Trump says he takes unproven hydroxychloroquine to prevent coronavirus infection

President Donald Trump said Monday that he has been taking anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine daily for over a week to prevent coronavirus infection even though it is not yet a proven treatment.

“I happen to be taking it,” Trump said during a roundtable event at the White House. “A lot of good things have come out. 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.”

He added: “I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago, I started taking it. Cause I think it’s good, I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”

Trump also said that he is taking zinc, and that he has taken an initial dose of azithromycin, or Z-Pak.

White House physician Dr. Sean Conley released a memo Monday evening, which said that after discussing evidence for and against hydroxychloroquine with Trump, they concluded “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”

Conley’s memo said that as previously reported, a member of Trump’s staff had tested positive for coronavirus. “The president is in very good health and has remained symptom-free. He receives regular COVID-19 testing, all negative to date,” Conley said.

Conley added that he continues to monitor the different studies investigating potential Covid-19 therapies in consultation with subject matter experts across the country, and anticipates “employing the same shared medical decision making based on the evidence in hand in the future.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with restaurant executives in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 18, 2020. Trump said he is currently taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug he has promoted as a treatment to combat coronavirus infection.

Doug Mills | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hydroxychloroquine, which has been repeatedly touted by Trump as a potential game changer in fighting the coronavirus, is also often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Numerous clinical trials are looking to see if it’s effective in fighting the coronavirus, but it is not a proven treatment.

Trump refuses to wear a mask, which medical experts have advised as a way to limit the spread of the virus.

Trump’s comments come weeks after the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about the drug, saying it became aware of reports of “serious heart rhythm problems” in patients with the virus who were treated with the malaria drug, often in combination with antibiotic azithromycin. It also comes as Trump has been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including from former President Barack Obama.

Hydroxychloroquine, which is available as a generic drug and is also produced under the brand name Plaquenil by French drugmaker Sanofi, can have serious side effects, including muscle weakness and heart arrhythmia. A small study in Brazil was halted for safety reasons after coronavirus patients taking chloroquine, which hydroxychloroquine is derived from, developed arrhythmia, including some who died.

Last week, another study published in the JAMA Network found the drug appeared to not help Covid-19 patients and, instead, placed them at increased risk of cardiac arrest.

In March and early April, Trump frequently referenced hydroxychloroquine and other potential treatments for the disease. He also discussed the drugs with influential figures including Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and “Dr. Oz” talk-show host Mehmet Oz, a regular Fox News guest.

But by late April, after multiple studies on the drug had been halted and after an FDA warning, Trump was rarely mentioning the medicines unless asked about them.

Experts and political leaders alike say that the U.S. won’t be able to recover from the pandemic until a vaccine is widely available.

Trump said Monday he asked his White House physician about the drug. “I asked him, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Well, if you’d like it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d like it. I’d like to take it.'”

Even though it hasn’t been approved to treat coronavirus, doctors can give the drug to patients in a common and legal practice known as “off-label” prescribing. “Off label” means the drug is being used for an ailment not yet approved by the FDA.

Trump said Monday that if the drug wasn’t good he’d “tell you.” He said he’s gotten “a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydroxy, and I say hey — you know the expression I’ve used, John? What do you have to lose?”

“I’m not going to get hurt by it. It’s been around for 40 years,” he said. “For malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Front-line workers take it. A lot of doctors take it — excuse me, a lot of doctors take it. I take it.”

He said he doesn’t own stock in the company that produces the drug, adding he wants “the people of this nation to feel good.”

“I don’t want them feeling sick. And there’s a very good chance that this has an impact, especially early on,” he said. “I take a pill every day. At some point I’ll stop. What I’d like to is I’d like to have the cure and or the vaccine and that’ll happen I think very soon.”

“It seems to have an impact, and maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” he continued. “But if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get sick or die. This is a pill that’s been used for a long time, for 30, 40 years.”

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