White House pushes unproven drug

Scientists say more testing is needed before hydroxychloroquine is proven safe

April 07, 2020 10:53 pm | Updated 10:58 pm IST - WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump opening a COVID-19 test kit in Washington.

President Donald Trump opening a COVID-19 test kit in Washington.

President Donald Trump and his administration are promoting an anti-malaria drug not officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus , even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19 .

Mr. Trump’s Trade Adviser Peter Navarro championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews Monday, a day after the President publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“What do I know, I’m not a doctor,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday. “But I have common sense.” In promoting the drug’s possibilities, the President has often stated, “What have you got to lose?”

Mr. Trump held out promise for the drug as he grasps for ways to sound hopeful in the face of a mounting death toll and with the worst weeks yet to come for the U.S. The virus has killed more than 10,000 in the U.S., and measures meant to contain its spread have taken a painful economic toll and all but frozen life in large swaths of the country.

But medical officials warn that it’s dangerous to be hawking unproven remedies, and even Trump’s own experts have cautioned against it.

Severe side effects

The American Medical Association’s president, Dr. Patrice Harris, said 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.

“People have their health to lose,” she said. “Your heart could stop.”

In a heated Situation Room meeting of the White House’s coronavirus task force on Saturday, Mr. Navarro challenged the top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over his concerns about recommending the drug based only on unscientific anecdotal evidence.

Mr. Navarro, who has no formal medical training, erupted at Mr. Fauci, raising his voice and claiming the reports of studies he had collected were enough to recommend the drug widely, according to a person familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the blow-up.

Mr. Fauci has repeatedly said current studies provide only anecdotal findings that the drug works. In response, Mr. Navarro told CNN on Monday, “I would have two words for you- ‘second opinion.’”

Off-label prescribing

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.

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