Downing Street distanced itself from Donald Trump’s decision to self-medicate with the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect himself against coronavirus today, saying it was not a good idea.
The US president, 73, astounded the world last night when he revealed he began taking the drug ‘a week and a half’ ago because ‘good things are being said about it’, including by medics who have written to him.
The admission at a White House press conference led to a wave of criticism from medical experts and politicians around the world, who said the leader was being irresponsible.
Asked about the claim this morning the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It is not something which our own medical experts are recommending.’
Pushed on whether Mr Trump was setting a bad example, he added: ‘I can only set out what the UK’s advice is, it is not something we recommend doing.’
Mr Trump has often touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, even going so far as to call it a ‘cure’ after a few early studies showed positive results in patients.
But repeated experiments since then have showed it has only limited or no effect on the virus, and can cause serious side effects including potentially-fatal heart arrhythmias.
This morning former UK government adviser Sir David King, who said ‘every word’ of the president’s advice on coronavirus should be ignored.
Meanwhile the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times accused Trump of ‘using witchcraft to lead the COVID-19 fight’ – suggesting that is why 90,000 Americans have died from the virus.
But White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed today that the president shared his personal health information because he wants to be ‘transparent’ with Americans.
Donald Trump was seen today at an event about the US food supply chain in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in the wake of his comments about taking hydroxychloroquine
Trump was supported by his daughter Ivanka at the food event
Donald Trump (pictured Monday evening) has revealed that he is taking hydroxychloroquine – a drug typically used to treat malaria – to prevent himself from catching coronavirus after hearing ‘good things’ about it
She told the Fox News channel: ‘First, let me emphasize strongly that any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor – you have to have a prescription,’ she said. ‘That’s the way it must be done.’
‘That being said, I talked to the FDA commissioner this morning, Stephen Hahn, he said hydroxychloroquine has been approved for three other uses, we have a lot of information about the safety of this drug,’ the new press secretary asserted. ‘Though, ultimately, you make that decision with your doctor.’
In an editorial the Global Times said: ‘To be re-elected, will the Trump administration do more outrageous things, posing more serious threats to the world?
‘We suspect there is nothing Washington dare not do right now. After all, what will it care if it doesn’t care about tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of lives?
‘We sincerely hope the US political system can restrain the Trump administration’s recklessness and prevent it from throwing the US and the world – which are suffering a catastrophe – into a deeper abyss.’
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also accused the US of trying to smear authorities in Beijing in order to avoid criticism for his own mishandling of the pandemic.
Speaking about hydroxychloroquine to Good Morning Britain, Dr King said: ‘I think [Trump] speaks from the top of his head and every word he says should be ignored in terms of advice.
‘I’m sorry but this is not the pronouncements of a person who is listening to the scientists. He is making it up as he goes along.’
Dr Stephen Griffin, an associate professor at the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, added: ‘This is a staggering, irresponsible act that could very well amount to self-harm.
‘The president seems either unaware or unconcerned that his actions will have profound influence amongst his supporters and perhaps the wider US or world population.
‘Hydroxychloroquine is not licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID19 by the FDA, or any other agency.
In fact the weight of evidence from most recent patient trials shows it to be ineffective, with the potential for adverse side effects including those affecting the heart.’
Highlighting the potential risks to people – including President Trump – Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested the president was putting his health at risk by taking the medicine despite being ‘morbidly obese’.
She told CNN: ‘He’s our president and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists.
‘Especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, what is morbidly obese, they say. So, I think that it’s not a good idea.’
Dr Sean Conley, physician to the White House, released a memo confirmed that he spoke with Trump about the drug and decided the benefits outweighed the risks
The White House attempted to push back on the criticism by releasing a memo from physician Dr Sean Conley which confirmed he had discussed taking the drug with Trump after several members of staff tested positive.
‘We concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,’ Dr Conley wrote.
Trump’s spokeswoman later confirmed that the President was prescribed the drug and has been taking it for two weeks, after the note failed to make that clear.
The White House also stressed that Trump does not have the virus and is taking the medication as a preventative measure.
He decided to reveal the news while speaking off-the-cuff during a press conference after a round-table meeting with leaders of the restaurant industry about reopening amid the pandemic.
That prompted several prominent doctors said they worried that people would infer from Trump’s example that the drug works or is safe.
‘There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective for the treatment or the prevention of COVID-19,’ said Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association. ‘The results to date are not promising.’
People should not infer from Trump’s example ‘that it’s an approved approach or proven,’ because it’s not, said Dr. David Aronoff, infectious diseases chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Hydroxychloroquine can cause potentially serious heart rhythm problems even in healthy people, but ‘it’s hard to infer’ that Trump’s artery plaque, revealed in tests from his 2018 physical, makes the drug especially dangerous for him, Aronoff said.
White House officials did not say whether any other administration officials were also taking the drug.
Trump said he took hydroxychloroquine with an ‘original dose’ of the antibiotic azithromycin. The president has repeatedly pushed the use of the drug with or without the azithromycin, but no large, rigorous studies have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.
Two large observational studies, each involving around 1,400 patients in New York, recently found no benefit from hydroxychloroquine. Two new ones published Thursday in the medical journal BMJ reached the same conclusion.
One, by French researchers, gave 84 hospitalized patients the drug and 97 others the usual care. There were no differences in the odds of death, need for intensive care or developing severe illness.
The other study from China was a stricter test: 150 adults hospitalized with mild or moderate illness were randomly assigned to get hydroxychloroquine or usual care. The drug made no difference in rates of clearing the virus or time to relief of symptoms, and they brought more side effects.
‘I’m taking the two – the zinc and the hydroxy,’ he said. ‘So far I seem to be okay.’
‘I have been taking it for about a weekend for about a week and a half,’ he noted. ‘Every day. I take a pill every day.’
‘At some point I’ll stop,’ he added.
Trump has often touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus – even going so far as to suggest it could be a ‘cure’ – but medical studies have suggested it has only mild benefits with serious risks
Trump’s comments prompted backlash from medics around the world, who reiterated the risks of taking the drug while also accusing the president of being misleading
While studies are being carried out into hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in treating coronavirus, early results have suggested it provides only marginal benefits with serious risks – something medics pointed out online
At the same round-table discussion, Trump also launched a fresh attack on the World Health Organisation and China over the virus, threatening to pull funding from the global public health body.
Trump has been locked in a bitter spat with Beijing, alleging it covered up the initial outbreak in central China late last year before the disease unleashed death and economic devastation across the planet.
More than 317,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of nearly 4.8 million infections worldwide, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to resuscitate their hammered economies.
With more fatalities and cases in the United States than any other country by far, under-pressure Trump has blamed the WHO for not doing enough to combat its initial spread.
‘They’re a puppet of China, they’re China-centric to put it nicer,’ he said on Monday at the White House. ‘They gave us a lot of bad advice.’
Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: What does the evidence say?
Hydroxychloroquine – branded as Plaquenil – is a cheap drug that has been used as a prophylaxis against malaria for decades.
But no evidence currently exists to show the drug can prevent patients being struck down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Scientists also warn there is no proof hydroxychloroquine, which was touted as a wonder drug by Donald Trump and can be given to arthritis and lupus patients, can even treat COVID-19.
Hope was sparked early on in the crisis when an early French study suggested the drug could have both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.
It caused a flurry of research across the world, including in Britain, an endorsement from Trump and emergency authorization from US regulators.
But other research has dealt a blow to the drug – one Chinese trial last month found it did not speed up the recovery of COVID-19 patients.
And New York researchers last week said patients got no benefits whether they took just the drug or paired it with the antibiotic azithromycin.
Leading doctors have warned the drug can cause severe side effects, and may even throw off the process that makes the heart beat in time.
One trial in Brazil was stopped early because so many of the enrolled coronavirus patients given the drug developed these arrhythmias.
SO, WHAT HAVE THE STUDIES SHOWN?
INFECTED PATIENTS ‘GET NO BENEFIT FROM TAKING HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE’
Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health looked at data from 1,438 COVID-19 patients across 25 hospitals in New York.
The study, published in JAMA last month, was observational and looked at the outcomes of patients given different drug combinations.
About 25 per cent of patients who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin – another promising coronavirus drug – died.
In comparison, the rate was 20 per cent for those only given hydroxychloroquine alone and was 10 per cent for those on azithromycin.
90% OF CRITICAL PATIENTS GIVEN THE DRUG DEVELOP ARRHYTHMIAS
Scientists in the US and France last month found 90 per cent of critically-ill COVID-19 patients given hydroxychloroquine developed heart arrhythmias.
Massachusetts General Hospital researchers monitored 90 patients in intensive care units, while University of Lyon academics analysed 40 patients.
Both uncovered similar results in JAMA Cardiology, after looking at the QT intervals – the time between the heart’s ventricular muscles contracting and then relaxing.
When this interval becomes too long, the patient has developed a dangerous form of heart arrhythmia, called atrial fibrillation.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE MAY IMPAIR ABILITY OF IMMUNE SYSTEMS
Hydroxychlorouquine may impair the ability of patients’ immune systems to fight off the infection, a review suggested at the start of April.
Harvard scientists analyzed 10 studies as well as anecdotal reports from doctors that suggested the drug could help coronavirus patient.
The review found many of the clinical trials were poorly conducted and anecdotal reports carried little weight.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE DOES NOT SPEED UP RECOVERY
The antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine did not speed up coronavirus patients’ recovery in a trial in China, scientists revealed in April.
In a disappointing blow for the promising drug, doctors said it did not work as a cure.
Patients who were taking it suffered fewer symptoms than others who were treated alongside them without the medication but their recovery time was the same.
They had tested hydroxychloroquine on 75 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and compared their illnesses to 75 patients who didn’t receive the drug.
BRAZIL TRIAL STOPPED EARLY BECAUSE OF HEART PROBLEMS
A clinical trial in Brazil had to be stopped early, it was revealed last month, because patients developed heart problems.
The Brazilian study, taking place in the Amazonian city of Manaus, had planned to enroll 440 severely ill COVID-19 patients to test two doses of chloroquine.
But researchers reported their results and called a halt to the experiment after only 81 people had received the high-dose treatment which gave them 1,200mg per day.
One in four of the patients had developed heart rhythm problems and early data suggested death rates were higher among those patients.
MALARIA DRUG DOES IMPROVE SURVIVAL ODDS, PHYSICIANS CLAIM
Hydroxychloroquine has improved the survival and recovery odds for about 90 per cent of patients treated, a physicians group claimed.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) presented data on 2,333 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine.
Results showed 91.6 per cent of those who got the controversial drug fared better after treatment, it was reported at the end of April.
COMBINING DRUG WITH DIET SUPPLEMENT COULD WORK BETTER
Combining hydroxychloroquine with the dietary supplement zinc could create a more effective treatment for coronavirus patients, a study suggested last week.
Researchers found taking the drugs together, along with the antibiotic azithromycin, increased patient’s chances of being discharged and decreased their risk of dying.
It did not, however, change the average time patients spent in hospital, how long they spent on a ventilator or the total amount of oxygen required.
The team, from New York University Grossman School of Medicine, says the findings are encouraging but that more studies are needed.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE COULD HELP TREAT PATIENTS, STUDY SAYS
French researchers last month found hydroxychloroquine could treat coronavirus patients, sparking hope of a cure.
Thirty patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine for 10 days, combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic.
Although very small, the study ‘showed a significant reduction of the viral carriage’ after the six days.
And results showed patients had a ‘much lower average carrying duration’ compared to patients who received other treatments.
Several weeks later, the study’s publisher said the paper ‘did not meet its standards’ because it excluded data on patients who did not respond well to the treatment.
Trump had already suspended US funding to the UN body, and after his White House comments, he tweeted a letter he had sent to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus threatening to make that freeze permanent.
‘It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world,’ the letter said.
‘The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,’ it added, giving the body 30 days to show ‘substantive improvements.’
Before the threat, the WHO had promised an independent review of its pandemic response.
Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the threat, and Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated at the World Health Assembly that his nation had been ‘transparent’ throughout the crisis.
Pelosi was not the only figure who reacted strongly to Trump’s public announcement.
Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto warned his viewers that the drug ‘will kill you’ if you are in an at-risk group.
‘If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment to ward off the virus, or in a worse-case scenario you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you.’ he said. ‘I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.’
Cavuto suffers from MS and is immunocompromised.
That prompted Trump to furiously tweet that he was ‘looking for a new outlet’ because of the number of ‘anti-Trump people’ on the network.
It comes after a woman from Arizona ended up in hospital and her husband died after they drank aquarium cleaner with chloroquine phosphate in it, after listening to one of Trump’s press conferences.
‘Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure,’ the woman told NBC. ‘Don’t believe anything that the president says and his people … call your doctor.’
White House physician, Dr Conley noted: ‘After numerous discussions, he and I regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from the treatment outweighed the relative risk.’
‘In consultation with our inter-agency partners and subject matter experts around the country, I continue to monitor the myriad studies investigating COVID-19 therapies and I anticipate employing the same shared medical decision making based on the evidence at hand in the future,’ he said.
Conley, a commander in the U.S. Navy, noted President Trump is ‘in very good health and has remained symptom-free. He receives regular COVID-19 testing, all negative to date.’
Trump said he started taking the drug after talking with Conley. ‘He said well if you’d like it. I said yeah I’d like it, I’d like to take it,’ Trump said.
But medics around the nation have expressed concern at the news, warning Americans to not take the drug without at least consulting their doctor.
Dr. William Schaffner told The Washington Post: ‘I certainly would not recommend that people in the U.S. ask their physicians to prescribe hydroxychloroquine for the prevention of Covid. Its use is entirely speculative.’
Former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen tweeted: ‘There is NO evidence for hydrochloroquine being effective in treatment of #covid19 or prophylaxis to prevent the disease.
‘This is a medication that has serious side effects. I am very concerned about @realDonaldTrump continuing to model behavior that could harm many Americans.’
Dr. Rob Davidson, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, said: ‘Today @realDonaldTrump announced that’s he’s taking Hydroxychloroquine to prevent #COVID19. This is dangerous. Ignore him. There is no evidence of benefit and there is evidence of harm.
‘Trump is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. Let’s not add to that number.
Dr. Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times that Trump was setting an ‘irresponsible example’.
The president shrugged off warnings about the side effects of hydroxy issued by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health.
Both medical organizations note the drug is only approved for the use of patients in hospitals who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
‘You’re not going to get sick or die,’ he said about taking the medication. ‘I’ve taken it about for a week and a half now. And I’m still here.’
He said he’s heard ‘a lot of good stories’ about the drug.
‘I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it is not good, I will tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It has been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it,’ Trump said.
‘I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,’ he told the assembled media.
This is not the first time that Trump has touted potentially-lethal treatments for coronavirus.
Last month he was heavily criticised after questioning whether injecting patients with disinfectant could potentially cure the virus.
He also asked whether exposing the body to high-intensity ultraviolet light, which is commonly used to disinfect hospital wards after exposure to coronavirus, could also help people.
‘You’re going to have to use medical doctors. But it sounds interesting to me,’ he said.
Medical doctors have since warned that both methods would quickly kill patients.
At least two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus this month, both of whom had access to the president: his Navy valet who serves him meals and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller, who speaks for the Coronavirus Task Force and is married to Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller.
After the outbreak, new safety protocols were put into effect at the White House, including daily testing of senior staff who get close to the president. Additionally, staff and Secret Service agents have started wearing face masks around the complex, where close working conditions make social distancing impossible.
Trump last underwent a partial checkup in a November visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that was not on his public schedule. He has said in March he would complete his physical in the next 90 days.
At his last physical Trump weighed 243 pounds, which is considered obese for a man of his reported height of 6 feet 3 inches. Past reports said he’s taking rosuvastatin, a lipid-lowering drug, to control his cholesterol.
The president has touted his love of steak and fast food. His only exercise is golf, which has been on hold since early March as the coronavirus pandemic causes courses to be closed.
Hydroxy has potentially serious side effects, including altering the heartbeat in a way that could lead to sudden death, and the FDA has warned against its use for coronavirus infections except in formal studies.
A study released last Monday showed hydroxychloroquine does not work against the coronavirus and could cause heart problems.
It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and follows an earlier study in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed the drug doesn’t fight the virus.
Additionally, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health issued warnings about using the drugs for coronavirus patients.
‘Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19. They are being studied in clinical trials for COVID-19, and we authorized their temporary use during the COVID-19 pandemic for treatment of the virus in hospitalized patients,’ the FDA warning said.
White House physician Dr Sean Conley (left) said in a memo that the benefits of Trump taking the drug outweighed the negatives, while the president touted physicians writing to him about the unproven treatment (pictured right, Dr Vladimir Zelenko, who has spoken of the benefits of the drug but is also under investigation by New York prosecutors)
Trump’s remarks came on the day that America’s death toll from the virus topped 90,000, with more than 1.5million cases making up a third of the world’s total
‘Although there is anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may benefit people with COVID-19, we need solid data from a large randomized, controlled clinical trial to determine whether this experimental treatment is safe and can improve clinical outcomes,’ Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and head of the NIH, said last week.
Trump dismissed such studies and complained they were done by the Veterans Administration, where he does not have a lot of supporters.
‘Here’s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I heard — was at the VA? People that aren’t big Trump fans,’ he said.
‘If you look at that phony report that was put – in that report or the hydroxy was given to people that were an extraordinarily bad condition, extraordinary bad people that were dying. No, I think for whatever it’s worth I take I was,’ he said.
Trump also said he has ‘zero symptoms’ of the coronavirus, is tested daily and has tested negative.
‘Totally negative, no symptoms, no nothing,’ the president said.
The president said a doctor in New York wrote to him about treating his patients with both hydroxy and the z-pack.
He did not mention a name but the description fits that of Vladimir Zelenko, a New York doctor who has promoted hydroxy as a coronavirus treatment and has been touted by Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Federal prosecutors are examining Zelenko’s records after conservative commentator Jerome Corsi, accidentally sent an email intended for Zelenko to another ‘Z’ name in his address book — federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who as a member of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s team who examined Corsi’s activities during the 2016 presidential election, according to The Washington Post.
Zelinsky is tasked now with investigating coronavirus-related crimes in the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office, including fake cures for the disease.
Trump made the comments off-the-cuff at a White House roundtable meeting with restaurant industry executives about reopening amid the pandemic, that was also attended by Ivanka Trump (pictured)
Trump’s enthusiasm for hydroxy was based on a French study of 20 patients in March that showed the drugs might work against the virus. But many scientists have questioned the methods that study and one from China used, saying more research on the drug was needed.
Trump has repeatedly touted stories he’s heard of hydroxy’s effect on those with the coronavirus.
In early April, he talked about Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who he saw on Ingraham’s show the previous evening talking about her experience with the drug.
‘A woman last night, I watched her on one of the shows, good show, Laura, and she thought she was dead. She was a representative from Michigan. She was just in horrible shape for 12 days, 14 days. She thought she was dead. I think she said that her doctor said it’s going to be very tough. She saw me talking about this and she asked her husband to go to the drugstore. This is a Democrat representative, a person that you know perhaps wouldn’t be voting for me. I think she will be voting for me now even if she’s a Democrat,’ he said.
‘She asked her husband, she said please go out. I’m not going to make it. You have to hear her story. Please go out and get it. He went at 10:00 in the evening to the drugstore and he got it. He gave it to her. I don’t say it works like this but four hours later she woke and she said I feel better. And then shortly thereafter she felt great,’ the president said.
Ingraham met with Trump in the Oval Office to tout the drug. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, has been an advocate of hydroxy.
Trump repeatedly has advocated for hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment option for the coronavirus even as many medical officials – including Dr. Tony Fauci, who sits on the White House Coronavirus Task Force – have urged a more cautious approach, noting the lack of reputable scientific studies on hydroxychloroquine.
And, in early April, during an impromptu White House press briefing Trump stopped Fauci from answering a question from a reporter about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.
When reporters tried to get Fauci’s opinion on the drug – after he previously warned against seeing the malaria medication as a wonder drug – Trump stepped in and stopped the question.
‘We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. And hopefully in the not-too-distant future we’ll be very proud of the job we all did,’ Trump said, instead of letting Fauci answer.