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WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday admitted that his enthusiasm for an antimalarial drug unproven as a coronavirus treatment was based largely on gut instinct, after an open disagreement with the nation’s top infectious disease expert at a White House press briefing.

When reporters asked Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether the drug hydroxychloroquine was effective at preventing coronavirus, he said simply: “The answer is no.”

But when Trump came back to the microphone, he told reporters that “we ought to give it a try.”

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“I think we disagree a little bit,” Trump added. “I feel good about it. That’s all it is, just a feeling, you know, smart guy. I feel good about it.”

The drug, long used to treat malaria and diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, has shown limited efficacy at treating coronavirus, and has not yet been fully tested either as a treatment or preventive medicine in a formal trial. Trump, nonetheless, said the White House had ordered millions of doses — perhaps a reference to Bayer’s recent announcement that it would donate three million tablets of the drug to the American government.

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Fauci — a renowned infectious disease researcher who has served as NIAID director since 1984 — acknowledged the drug was unlikely to cause harmful side effects when used in an effort to treat or prevent coronavirus. Some anecdotal evidence has shown the drug may be effective at reducing the severity of coronavirus symptoms, but experts have stressed that researchers should conduct larger trials before making any determinations about rolling out chloroquine for more widespread use.

“What I’m saying is that it might be effective,” Fauci said. But medical professionals’ aim, he said, should focus on “collecting data that will ultimately show that it is truly effective and safe under the conditions of Covid-19.”

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Trump’s comments are a startling departure from the norm for scientists and officials at agencies across the federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, which follow strict legal and ethical standards for approving new medicines and approving existing ones to treat new diseases.

The remarks also come the day after a press conference during which Trump dramatically oversold a separate drug that could potentially be used to treat coronavirus. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, repeatedly walked back Trump’s statements, stressing that the agency was following its typical protocols for ensuring the safety of existing drugs and approving new ones.

When a reporter asked Trump on Friday whether he was selling Americans on an overly optimistic message regarding forthcoming coronavirus treatments, Trump told him: “I say you’re a terrible reporter.”

Throughout the briefing, Fauci attempted to balance his scientific approach with Trump’s self-acknowledged instincts on the use of antimalarial drugs to treat a novel virus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19.

“It’s the hope that it will work, versus proving that it will work,” Fauci said. “So I don’t see big differences here.”

  • Let’s suppose that a CoronaVirus victim is in serious condition, and worsening. Dr. Fauci seems to be saying that he would not authorize a Malaria drug for this person because it hasn’t been proven by clinical trial, despite really good empirical evidence. So, the patient dies while waiting for the results of clinical trials.

    Is there a real ethical problem using the Malaria drug while waiting?

    Are there any situations where the empirical evidence is strong enough to justify very low risk life saving remedies – unproven remedies seem to happen regularly where the patient simply gives consent for the experimental therapy.

    The empirical evidence for the Malaria medication includes the following:
    1. Results in Austrailia. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8134785/Has-Australia-coronavirus-cure-Patients-successfully-treated-HIV-malaria-medication.html
    2. Results in a French clinical trial. https://www.france24.com/en/20200320-will-an-old-malaria-drug-help-fight-the-coronavirus
    3. Good CoronaVirus statistics in countries where the Malaria medication is consumed daily by most of the population for defense against Malaria (countries between Gabon and Senegal, and many others).

    Can a reasonable case be made for the urgent use of the Malaria drug that has good supporting empirical evidence verses the potential death sentence of waiting for clinical results?

    Dr. Fauci’s inflexibility has the scent of life threatening corruption that is justified by his medical credentials. Am I wrong here?

  • I watched the entire press conference…This article is terrible! Once again the media is trying to sway the American public. Fauci said “he’s a scientist and would like to see the data” however he’s also onboard with the drug. Our economy is in shambles due to the media and shit like this is why. Just an idea, but how about try to uplift our country and stop bringing it down.

  • Did you seek out the clinical paper for the study that was completed? It was a small subject study, but it was completed by a physician and the results showed 100% cure rate at day #6, with a p<.001". Why would Bayer donate 3 million doses? Because Trump had a feeling? The irony is that patients will die as the media counters this announcement, patients in the USA. What is Europe doing with respect to Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin? What did China do in trials that showed this was effective? Get the facts.

    • Maybe the president should have cited studies then rather than saying “he has a feeling” it will work–I find that to be the scariest part of this article.

    • China did do trials, but there was no announcements so it is highly unlikely there were any cures. The French Study had 6 people drop out due to side effects and one death!
      This did not stop them from peddling it on Fox News! There was a run on tonic water too! The trumpers are stocking up!

  • So now Anthony Fauci joins the ranks of obstructionists and naysayers.
    The dying patients and their families I am cerain would gladly and eagerly accept some anecdotal evidence as sufficient for approval.

    tony says medical professionals’ aim should focus on “collecting data that will ultimately show that it is truly effective and safe under the conditions of Covid-19. Really? Perhaps we should ask him and Stephen Hanh to conduct a survey at the NIAID/NIH and the FDA. Ask all these supposedly elitist scientists and medical professionals two simple questions.

    1. If you or your family members contracted Covid19 and started to show symptoms, would you try to get some hydroxychloroquine and if yes, where would you get it and why?

    2. If no and if your affected and infected family member begs you to get some, what would you do? Tell them we are still collecting data the evidence is not in yet and wait for more conclusive analysis and sound decision? Really?

  • There is no money in a cheap old drug. What if it really works? Then there will be no need for an expensive vaccine. There is no need for approval for those who want to try it. Any doctor can prescribe it off label.

    • They raised the price on December 23, 2020, as soon as the Chinese mentioned they were testing it. If they were peddling it on Fox News, it is highly unlikely to work!

  • Trump knows nothing about medicine and as a hemotologist find his statements disturbing.

  • Regarding NIH’s “adaptive” Remdesivir study, could they at least provide an update. This is a battlefield, and real-time info is needed. Trump is correctly trying to unshackle the country from the rigid, inflexible and bureaucratic impulse which caused the testing debacle. He’s trying to lead.

  • I recall reading this drug showed promise when combined with Z-Pack. Can the author confirm? Will some testing be done with this combination?

  • There are several studies one from China and one from South Korea that are certainly scientific

    As scientists we say it correlates not that it proves anything. That doesn’t mean it will not work. It needs to be tried.

    It seems to correlate with people who are about to die being cleared of CoV.

    It was apparently tested on SARS 1 successfully as well in 2005 with published articles.

    Seems strange that Dr Fauci isn’t aware of this.

    Unless all of these scientific journals are publishing fake news. In order to get the word out they have used an electronic open access method so anyone can read them.

    If they are not accurate please tell all of us. Don’t just say no.

    • Dr. Fauci needs to get out of his ivory tower and recognize that other Doctors are reporting success. It would be wonderful to have a well designed clinical trial, but this “war” will be won or lost by Doctors on the front lines. They should be encouraged to use their best judgment and share their data with the medical community.

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