President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended a video, banned by Twitter and other platforms, featuring doctors making positive statements about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Trump was asked during a press briefing Tuesday whether he could clarify his position on the effectiveness of the drug, used for decades to treat conditions like malaria and lupus, in treating the CCP virus, the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.
The president said the drug’s safety has been borne out by a long history of its use in treating malaria, lupus, and other conditions. He added that while the science around its use in treating COVID-19 is still unsettled, many people, including doctors, believe it is successful. But the issue has become distorted by politics, Trump added.
“Many doctors think it is extremely successful—the hydroxychloroquine—coupled with the zinc and perhaps the azithromycin. But many doctors think it’s extremely good, and some people don’t. Some people—I think it’s become very political,” the president said.
Trump himself took hydroxychloroquine for two weeks earlier this year as a preventive measure. He told reporters that his own experience with the drug was positive, saying, “it’s safe. It doesn’t cause problems. I had no problem.”
“From my standpoint, and based on a lot of reading and a lot of knowledge about it, I think it could have a very positive impact in the early stages,” Trump said.
“And I don’t think you lose anything by doing it other than, politically, it doesn’t seem to be too popular. You know why? Because I recommend it,” Trump said, adding, ‘When I recommend something, they like to say, ‘Don’t use it.'”
The question to Trump was prompted by reports that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube removed videos of a press conference on July 27 held by a group of doctors, citing violations of their policies. Members of the group, called “America’s Frontline Doctors,” had spoken in support of hydroxychloroquine in treating and preventing COVID-19, and alleged that there’s widespread misinformation about the drug.
“There was a group of doctors yesterday, a large group that were put on the Internet, and for some reason, the Internet wanted to take them down and took them off,” Trump said of the video. “I guess Twitter took them off and I think Facebook took them off. I don’t know why. I think they’re very respected doctors.”
A Facebook spokesperson said it removed the video “for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” and told CNN that it will instead show “messages in News Feed to people who have reacted to, commented on or shared harmful COVID-19-related misinformation that we have removed, connecting them to myths debunked by the WHO [World Health Organization].”
On Twitter, President Donald Trump had shared two clips from the summit. But by early July 28, Twitter took down the videos. Twitter also took down a video of the press conference shared by Breitbart News. A Twitter spokesperson told CNN that the actions were taken in line with its “Covid [misinformation] policy.”
The press conference was part of a two-day summit the group held on Capitol Hill. Dr. Stella Immanuel, a primary care doctor at Rehoboth Medical Center in Houston, Texas, said during the summit that she has treated more than 350 patients with COVID-19 by using a combination of hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and azithromycin, and characterized the combination of drugs as a “cure.”
“For the past few months, after taking care of over 350 patients, we’ve not lost one. Not a diabetic, not a somebody with high blood pressure, not somebody with asthma, not an old person. We’ve not lost one patient,” she said.
The science about hydroxychloroquine is still unsettled, with Indian researchers finding the drug helps prevent infection from the CCP virus and doctors in Michigan claiming the drug lowered the death rate for COVID-19 patients.
Despite what proponents say about hydroxychloroquine, critics of its use point to a body of research purporting to show it is not effective in treating COVID-19. A recent randomized trial on the use of the drug in outpatients with early, mild COVID-19 found that hydroxychloroquine “did not substantially reduce symptom severity.”
“The overwhelming, prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News on Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine in June, which let doctors prescribe the drug even though it was untested.
Studies into the use of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 continue around the world, with researchers looking at factors like timing, dosage, and its use in combination with other drugs.
Simone Gold, one of the doctors taking part in the White Coat Summit, said in a tweet that “there are always opposing views in medicine,” but that opposition should not be grounds for censorship.
“Treatment options for COVID-19 should be debated, and spoken about among our colleagues in the medical field,” she wrote. “They should never, however, be censored and silenced.”
Zachary Stieber and Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.