US president Donald Trump has been taking hydroxychloroquine in an effort to protect himself from Covid-19, despite potentially serious side effects associated with the antimalarial drug he has controversially touted.
Mr Trump on Monday said he had been taking the drug for nearly two weeks. The US Food and Drug Administration last month warned hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, another antimalarial drug, could cause heart problems.
“I happen to be taking it, hydroxychloroquine,” Mr Trump said. “A couple of weeks ago I started taking it.”
“I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it is not good . . . I’m not going to get hurt,” said Mr Trump, who has previously said there was no risk of death from taking the drug since it was approved for malaria 40 years ago.
“I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this, when I announced this,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I’ve taken it for one and a half weeks now. And I’m still here. I’m still here.”
Mr Trump said he had told the White House doctor that he wanted to take the drug.
The White House later released a memo from Sean Conley, a Navy officer who serves as the president’s physician, which sparked questions about Mr Trump’s statement since he did not explicitly say that he had prescribed the medicine for Mr Trump.
“After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” Dr Conley said.
The revelation that Mr Trump is taking the drug comes two weeks after his personal valet became the first known White House official to test positive for coronavirus. A senior aide to Mike Pence, vice-president, also tested positive.
Dr Conley pointed out in his memo that the valet had tested positive, but stressed that the president had shown no symptoms of coronavirus. The White House declined to comment on whether Dr Conley had actually prescribed the medicine.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, said she would rather the president not take the drug since it “has not been approved”, and particularly because of Mr Trump’s age and the fact that he was “morbidly obese”.
Mr Trump had come under repeated fire over the past two months for hyping the drug as a “game changer” despite little evidence to suggest it could help patients with the coronavirus. The president stopped touting the drug without explanation around the time the FDA issued its warning about possible side effects.
He has repeatedly been criticised for making comments about possible cures that have been lambasted by scientists and caused concern inside his own White House coronavirus task force.
Mr Trump sparked disbelief last month when he suggested patients inject disinfectant into their bodies to combat the disease. The president claimed the following day the remarks were a “sarcastic” ploy to see how the media would respond.
The US National Institutes of Health warned last month that coronavirus patients should avoid taking a two-drug combination — hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin — which Mr Trump had also promoted as a cure for Covid-19. NIH experts cautioned the combination could trigger serious side effects, including poisoning.
The European Medicines Agency has also issued warnings about possible side effects.
Mr Trump’s comments about hydroxychloroquine on Monday emerged as part of an attack on Rick Bright, a former top health department official who has claimed he was demoted after resisting pressure to fund “potentially dangerous drugs”, including hydroxychloroquine, which he said were being pushed by people with “political connections”.
Mr Bright, the former head of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, last week told Congress the US faced its “darkest winter in modern history” if the administration did not improve its Covid-19 response.
The FDA has granted emergency authorisation for hydroxychloroquine for use in clinical trials and in controlled hospital settings.
Mr Trump has downplayed concerns while repeating anecdotal evidence to support his stance. After speaking to the Honduran president last month, he said the drug showed “incredible” results in the central American nation.
Asked on Monday what evidence he had that hydroxychloroquine worked for Covid-19, Mr Trump replied: “Here we go. Are you ready? Here’s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it.”
The president said the “only negative” report he had heard was related to a study of patients at military hospitals for veterans, adding they were “people that aren’t big Trump fans”.
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