During a White House briefing on Sunday, President Donald Trump stood his ground on the effectiveness of the drug hydroxychloroquine and its alleged ability to cure the novel coronavirus. Despite little to no evidence that the anti-malaria drug, which is also used to treat lupus patients, can aid in curing the widespread virus, Trump stated that although he is not a doctor, he is exploring hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure to COVID-19. As a result, the federal government is holding onto 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills until they know more.
Despite Trump's touting the use of this drug and holding on to it in bulk — which hurts those with lupus who actually need it right now — members of the coronavirus task force have disagreed with him over the success of this treatment. Most notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci has began to dispute these claims.
During a Sunday briefing, Dr. Fauci was forbidden from answering a reporter’s question over the effectiveness of the drug. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Fauci did, however, reject Trump’s claims over hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in March, stating during a briefing that “the answer is no” and that the previous testing done “was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
So, why is it that Trump is pushing Americans to use an untested drug to treat coronavirus? Trump’s faith in hydroxychloroquine first stemmed from tests ran on coronavirus patients in France and China. In both studies, hydroxychloroquine was used on a small number of infected patients — 31 in China and over 100 in two French cases — and their symptoms were monitored. While overall improvements were made in all three cases, the studies aren’t considered large enough to warrant solid evidence that hydroxychloroquine is a COVID-19 cure-all. The China-based study notably didn’t receive a significant peer review before being accepted by the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.
On the opposite end of Trump’s claim, a man in Arizona died just last month after taking the president’s words as truth and ingesting chloroquine phosphate to prevent a coronavirus infection. The man and his wife, who was in critical condition, ingested the wrong type of chloroquine, instead taking the kind used to clean fish tanks and not the anti-malaria drug.
Trump is not the only one relying on the drug’s “maybe” possibility of curing infected patients. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved the use of hydroxychloroquine, in combined usage with the antibiotic drug Zithromax, in as many as 4,000 coronavirus infected patients throughout the state in late March. His approval comes at a time when New York’s total number of cases, currently at nearly 123,000, continues to rise and medical resources continue to dry up.
Cuomo also plans to tread lightly as information about the drug is still to be determined. Still, the issue remains not that hydroxychloroquine won't work, but that we don't know yet — and the suggestion to blindly assign it as the cure for COVID-19 will only result in further health issues for Americans. And, the gray area as to whether drugs like hydroxychloroquine work to cure the coronavirus, which is leading to doctors stockpiling the drug, becomes harmful for patients who actually need it running on limited supply.