US President Donald Trump on Monday announced he has been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine along with a zinc supplement he has touted as a game-changer in the battle against Covid-19 despite warnings of fatal side-effects issued by his own drug regulator, backed since by studies.
“You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers, before you catch it. The front-line workers — many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it — Hydroxychloroquine,” Trump told reporters unprompted at a roundtable with restaurant owners, who have been hit the hardest as a sector.
“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” he added, addressing the effect of his stunning announcement on reporters and the country.
Trump said he feels fine, has no symptoms and has tested negative repeatedly. He is using the drug combination as a prophylactic, he said, like “many frontline” health workers and doctors. He was not prescribed the drug combination by the White House physician, he clarified, but was given the go-ahead when he checked with him.
Commander Sean Conley, the president’s physician from US Navy, said in a statement that after a member of the president’s staff tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks ago — the valet — he and Trump had numerous discussions regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine and “we concluded the potential benefit from treatment (using the drug) outweighed the relative risks”.
Commander Conley added that he continues to monitor studies and reports about the use of the antimalarial drug and in consultation with public health officials and experts he anticipates “employing the same shared medical decision-making based on the evidence at hand in the future”.
The US Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency-use authorization for hydroxychloroquine for clinical trial and to be administered to patients under close supervision of physicians it as also warned of side-effects such as “potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems”.
The drug’s side-effects have been corroborated in an increasing number of studies in the United States and abroad.
Cardiac arrest was found to be a key side-effect in a large observational study of the use of the antimalarial drug in combination with the antibiotic among more than 1,400 Covid-19 patients in New York hospital, according to an announcement by University of Albany researchers last week. By itself, hydroxychloroquine had no side-effects. But the drugs, in combination or separately, were found to have had no significant benefits.
This was the largest study yet of the drug’s safety and efficacy for treating Covid-19 patients, but it was observational. Results of randomized clinical trial, the gold standard for drugs, is awaited.
President Trump had noticeably stopped touting the drug around the time, but it appears he had been using it already by then, convinced by what, as he said Monday, he was hearing from hundreds of doctors and people.
The president is leery of studies and analyses that question the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and its earlier avatar chloroquine. And on Monday, he dissed an earlier study of patients conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs, telling reporters it was conducted among very ill patients, suggesting, therefore, it was not tried as a preventative, which is how he has been using it.
President Trump began promoting the drug as a “game-changer” mid -March when Covid-19 had begun to take a heavy toll on the country with spiking infections and fatalities. Experts of the White House task force would shortly say they feared the virus could kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans.
Two weeks later, President Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to request him to allow a large US order of hydroxychloroquine to go through. India, a leading manufacturer of medicines and supplier of 40% of over-the-counter drugs in the US, had banned the export of more than two dozen drugs at the time to protect and preserve its supplies from China’s predatory shopping spree driven by its panicky response to growing global outrage over its failure to contain and kill the epidemic that started on its soil in December.