Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he is taking a controversial anti-malaria drug to ward off coronavirus despite having no symptoms and the medication having potentially fatal side effects.
Trump revealed on Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquin – only approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – along with a zinc supplement ‘for about a week and a half now’.
The 73-year-old president has been touting hydroxychloroquin as a potential cure or treatment to prevent catching Covid-19 against the advice of many of his administration’s top medics. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been warning since April that the drug should not be used outside of hospital or research settings because it can cause heart problems.
He said his doctor had not recommended it to him, but that he requested it from the White House physician, saying: ‘I started taking it, because I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories.’ Brushing off concerns over side effects, he added: ‘All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK.’
Trump also claimed ‘many, many’ frontline workers ‘are taking it’ and ‘a lot of doctors take it’.
He said: ‘I take it. I hope to not be able to take it soon because, you know, I hope they come up with some answer. But I think people should be allowed to.’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN: ‘He’s our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group … morbidly obese, they say.’
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s remarks ‘dangerous’.
He said on MSNBC: ‘Maybe he’s really not taking it because the president lies about things characteristically.
‘I don’t know whether he is taking it or not. I know him saying he is taking it, whether he is or not, is reckless, reckless, reckless.’
At least two White House staffers tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, sparking concerns about the steps taken by the administration to protect the president.
The White House has since mandated that those in the West Wing wear face coverings and has introduced daily testing for the virus for Trump, the vice president and those they come in close contact with. Trump says he continues to test negative for the coronavirus.
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Several prominent doctors said they worried that people would infer from Trump’s example that the drug works or is safe.
Dr Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said: ‘There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective for the treatment or the prevention of Covid-19. The results to date are not promising.’
People should not infer from Trump’s example ‘that it’s an approved approach or proven’, because it’s not, added Dr David Aronoff, infectious diseases chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
President Trump later tweeted a letter he had sent to the World Health Organisation threatening to permanently drop US funding unless the WHO commits to ‘substantive improvements’ over the coming 30 days.
The US currently provides $450 million a year to the organisation, which Trump has accused of giving ‘bad advice, terrible advice’ as well as favouring China.
Writing to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump said ‘the only way forward’ is if the organisation ‘can actually demonstrate independence from China’.
The WHO announced on Monday that it would launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the coronavirus, as most of its member states have requested. It did not commit to investigating the origins of the virus, another point of contention between Trump and China.