But those dire warnings appear to have done little to change the president’s opinion. On Monday, toward the end of a roundtable event with restaurant industry executives at the White House, Trump offered his strongest endorsement of the drug to date.
“I’m taking it — hydroxychloroquine,” Trump said. “Right now.”
He later told reporters: “I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this … you know, when I announced this. But, yeah, I have taken it for about a week and a half now, and I’m still here. I’m still here.”
Trump’s announcement that he has been taking the drug in combination with zinc for about 10 days as a preventive measure against the novel virus prompted numerous questions, reactions and concerns, including an unflattering suggestion from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that the president shouldn’t be using the medicine because he is “morbidly obese.”
“He’s our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists,” Pelosi said on CNN in a now-viral clip, “especially in his age group, and in his, shall we say, weight group: ‘Morbidly obese,’ they say.”
“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: ‘Morbidly obese,’ they say,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Pres. Trump’s revelation he is taking hydroxychloroquine. pic.twitter.com/0ImjpEjg9q— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 19, 2020
It all began Monday with a question about whistleblowers, which prompted Trump to launch into a lengthy tirade that started with Ukraine and impeachment before turning to the most recent whistleblower to draw his anger: former top vaccine official Rick Bright.
“See whether or not he was a big contributor to the Democrats. See whether or not he wanted the Democrats to win,” Trump told reporters, referring to Bright. “There’s a lot of bad things coming out about him, but you people don’t want to write the news.”
Trump appeared to be angered by Bright’s comments from a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday. In the interview, Bright, who claims he was retaliated against last month for raising concerns about hydroxychloroquine, continued his criticism of the federal government’s handling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, calling the response slow and chaotic.
On Monday, Trump pointed out it was Bright who had signed a request to the Food and Drug Administration to issue an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19.
“Now, if he doesn’t believe in it, why would he sign it?” Trump said, before abruptly pivoting to his startling revelation.
“A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy. A lot of good things have come out,” Trump continued. “You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers, before you catch it. The front-line workers, many, many are taking it.”
Then, the president revealed front-line workers are not the only group of people taking the drug to protect against the virus. He is, too.
Following a brief pause as reporters digested the news, multiple voices rang out all at once with the same follow-up question: “You’re taking hydroxychloroquine?”
Trump’s claim unleashed a torrent of queries from the journalists in the room — and number of the same questions were repeatedly raised throughout the night as politicians, medical professionals and the general public were left puzzled over the president’s decision.
Chief among the questions that emerged Monday was “why?” Why would the president start taking a drug that experts say has no proven ability to protect against covid-19 and also has potentially deadly side effects?
“Because I think it’s good,” Trump said.
Up against the weight of scientific opinion, he offered “a lot of good stories” that he has heard about it. “And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you. … I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things.”
Trump again claimed front-line workers and “a lot of doctors” take hydroxychloroquine, but he provided no details. He also repeatedly cited letters and calls he said he has received from people heralding the drug’s effects, often referring to one note from an unnamed doctor near Westchester, N.Y.
“He just said, ‘Sir, I have hundreds of patients and I give them hydroxychloroquine; I give them the Z-Pak, which is azithromycin; and I give them zinc,’ ” Trump said, appearing to quote the letter from memory. “ ‘And out of the hundreds of patients — many hundreds, over 300 patients — I haven’t lost one.’ ”
The reporters, however, kept pressing.
“Did the White House doctor recommend that you take that? Is that why you’re taking it?” one asked.
“No, I asked him, ‘What do you think?’ ” Trump said, recalling the conversation with the White House physician. “He said, ‘Well, if you’d like it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like it. I’d like to take it.’ ”
Later Monday, the White House released a letter from Sean P. Conley, Trump’s in-house physician, that confirmed he had spoken with the president about the drug.
“After numerous discussions he and I had for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” Conley wrote.
But the letter did not specify whether Conley had written Trump a prescription for hydroxychloroquine or if the president is actually taking “a pill every day,” as he said during Monday’s event.
“I’m taking the two: the zinc and the hydroxy,” Trump said. “And all I can tell you is, so far, I seem to be okay.”
The physician to the President says he & the President discussed prescribing him hydroxychloroquine after his military valet tested positive— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) May 19, 2020
Dr. Conley says “we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” pic.twitter.com/e2AY7dO8hV
One reporter went on to inquire about another possibility for Trump’s decision to start the regimen, given recent news that at least two people in the White House, including a personal valet to the president, have tested positive for coronavirus.
“Have you been exposed?” the reporter asked.
“No, not at all,” Trump responded, later stressing he has “zero symptoms” and has consistently negative test results.
As Trump continued touting the drug, it didn’t take long for someone to ask, “What is the evidence that it has a preventive effect?”
“Here we go, you ready? Here’s my evidence,” the president said, spreading his hands wide. “I get a lot of positive calls about it.”
Trump noted that the “only negative” feedback he has heard about the drug comes from an analysis done by academic researchers that examined the medical records of 368 male patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals nationwide and found the drug was linked to higher rates of death for those hospitalized with the coronavirus. According to the April study, more than 27 percent of patients who received hydroxychloroquine died, and 22 percent of patients who were treated with a combination of the drug and the antibiotic azithromycin also died. In comparison, the death rate for those who did not receive the drugs was 11.4 percent.
“The only negative I’ve heard was the study where they gave it — was it the VA? With, you know, people that aren’t big Trump fans gave it,” Trump said, adding, “It was a very unscientific report, by the way. But I get a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydroxy. And I say, ‘Hey.’ You know the expression I’ve used …? ‘What do you have to lose?’ Okay? ‘What do you have to lose?’ ”
Medical experts quickly rejected Trump’s dismissal of safety concerns.
“There is NO evidence for [hydroxychloroquine] being effective in treatment of #covid19 or prophylaxis to prevent the disease,” tweeted Leana S. Wen, former Baltimore city health commissioner and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post. “This is a medication that has serious side effects.”
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.— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) May 18, 2020
In an appearance on CNN, Sanjay Gupta, the network’s chief medical correspondent, said Trump “shouldn’t be taking” the drug.
“His own FDA has said that this is still something under investigation that should not be taken outside of a clinical trial,” Gupta said. “Only hospitalized patients should be getting it.”
While Gupta acknowledged Trump was right in saying the drug has been used to prevent malaria for decades, its use in people who already have coronavirus poses “some real concerns.”
Aside from the medical community, Trump’s comments also struck a nerve with a number of cable news personalities, most notably Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
“If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventive treatment to ward off the virus, or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population, it will kill you,” Cavuto said during his Monday show. “I cannot stress enough: This will kill you.”
“Whatever benefits the president says this has, and certainly it has had for those suffering from malaria, dealing with lupus, this is a leap that should not be taken casually by those watching at home or assuming, well, the president of the United States says it’s okay,” Cavuto added. “Not to make a political point here, but a life and death point. Be very, very careful.”
Fox News's Neil Cavuto is stunned by Trump's announcement that he's taking hydroxychloroquine: "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." pic.twitter.com/e6D5alfAgc— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 18, 2020