WASHINGTON—Virtually minutes after President Donald Trump announced that he’s taking a prophylactic regimen of hydroxychloroquine and zinc to ward off COVID-19, a media backlash erupted.
Fox News’ Neil Cavuto warned: “If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment … it will kill you. I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.”
Trump said on May 18 that he has been taking the combination for about a week and a half after consulting his doctor; the regimen requires a prescription.
“I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years,” the president said, adding that “you’d be surprised at how many people are taking it.”
In March, as the death toll mounted, Trump touted the drugs as a possible COVID-19 treatment as a “game-changer.” He has since been a proponent of the treatment protocol, often saying, “what have you got to lose?”
White House physician Sean Conley released a letter later on May 18 saying the president “is in very good health and has remained symptom-free.”
“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,” Conley said.
Trump said he hasn’t experienced any side effects, which can include abnormal heart rhythms, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The president is regularly tested for COVID-19, and so far, all have come back negative.
Hydroxychloroquine and the closely related chloroquine have been used for decades to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
On May 19, many other news headlines warned that the president is taking an “unproven” treatment and that he’s taking it “despite safety concerns.” Other headlines suggest there is “no data” to support the prophylactic use of hydroxychloroquine. “Trump’s stunning claim that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine could trigger a cascade of negative effects,” one says.
On his “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough accused Trump of lying about taking the drugs.
Scarborough said he once ate a meal with Trump, who used many hand wipes to “sanitize his hands before eating anything.”
“So, he’s not taking something that his own administration has said will kill you,” he said.
In March, the FDA authorized the off-label use of such anti-malarial drugs for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and said patients and their doctors should make such decisions. In April, the agency then warned against the widespread use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine outside of hospitals or clinical trials.
However, many doctors have indicated that a three-drug regimen of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin (also known as Z-Pak), and zinc has proven largely successful in treating high-risk patients.
Trump suggested his decision to take the drugs was informed partly by a doctor in upstate New York who sent Trump a letter on April 7 outlining the results for the patients he had treated with Z-Pak. At the time, Dr. Vladimir Zelenko had treated 383 patients, all of whom recovered without complications or side effects. The cost of the drugs per patient, he said, was about $20.
Zelenko urged a prophylactic regimen for high-risk individuals such as those in nursing homes, as well as for front-line health workers and police officers.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons said on April 28 that hydroxychloroquine has about a 90 percent chance of helping COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the allergy and infectious disease department of the National Institutes of Health, has warned against the use of “unproven” hydroxychloroquine due to a lack of clinical trials, which are now underway.
“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,” Fauci stated on the NIH website.
A clinical study in 2005 determined that chloroquine is a “potent inhibitor” of the related SARS coronavirus, both as a treatment and as a prophylactic.
One study that many news organizations refer to looked at COVID-19 patients at various Veterans Health Administration medical centers, released in April, found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine was effective against COVID-19, but Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said most of the patients in the study “were in the last stages of life.”
Trump hosted several recovered patients of COVID-19 at the White House on April 14, including Illinois State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who said she asked her doctor for the treatment and is alive only because she heard Trump tout it.