrible shape for 12 days, 14 days. She thought she was dead. I think she said that her doctor said it's going to be very tough. She saw me talking about this and she asked her husband to go to the drugstore. This is a Democrat representative, a person that you know perhaps wouldn't be voting for me. I think she will be voting for me now even if she's a Democrat,' he said.
'She asked her husband, she said please go out. I'm not going to make it. You have to hear her story. Please go out and get it. He went at 10:00 in the evening to the drugstore and he got it. He gave it to her. I don't say it works like this but four hours later she woke and she said I feel better. And then shortly thereafter she felt great,' the president said.
Whitsett, in her interview with Ingraham, said she had heard of hydroxychloroquine because she has chronic lyme disease but noted the drug 'saved my life.'
'If President Trump had not talked about this it would not have been accessible to everyone,' she said.
She said she felt better within a few hours of taking the anti-malaria.
She spent most of her five minute interview with Ingraham talking about how difficult it was to get tested for the virus.
'It was a very long process,' she said.
And, it was revealed on Tuesday, Trump has a financial stake in a French firm that makes the drug.
The president came out of the Oval Office meeting with Ingraham full of enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine, which has shown some promise but has not undergone rigorous testing for its treatment of COVID-19, The Washington Post reported.
And Trump has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French company that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine, The New York Times reported.
President Donald Trump was lobbied to use hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus during an Oval Office visit from Fox News host Laura Ingraham
Laura Ingraham brought two doctors who frequently appear on her show with her to the Oval Office meeting to talk to President Trump about hydroxychloroquine
But the investment is part of the Trump family's larger stake in a mutual fund whose largest holding is in Sanofi. The French drugmaker also manufactures many other drugs and there is no suggestion that Trump is motivated by personal gain and may even be unaware of the investment.
Sanofi does not market hydroxychloroquine in the United States or in the United Kingdom, according to the company.
Trump repeatedly has advocated for hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment option for the coronavirus even as many medical officials - including Dr. Tony Fauci, who sits on the White House Coronavirus Task Force - have urged a more cautious approach, noting the lack of reputable scientific studies on hydroxychloroquine.
But the president's focus on the drug comes from a combination and optimism, sources told The Post, as Trump looks for a magic bullet to make the pandemic go away and let the economy reopen in time to recover before November's election.
'The president lives in a world of wishes and hope,' one person said.
'It's the only thing anyone has held out as offering an immediate reprieve from what's become his greatest challenge - and political threat,' said a former senior administration official. This official described Trump's 'overwhelming desire for a silver bullet to make it all go away.'
Trump has given his own reasons for advocating the drug.
'I want people to live and I'm seeing people dying,' he explained Sunday during his daily press briefing.
'What really do we have to lose?' he asked after announcing his administration had bought 29 million doses of the drug to combat the virus.
'But what do I know? I'm not a doctor,' Trump conceded. 'I'm not acting as a doctor. I'm saying, do what you want.'
Ingraham has promoted hydroxychloroquine on her 10 p.m. Fox News show.
When she met with the president, she brought with her two of the guests she refers to as her 'medical cabinet': Ramin Oskoui, a Washington D.C.-based cardiologist, and Stephen Smith, a New Jersey-based infectious disease specialist.
Ingraham brought to her Trump meeting two of the guests she refers to as her 'medical cabinet': Ramin Oskoui, a Washington D.C.-based cardiologist, and Stephen Smith, a New Jersey-based infectious disease specialist
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn was in the room as well at the president's request.
Smith, a graduate of Yale Medical School who is a former fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave the president a presentation about hydroxychloroquine based on his own experiences and studies, two White House officials and a person familiar with the meeting told The Post.
Smith told the newspaper he walked Trump through a spreadsheet and other documents about how the drug works.
'I'm a guy who looks at data,' Smith said. 'I came as a scientist and physician. I trained under Dr. Fauci and respect him a lot.'
And he told Ingraham on her show Wednesday night: 'I think this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic. I'm very serious.'
He also told her that none of his coronavirus patients who have been on a hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin regimen for five days or more has had to be intubated.
Oskoui, meanwhile, advised Trump on health care policy during the 2016 campaign. And, in 2018, he wrote an op-ed for LifeZette, the conservative news website founded by Ingraham where he's listed as a senior health care adviser, arguing that school shootings could be prevented by taking teenagers off of certain anti-depressants.
He advocated for hydroxychloroquine on Ingraham's show last week.
'We don't have time to do beautiful, randomized clinical trials. We know these drugs have a very good safety margin,' Oskoui said. 'These drugs are clearly effective and safe. They're cheap and they're easy to access. The biggest problem with hydroxychloroquine may be getting enough of it.'
The American Medical Association's president, Dr Patrice Harris, told the Associated Press she personally would not prescribe the drug for a coronavirus patient, saying the risks of severe side effects were 'great and too significant to downplay' without large studies showing the drug is safe and effective for such use.
Harris pointed to the drug's high risk of causing heart rhythm problems.
'People have their health to lose,' she said. 'Your heart could stop.'
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has been procuring hydroxychloroquine and got into a heated fight with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the effectiveness of the drug
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has urged caution when it comes to the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus
In a heated Situation Room meeting of the White House's coronavirus task force Saturday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro challenged Dr. Anthony Fauci over his concerns about recommending the drug based only on unscientific anecdotal evidence.
Navarro, who has no formal medical training, erupted at Fauci, raising his voice and claiming the reports of studies he had collected were enough to recommend the drug widely, a person familiar with the exchange told Axios.
Fauci has repeatedly said current studies provide only anecdotal findings that the drug works. In response, Navarro told CNN on Monday, 'I would have two words for you: 'second opinion.'
Navarro has been trying to source hydroxychloroquine from around the world as part of his role as coordinator of implementing Defense Production Act policy.
Trump announced last Thursday that he was invoking the Defense Production Act to help clear up supply-chain issues with manufacturing ventilators and producing additional N95 face masks.
The president put Navarro in charge of coordinating those efforts.
During an impromptu White House press briefing Sunday evening, Trump stopped Fauci from answering a question from a reporter about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.
When reporters tried to get Fauci's opinion on the drug – after he previously warned against seeing the malaria medication as a wonder drug – Trump stepped in and stopped the question.
'We're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. And hopefully in the not-too-distant future we'll be very proud of the job we all did,' Trump said, instead of letting Fauci answer.
Fauci has warned Americans not to consider it a 'knock out' drug when it comes to the coronavirus.
'We’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug. We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitely prove whether any intervention is truly safe and effective,' he told 'Fox & Friends' on Friday.
Hydroxychloroquine pills: President Trump and his administration kept up their promotion of the malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus
Hydroxychloroquine is officially approved for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, not COVID-19. Small, preliminary studies have suggested it might help prevent the new coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But those have shown mixed results.
Doctors are already prescribing the malaria drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing.
Research studies are now beginning to test if the drugs truly help COVID-19 patients, and the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the medication into the national stockpile as an option for doctors to consider for patients who cannot get into one of the studies.
But the drug has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, and Fauci has said more testing is needed before it's clear that the drug works against the virus and is safe for such use.
Some limited studies have been conducted on the use of hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin in concert to treat COVID-19, but they have not included critical control groups that scientists use to validate the conclusions.
Researchers in China, for instance, reported that cough, pneumonia and fever seemed to improve sooner among 31 patients given hydroxychloroquine compared with 31 others who did not get the drug, but fewer people in the comparison group had cough or fevers to start with.
Many questions have been raised about another study in France. Some of the 26 people given hydroxychloroquine in that test were not counted in the final results, including three who worsened and were sent to intensive care, one who died a day after later testing negative for the virus and one who stopped treatment because of nausea.
The French study was published in an International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy journal. The society's president wrote on its website that the report 'does not meet the society's expected standard.'