By Micah Morrison
Donald Trump’s bold gamble on hydroxychloroquine (HC) appears to be paying off. Medical professionals in New York tell Judicial Watch that doctors battling the pandemic are increasingly reporting benefits from the drug. They’re prescribing it for themselves, for patients, and for frontline personnel.
HC is a decades-old drug used in treating malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s largely untested against the coronavirus. President Trump has been enthusiastically promoting it for weeks, calling it possibly “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and “a very special thing.” The president’s embrace of the drug apparently began with a conversation in March with Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison and quickly escalated to exchanges with Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rudy Giuliani, Laura Ingraham, and friends in New York. A small study in France indicated the drug could be effective in fighting the virus, though French authorities later backpedaled.
Critics of the president and much of the health-care community were aghast. A president with a medical opinion! HC had serious side effects, they noted, including possible heart attack. Critics complained that Trump sidelined the cautious approach to the drug recommended by Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top White House medical advisers.
Trump insisted on pushing forward. He pounded the White House bully pulpit and lobbied the conservative media. He leaned on the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. Result? The CDC issued new guidance on HC and the FDA eased restrictions on the drug, issuing an emergency authorization allowing doctors to broadly prescribe it and ramping up larger clinical reviews. He pressured India, the largest producer of HC, to keep its markets open to the U.S. In March, India approved HC for its own frontline personnel: the order noted that HC was “found to be effective against coronavirus in laboratory studies and in-vivo studies.”
In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, HC is now in wide circulation and a big clinical trial is underway. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is a fan, saying anecdotal evidence suggests the drug is “effective.” Others are less enthusiastic. The European Union, American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, American College of Medical Toxicology, and American Association of Poison Control Centers, among others, have issued warnings.
Is Trump right? Is HC an effective drug in the fight against the coronavirus? In some ways, the HC episode perfectly encapsulates the Trump presidency—his preference for outside channels, distrust of experts, deregulatory impulses, use of social and conservative media. We’ll have answers soon enough about HC. But for now, it looks like the president has placed a winning bet.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: [email protected]