Inside the epic White House fight over hydroxychloroquine

The White House coronavirus task force had its biggest fight yeton Saturday, pitting economic adviser Peter Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. At issue: How enthusiastically should the White House tout the prospects of an antimalarial drug to fight COVID-19?

Behind the scenes: This drama erupted into an epic Situation Room showdown. Trump’s coronavirus task force gathered in the White House Situation Room on Saturday at about 1:30pm, according to four sources familiar with the conversation. Vice President Mike Pence sat at the head of the table.

  • Numerous government officials were at the table, including Fauci, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, Jared Kushner, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn.
  • Behind them sat staff, including Peter Navarro, tapped by Trump to compel private companies to meet the government’s coronavirus needs under the Defense Production Act.

Toward the end of the meeting, Hahn began a discussion of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump believes could be a “game-changer” against the coronavirus.

  • Hahn gave an update about the drug and what he was seeing in different trials and real-world results.
  • Then Navarro got up. He brought over a stack of folders and dropped them on the table. People started passing them around.
  • “And the first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy,'” said a source familiar with the conversation. “Those are the exact words out of his mouth.”

Navarro’s comments set off a heated exchange about how the Trump administration and the president ought to talk about the malaria drug, which Fauci and other public health officials stress is unproven to combat COVID-19.

  • Fauci pushed back against Navarro, saying that there was only anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine works against the coronavirus.
  • Researchers have said studies out of France and China are inadequate because they did not include control groups.
  • Fauci and others have said much more data is needed to prove that hydroxychloroquine is effective against the coronavirus.
  • As part of his role, Navarro has been trying to source hydroxychloroquine from around the world. He’s also been trying to ensure that there are enough domestic production capabilities inside the U.S.

Fauci’s mention of anecdotal evidence “just set Peter off,” said one of the sources. Navarro pointed to the pile of folders on the desk, which included printouts of studies on hydroxychloroquine from around the world.

  • Navarro said to Fauci, “That’s science, not anecdote,” said another of the sources.

Navarro started raising his voice, and at one point accused Fauci of objecting to Trump’s travel restrictions, saying, “You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China,” saying that travel restrictions don’t work. (Navarro was one of the earliest to push the China travel ban.)

  • Fauci looked confused, according to a source in the room. After Trump imposed the travel restrictions, Fauci has publicly praised the president’s restriction on travel from China.
  • Pence was trying to moderate the heated discussion. “It was pretty clear that everyone was just trying to get Peter to sit down and stop being so confrontational,” said one of the sources.
  • Eventually, Kushner turned to Navarro and said, “Peter, take yes for an answer,” because most everyone agreed, by that time, it was important to surge the supply of the drug to hot zones.
  • The principals agreed that the administration’s public stance should be that the decision to use the drug is between doctors and patients.
  • Trump ended up announcing at his press conference that he had 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine in the Strategic National Stockpile.

Between the lines: “There has never been a confrontation in the task force meetings like the one yesterday,” said a source familiar with the argument. “People speak up and there’s robust debate, but there’s never been a confrontation. Yesterday was the first confrontation.”

  • In response to a request for comment on Axios’ reporting, Katie Miller, a spokesperson for the vice president, said: “We don’t comment on meetings in the Situation Room.”

The bottom line: The way to discuss the drug’s potential has become a fraught issue within the Trump administration.

  • Most members of the task force support a cautious approach to discussing the drug until it’s proven.
  • Navarro, on the other hand, is convinced based on his reading that the drug works against the coronavirus and speaks about it enthusiastically.
  • Some of Trump’s favorite TV hosts, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, and friends including Rudy Giuliani, have also been touting the malaria drug for the coronavirus. Trump has made no secret who he sides with.
  • “What do you have to lose? Take it,” the president said in a White House briefing on Saturday. “I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”

[Axios]

Trump Refuses to Allow Dr. Fauci to Answer Question on Dangers of Hydroxychloroquine

During a press briefing Sunday night purportedly aimed at providing the U.S. public with crucial information amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump refused to allow the nation’s top infectious disease expert to answer a reporter’s question about the efficacy of an anti-malaria drug that the president has recklessly touted as a possible COVID-19 treatment despite warnings from medical professionals.

Before Dr. Anthony Fauci could respond to the question about hydroxychloroquine, Trump—who was standing back and off to the side of the podium—complained that Fauci had already spoken about the drug “15 times.”

“You don’t have to ask the question again,” said Trump, stepping forward and moving closer to Fauci as another reporter began asking a separate question.

“This is a really chilling moment from a science standpoint, with Trump having just pushed an unproven COVID treatment and Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., getting muzzled on live TV,” tweeted Andrew Freedman, a climate reporter for the Washington Post. “Was clear Trump didn’t want to be contradicted.”

Dr. Lucky Tran, a biologist, said Trump’s interruption was “unacceptable.”

“Dr. Fauci, one of the world’s top infectious disease scientists, was just censored live at a White House press conference,” tweeted Tran.

The exchange came just hours after Fauci, in an appearance on CBS‘ “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, said that “in terms of science, I don’t think we could definitively say [hydroxychloroquine] works.”

“The data are really just at best suggestive,” said Fauci. “There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect.”

During a press briefing Saturday evening, Trump said “I really think they should they should take it,” referring to coronavirus patients and hydroxychloroquine. Three people in Nigeria overdosed on the drug last month after the president said, without evidence, that the drug may be able to combat the novel coronavirus.

In a joint statement on March 25, the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association, and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists said “there is no incontrovertible evidence to support off-label use of medications for COVID-19.”

“What do I know?” Trump asked during the press briefing Sunday night. “I’m not a doctor.”

Media

Trump Again Touts Hydroxychloroquine, Which Has Major Potential Side Effects, as COVID-19 Treatment

President Donald Trump is again touting a drug used to treat certain other diseases and says he may take it himself in hope that it will help fend off the new coronavirus.

Trump says “there’s a rumor out there” that hydroxychloroquine is effective, declaring “I may take it.”

He has often pointed to hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure and urged people to take it, despite more sober assessments of its effectiveness by medical professionals.

The drug has long been used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Very small preliminary studies suggested it might help prevent coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner.

But the drug has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, and large studies are underway to see if it is safe and effective for treating COVID-19.

[Time]

Reality

Trump signals growing skepticism about coronavirus lockdown

President Donald Trump on Sunday night appeared to suggest he would soon consider relaxing federal guidelines meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic — even as senior administration officials promoted those measures as critical to preventing further loss of life and predicted a grim week ahead.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before midnight. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

The president’s message referred to the administration’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative, announced last Monday, which urged Americans to practice social distancing; avoid gatherings of more than 10 people; work or attend school from home whenever possible; and abstain from eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts.

At the White House coronavirus task force’s daily press briefing Sunday,Vice President Mike Pence noted that the country was seven days into the effortand praised Americans’ participation thus far.

“With the cooperation, compassion, generosity, and prayers of the American people, we can slow the spread, we can protect the most vulnerable, and we can heal our land,” Pence said. “So let’s do it, America.”

But while the guidance is helping “flatten the curve” of infected individuals within the United States, it has also contributed to a precipitous drop in economic activity.

Even more stringent directives issued by state and local authorities, such as large-scale “shelter-in-place” orders, have similarly spooked financial markets and provoked fears of an imminent recession.

On Monday morning, Trump signaled growing skepticism regarding those health-related lockdowns, retweeting a handful of accounts that proposed Americans return to work in the near future and advocated for a resumption of daily life in the U.S.

“The fear of the virus cannot collapse our economy that President Trump has built up,” read a tweet shared by the president. “We The People are smart enough to keep away from others if we know that we are sick or they are sick! After 15 days are over the world can begin to heal!”

In another post Trump retweeted, a Twitter user wrote that after 15 days, “we keep the high risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work.”

The president’s social media activity came as Surgeon General Jerome Adams made a string of appearances on morning news shows, repeatedly cautioning that the coming days would prove among the most difficult in Americans’ fight against the public health crisis.

[Politico]

Reality

Trump’s tweets came minutes after Fox News Steve Hilton said the same thing.

In coronavirus tweet storm, Trump touts suspect ‘cure’ and potential easing of guidelines to boost economy

President Donald Trump on Monday unleashed a barrage of posts spreading conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, chastising the World Health Organization for its early messaging, attacking his political enemies and the media, and promoting a dubious article that suggested a miracle cure was at hand. 

In more than a dozen tweets and retweets that started near midnight, the president signaled his anxiety about the economic toll the disease was wreaking on the American economy and suggested that he could ease up on 15-day guidelines the White House imposed a week ago. 

Trump also suggested he would support the decision of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over whether to cancel the Tokyo Olympics and expressed opposition to the release of some inmates from crowded jails, which is happening in several states as a public health precaution for low-level offenders and the elderly. Abe on Monday reportedly hinted the games might need to be postponed.

“WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump wrote in a tweet posted near midnight on Sunday. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!”

The president then retweeted, or posted to his own account, a number of replies, including one from a man named Chuck Callesto, who is identified as a “Digital Real Estate Manager,” promoting a possible cure. 

“They should take a SERIOUS LOOK at this…” Callesto wrote in the tweet posted to the president’s account, with a link to a story with the headline “REPORT: French Doctor Reports 100 % Cure Rate Using Malaria Drug to Treat Corona Virus.”

There is no known cure or treatment for coronavirus, though scammers have sought to cash in on the panic it has caused. On Sunday, the Department of Justice announced that it has taken its first action in federal court to stop COVID-19-related fraud, following Attorney General William Barr’s direction to prioritize prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic.

The DOJ said in a press release that it recommends that Americans ignore “offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.”

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to requests for comment on the president’s messages on Twitter.

In other messages, including tweets and retweets, the president attacked former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, as well as The New York Times, the WHO, and China, which he suggested was manipulating health data. 

In several posts, the president suggested that he was looking to ease the coronavirus-related guidelines that the White House imposed last week for a 15-day period that will end next Tuesday.

After the initial all-caps message, the president retweeted a number of accounts suggesting that future guidelines from the White House will call for isolating high-risk groups only.

“Flatten the curve NOT the Economy,” an account retweeted by the president wrote. 

The current federal guidelines, which are separate from the mandatory restrictions put in place by a number of states, call for individuals not to congregate in groups of more than 10, to avoid discretionary travel and to refrain from dining or drinking at restaurants, bars and food courts. 

Tens of millions of Americans remain under virtual lockdown because of state-level actions to close businesses and keep people indoors. California and New York, the nation’s most populous states, have effectively put their economies on pause. 

The president’s tweet storm came as coronavirus surpassed 350,000 confirmed infections around the world, with a death toll rising past 15,000. Worldwide, cases have doubled in the past week, according to the WHO, and deaths have nearly tripled. 

The effect of the disease and containment measures meant to stop it have tanked markets, with the worst expected to come. Weekly job loss claims are soon expected to hit records, dwarfing the numbers seen during the 2008 recession. 

The president’s tweets come as the administration is wrestling with the appropriate response to the virus moving forward. Officials worry that the first measures, called for by public health experts, may have been too harsh, and are considering separate guidelines for the hardest-hit states of California, New York and Washington, according to NBC News. The guidelines for other states could call for a return to business. 

Trump has sought to blame China, where the virus originated, for the disease, dubbing it the “Chinese Virus” against the recommendations of public health officials in his administration. In his posts on Monday, Trump suggested without evidence that China was putting out false information about coronavirus. 

He retweeted a post sent by his son, Donald Trump Jr., promoting a story in the conservative outlet Breitbart News with the headline “WHO Spread False Chinese Government Propaganda: Coronavirus Not Contagious Among Humans.”

The WHO did not return a request for comment. 

Another post retweeted to Trump’s timeline asks why people should take Chinese health statistics “at face value” given its cover-up of the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Trump has criticized China during his public press briefings from the White House for not disclosing information about the virus earlier, though he has also expressed sympathy for the hard-hit nation and President Xi Jinping.

“China has gone through hell over this. They’ve gone through hell. And I’ve had conversations with President Xi. I just wish they could have told us earlier. They knew they had a problem earlier,” Trump said at Saturday’s briefing. 

[CNBC]

Trump calls for anti-malaria drug to be used ‘immediately’ despite caution from top health expert

Donald Trump has called for an anti-malaria drug to be used to treat the coronavirus “immediately”, despite his top health expert having said that evidence for its effectiveness was so far “anecdotal”.

On Saturday morning the president tweeted: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents) be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE! @US_FDA @SteveFDA @CDCgov​ @DHSgov.”

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug while azithromycin is an antibiotic.

Mr Trump had mentioned hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment on Thursday, before being publicly rebuked by Anthony Fauci, his lead expert in the fight against Covid-19. The coronavirus has infected at least 18,000 people in the US and killed more than 270.

On Thursday the president said: “I do want to say – to me, something so big – the FDA has approved compassionate use for a significant number of patients. We have a drug called chloroquine. A derivation would be hydroxychloroquine, which I hear even better about.

“It’s a common malaria drug. It’s been available, so therefore the safety level we understand very well. It’s been relatively safe. And it showed very encouraging early results. Really encouraging. 

“If we – if this works as well as – hopefully it might. The FDA, which would have taken normally much longer to do under our great Secretary … the head of the FDA has been – Dr Stephen Hahn – he has been fantastic. He got it approved very quickly.  I won’t even tell you how quickly, but let’s put it this way: It’s approved.  And we’re encouraging you to take a look at it. We have ordered a lot of it, and you can too. It’s by prescription.

“It’s a very powerful drug for malaria and also for various forms of very serious arthritis. But we think it has a very serious – a very good impact on what we’re talking about with respect to the virus. So you’ll take a look at that. Then you can coordinate with us. But I think, to me, that’s a game changer.”

But asked about whether the drug was a promising solution, Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a White House news conference on Friday that the “the answer is no”.

He said that “the evidence you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence”

“It was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”

Dr Fauci told CNN “there’s no magic drug”.

This is not the first time during the coronavirus crisis that the president has clashed with his health experts. Having repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be developed within months, Dr Fauci and others were forced to stress that it would take at least a year and perhaps longer than 18 months.

[The Independent]

Trump falsely claims drug approval for virus

President Donald Trump misstated the facts Thursday when he asserted that the Food and Drug Administration had just approved a decades-old malaria drug to treat patients infected by the coronavirus. After his FDA chief clarified that the drug still needs testing, Trump also overstated the drug’s potential upside in helping contain the outbreak.

A look at his claims at a news briefing:

TRUMP: “And we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, and that’s where the FDA has been so great. They — they’ve gone through the approval process. It’s been approved.”

THE FACTS: The drug, known chemically as chloroquine, has been available for decades to treat the mosquito-borne illness malaria. Technically, doctors can already prescribe the drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing. But Trump falsely suggested to reporters that the FDA had just cleared the drug specifically for the viral pandemic spreading in communities across the U.S. That would mean that the drug had met the FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness.

Minutes later, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn emphasized that the drug still needs testing to determine if it can help patients. He said chloroquine would have to be tested in “a large pragmatic clinical trial to actually gather that information.”

Drug trials typically require hundreds or thousands of patients and, even when accelerated, take weeks or months to complete. In his remarks, Hahn reflected on his background as a cancer doctor and warned against giving patients “false hope” before drugs are fully vetted.

While chloroquine has shown promise in preliminary laboratory studies, some experts are skeptical it will prove effective in human testing.

“I think it could be a game changer, and maybe not,” Trump said, discussing the drug.

But the FDA reiterated in a statement Thursday that there are “no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19.”

___

TRUMP: “If chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine works, or any of the other things that they’re looking at that are not quite as far out … your numbers are going to come down very rapidly.”

THE FACTS: The drugs he is referring to are for treatment in patients already infected. That doesn’t prevent spread of the virus. One study is testing chloroquine to try to protect health care workers at highest risk of infection, because a vaccine is likely a year or more away.

[Associated Press]

Dr. Fauci swiftly fact-checks Trump on COVID-19 testing shortages: ‘That is a reality that is happening now’

Dr. Anthony Fauci fact-checked President Donald Trump’s claims about coronavirus testing.

The president insisted that he wasn’t hearing any complaints about Americans who have symptoms of COVID-19 but could not get tested, and Trump disagreed with Fauci’s earlier advice to test everyone to see who should remain in quarantine.

“I’m not hearing it,” Trump said. “We don’t want everybody to go out and get a test because there’s no reason for it.”

Another reporter came back to the topic less than three minutes later in the news conference, and asked Fauci whether testing availability was meeting public demand.

“I get the same calls that many of you get,” Fauci said. “Someone goes into a place who has a symptom and wants to get a test and for one reason or other, multiple logistic, technical, what have you — they can’t get it. That is a reality that is happening now. Is it the same as it was a few weeks ago? Absolutely not, because as the secretary and others have said, right now that we have the private sector involved the availability — not only just availability, but the implementation of the availability is getting better and better and better. Having said that, I understand and empathize with the people who rightfully are sayin, ‘I’m trying to get a test, and I can’t.’”

[Raw Story]

Photo of Trump remarks shows ‘corona’ crossed out and replaced with ‘Chinese’ virus

President Donald Trump on Thursday was photographed reading from notes at the daily coronavirus task force press conference where the word “corona” was crossed out and replaced with “Chinese” to described COVID-19.

The photograph, taken by a Washington Post photographer, showed the word crossed out in what appeared to be Sharpie and in the president’s own handwriting.

The image comes as Trump has ramped up his description of the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus” as he’s been questioned about whether he considers the label to be racist.

“It’s not racist at all,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “It comes from China, that’s why.”

There has been significant public criticism of the term, which critics say will inflame anti-Asian sentiment aimed at Asian Americans and Asian American-owned businesses here in the U.S.

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told NBC Asian America that Trump’s use of the term could have a dangerous impact.

“I absolutely think that words used by him matter,” he said. “Certainly use of this term by him and others even in the last couple of weeks have led to a noticeable incline in hate incidents that we are seeing. I do think that there is a correlation.”

Administration officials have defended the term by pointing out that the Chinese government has in recent weeks attempted to blame the U.S. for the virus, which originated in the Wuhan region of China.

Since 2015, the World Health Organization has warned against giving outbreaks geographic or national labels in order “to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.” Some prominent geographic or national labels from pandemics past, like Spanish Flu, have even been misnomers.

Amid increased criticism for his administration’s slow response to the outbreak, Trump has repeatedly highlighted his travel restrictions on China, which were instituted early on in the crisis.

“If people would have known about it, could have been stopped in place, it could have been stopped where it came from, China,” Trump told reporters Thursday in defending his administration’s efforts.

Congressional allies have risen to Trump’s defense amid the backlash. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., told reporters Wednesday that “China is to blame” because the Chinese culture is “where people eat bats and snakes and dog and things like that.”

Cornyn’s comments, which were also met with backlash, referred to reports that the virus was likely to have originated in a Chinese “wet market.”

[NBC News]

Trump calls Inslee a ‘snake’ over criticism of coronavirus rhetoric

President Donald Trump on Friday called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee “a snake” for criticizing his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trump went off on Inslee for saying that he wanted Trump to stick to the science when discussing the outbreak. Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay the gravity of the outbreak and floated his own hunches on matters of science.

“I told Mike not to be complimentary of that governor because that governor is a snake,” Trump said, referring to Vice President Mike Pence. “So Mike may be happy with him but I’m not, OK?”

Pence is Trump’s appointed head of the administration’s coronavirus efforts and has been reaching out to state and local officials to coordinate containment plans.

Inslee tweeted last month that he had been contacted by Pence but said he wanted the Trump administration to stick to the facts about the outbreak.

“I just received a call from @VP Mike Pence, thanking Washington state for our efforts to combat the coronavirus,” Inslee tweeted. “I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.”

Washington state was the location of the first U.S. death from coronavirus, and the number of deaths has since grown in the state.

Trump has repeatedly complained that he isn’t getting enough credit for attempting to prevent the outbreak.

“If we came up with a cure today, and tomorrow everything is gone, and you went up to this governor — who is, you know, not a good governor, by the way — if you went up to this governor, and you said to him, ‘How did Trump do?’ He would say, ‘He did a terrible job.’ It makes no difference,” Trump said Friday.

[Politico]

1 2 3 14