Since the middle of March, Donald Trump has been pushing hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug he has described as a "miracle" and a "game changer" in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
A review of transcripts from Trump's daily coronavirus task force briefings shows that Trump touted the drug more than a dozen times, and patted himself on the back for securing millions of doses for doctors to use to treat COVID-19.
But beginning on April 13 — when reports started surfacing that use of hydroxychloroquine proved to have deadly side effects — Trump suddenly went silent on the topic. A review of briefing transcripts reveals he hasn't pushed the drug or praised it effusively the way he did previously since then.
Prior to April 13, Trump had promoted the drug and pointed to the number of doses his administration secured to help treat COVID-19 almost every day for nearly a month.
Below is a timeline of Trump's promotion of the drug, including when reports started popping up about how the drug was ineffective and shown to have caused deadly heart complications for some patients.
Dr. Deborah Birx received a question about a French study of hydroxychorloquine at a White House news briefing on March 18.
"Dr. Birx, French researchers have had some luck with hydroxychloroquine in shortening the duration of disease. Is that something that might be in the arsenal of therapeutics here in the United States?" a reporter asked.
Birx replied, "I think we're exploring every one of those issues. The president asked for a critical briefing on that today; he opened with that."
Trump first made mention of the drug the very next day, calling it a "game changer" in treating COVID-19.
"So you have remdesivir and you have chloroquine and ... hydroxychloroquine. So those are two that are out now, essentially approved for prescribed use," Trump said at one of his daily news conferences. "And I think it's going to be very exciting. I think it could be a game changer and maybe not. And maybe not. But I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game changer. Very powerful. They're very powerful."
In a call with governors later that day, Trump once again touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
"We have a drug called chloroquine. A derivation would be hydroxychloroquine, which I hear even better about. It's a common malaria drug. It's been available, so therefore the safety level we understand very well. It's been relatively safe. And it showed very encouraging early results. Really encouraging," Trump said.
Reporters started asking questions about the drug and its possible risks, given that the evidence that it worked to treat COVID-19 was based on two small and flawed studies out of China and France.
Dr. Anthony Fauci — an infectious disease expert on Trump's coronavirus task force — knocked down the idea that the drug could be used to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"No. The answer is no," Fauci said at a daily news briefing. "And the evidence that you're talking about ... is anecdotal evidence. So as the commissioner of [Food and Drug Administration] and the president mentioned yesterday, we're trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available, at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it's truly safe and truly effective."
Trump followed Fauci's comments with his own optimism about the drug.
"I think, without saying too much, I'm probably more of a fan of that than — maybe than anybody," Trump said, referring to hydroxychloroquine. "But I'm a big fan, and we'll see what happens. And we all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It's early. But we've — you know, I've seen things that are impressive."
"I feel very confident," Trump said at the time. "I mean, I've seen things that surprise me, frankly. There are — as [Dr. Fauci] said, there are other things we're looking at too. Vaccine, of course, is incredible, but this is more immediate."
Trump said at a daily news conference that there were talks about prescribing hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
He said that researchers in New York were going to start testing it.
"I think they're going to start the process. We've gotten them the drug," Trump said. "I think they're going to start the process of giving the drug — mouth — you know, through — through mouth. And I think that starts on Tuesday morning. And that'll be — I mean, I tell you what: I don't want to get anybody overly excited, but I'm very excited by that, by the prospect of it."
Trump again promoted the drug at one of his daily news conferences.
"I'm pleased to report that clinical trials in New York will begin existing for existing drugs that may prove effective against the virus," Trump said. "At my direction, the federal government is working to help obtain large quantities of chloroquine. And you can look from any standpoint tomorrow, in New York — we think tomorrow pretty early — the hydroxychloroquine and the Z-Pak, I think as a combination, probably, is looking very, very good. And it's going to be distributed."
Trump claimed at a daily news conference on March 27 that the drug wouldn't kill anyone, and that he wanted it to be in use now before clinical trials, which he claimed would take too long.
"So, look, hydroxychloroquine is — is a very powerful drug for certain things, and it's a very successful drug. There's reason to believe that it could be successful here," he said.
He added, "But this is not something that's going to kill people. So, we can go in and we can test, or we can take our time."
The FDA approved an Emergency Use Authorization for hydroxychloroquine, allowing health care providers to administer the drug "to treat adult and adolescent patients ... hospitalized with COVID-19, for whom a clinical trial is not available, or participation is not feasible."
At his daily news conference, Trump thanked the FDA commissioner for giving the drug emergency approval for use.
"I want to point out that the hydroxychloroquine is being administered to 1,100 patients — people in New York — along with the Z-Pak, which is azithromycin. And it's very early yet; it's only — it started two days ago. But we will see what happens," Trump said.
"I want to thank Stephen Hahn, who's a great doctor — left one of the best jobs in our country running an incredible Hospital in Texas. And he's the head of the FDA. And Stephen got approval for that so fast," Trump added.
Trump spoke at his daily news conference and boasted about how the government had secured millions of doses of the drug for use.
"Thirty million doses of the hydroxychloroquine to the United States government has been given," Trump said. "And Bayer has donated 1 million doses of the chloroquine, which will soon be distributed to states and state health officials around the country. Teva Pharmaceuticals is also donating 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to U.S. hospitals. That's 6 million doses. So the private sector ... has been amazing."
At yet another daily news conference, Trump said he had yet to hear bad news about the trials of the drug, but added it's "a little bit too soon" to know what the trials were finding.
He claimed, however, that because the drug had been around for some time, it was safe for use.
"The one thing with the drug you just mentioned — right? — is that that's been out. It's a malaria drug and also an arthritis drug. So it's been out there for a long time. A very powerful drug. But it's been out there for a long time. So it's tested in the sense that you know it doesn't kill you," Trump said.
Trump again touted hydroxychloroquine.
"We continue to study the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and other therapies, and the treatment and prevention of the virus," Trump said at a daily news conference. "And we will keep the American people fully informed on our findings. Hydroxychloroquine — I don't know, it's looking like it's having some good results. I hope that — that would be a phenomenal thing."
Trump said those sick with COVID-19 should use the drug, despite the lack of clinical evidence that it helps.
"And I hope they use the hydroxychloroquine, and they can also do it with Z-Pak, subject to your doctor's approval, and all of that. But I hope they use it because I'll tell you what: What do you have to lose?" Trump said at his daily news conference. "In some cases, they're in bad shape. What do you have to lose? It's been out there for a long time, and I hope they use it. And they're going to look at the — with doctors. Work with doctors. Get what you have to get. But we have it stockpiled, and it's — we have a lot of it, and we're getting more of it."
Trump also said he would take the drug if he came down with COVID-19.
"But I think people should — if it were me — in fact, I might do it anyway. I may take it. Okay? I may take it. And I'll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it," he said.
Trump once again highlighted how many doses of the drug his administration secured as a way to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
"And the other thing that we bought a tremendous amount of is the hydroxychloroquine — hydroxychloroquine — which I think — as you know, it's a great malaria drug. It's worked unbelievably," Trump said at another one of his daily news conferences. "It's this powerful drug on malaria. And there are signs that it works on this. Some very strong signs. And, in the meantime, it's been around a long time. It also works very powerfully on lupus. Lupus."
Trump told an anecdote about a state representative from Michigan who he claimed used the drug and recovered.
"You read about State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who I very much appreciate her going public," Trump said at a daily news conference. "But she was, I think, very, very much helped by this pill. She saw what I was saying on television. She thought she was in very bad shape. I don't want to go further than that, but you see her story; you know her story. She's a highly respected state rep from Michigan. And she did a — she did a — I think she did a great service, what she what she's done. She's in terrific shape. She looks fantastic. And she was very generous with her statements."
Trump again mentioned how many millions of doses of the drug he had secured.
"And I'm pleased to inform you — we're just having — a lot of good things are happening, but we'll have to see how that all works out. But we have — we've purchased and we have stockpiled millions and millions of doses, and we're distributing it," Trump said at a news conference. "Some states want it very badly. Michigan — we just sent a lot to Michigan and other areas."
Trump made yet another comment about how many doses of hydroxychloroquine he had sent to various states.
"Since Monday, we've deployed two major shipments of hydroxychloroquine from our National Stockpile. And it's going to various cities," Trump said at his daily news conference.
The New York Times reported that a study of hydroxychloroquine in Brazil was halted, after it was found that patients were developing deadly heart complications.
Trump claimed one of his friends took the drug and got better, but did not name names.
"Over the last seven days, my administration has deployed roughly 28 million doses of hydroxychloroquine from our National Stockpile," he said at a daily news conference. "We have millions of doses that we bought and many people are using it all over the country. And just recently, a friend of mine told me he got better because of the use of that — that drug. So, who knows?"
An American study found no benefit to COVID-19 patients who took the drug.
At a briefing that same day, Trump was asked about the study but said he hadn't seen it.
"No, we didn't discuss it, and I don't know of the report," Trump said.
He added, "Obviously, there have been some very good reports and perhaps this one is not a good report. But we'll be looking at it. We'll have a comment on it as soon."
A reporter pointed out to Trump that he had stopped pushing the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
Trump denied this was the case, even though there was a week-long pause from the last time he had promoted the drug.
"I haven't at all. I haven't at all," Trump said at a news conference, in response to why he stopped hyping hydroxychloroquine.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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