“What do you have to lose?” Trump said Sunday. “What do I know? I’m not a doctor.”
President Donald Trump spent much of Sunday’s White House briefing defending his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as an unproven treatment for coronavirus, then cut off infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci when a reporter directed questions about the drug his way.
“What’s the medical evidence,” a reporter asked Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Before Fauci could vocalize a response, however, the president jumped in.
“Do you know how many times he’s answered that question? Maybe 15 times,” Trump interjected. “You don’t have to ask the question.”
Trump has publicly clashed with the scientist several times, even taking the opposing position against Fauci’s stance on stay-at-home orders. With the encouragement of personal lawyer turned science advisor Rudy Giuliani, he’s lauding the malaria drug as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, despite no definitive proof that hydroxychloroquine is effective. According to Sunday’s briefing, he’s approved the purchase of 29 million doses, despite Fauci’s opinion that the evidence is weak and needs more rigorous testing.
“The evidence you are talking about is anecdotal evidence. … We’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available,” Fauci said. “We do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us the information to determine if it’s truly safe and effective. But … it was not done in a controlled clinical trial — so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
Meanwhile, Trump told reporters at Sunday’s Coronavirus Task Force briefing: “What do you have to lose? What do I know? I’m not a doctor.”
In an interview with CNN, Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, countered: “You could lose your life.”
She also said she currently would not prescribe hydroxychloroquine if she had a coronavirus patient, despite Trump’s laissez faire rationale. Side effects of the drug can include fatal heart problems when patients have compromised cardiac issues, or when taken with common drugs such as antidepressants.
A Phoenix-area man died and his wife was in critical condition after the two, influenced by White House briefings where the president touted the drug, took a veterinary medicine that listed it in the ingredients.
“We were afraid of getting sick,” the wife said, so the couple drank a small amount as a way to prevent the coronavirus.
The contrasting messaging about the drug from the president and Fauci is confusing public policy on the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration last week gave emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of antimalarial drugs to COVID-19 patients. No substantial clinical trials have yet been completed. Using its emergency powers, the agency rested on Trump’s reasoning that hopes for the unapproved treatment outweighed the risks.