I have posted the video of yesterday’s White House task force briefing in its entirety at the bottom (transcript here). One couldn’t help but notice that President Trump is optimistic about the use of chloroquine against the Wuhan virus, both as a treatment and preventive.
Trumps’s optimism emerged at several points. It was offset by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s caution that we lack a clinical trial of the drug against the virus. So why, we might wonder, is there no question on expediting the necessary clinical trials? That would be a good question.
The Boston Herald’s covered the exchange in “Trump peddles coronavirus hope, media peddles partisan hype.” This is how it went down:
Q Mr. President, about the possible therapies yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for, quote, “immediate delivery.” Immediate. We heard it from doc- —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, well, we were ordering — yes, we have millions of units ordered. Bayer is one of the companies, as you know. A big company. A very big, very great company. Millions of units are ordered, and we’re going to see what happens. We’re going to be talking to the governors about it, and the FDA is working on it right now.
The advantage is that it has been prescribed for a totally different problem, but it has been described [sic] for many years, and everybody knows the levels of — the negatives and the positives. But I will say that I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs. And we’ll see how it works out, Peter.
I’m not — I’m not saying it will, but I think that people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game changer. But we’re going to know very soon. But — but we have ordered millions of units. It’s being ordered from Bayer, and there is another couple of companies also that do it.
Q For clarity, Dr. Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree. I guess, on this issue then —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I think we only disagree a little bit.
Q — so let me just ask, though: Is it possible that — sorry.
THE PRESIDENT: I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see. We’re going to know. We’re going to know soon.
Q Is it possible — it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of —
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think so.
Q — hope, and misrepresenting the preparedness right now?
THE PRESIDENT: No. No, I don’t think so. I think that — I think it’s gotten —
Q The ship is not yet ready to sail. The not-yet-approved drug
THE PRESIDENT: Such a lovely question. Look, it may work and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor, what he said: It may work, it may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. You know, I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. And we’re going to see. You’re going to see soon enough. And we have certainly some very big samples of people, if you look at the people. You have a lot of people that are in big trouble. And this is not a drug that — obviously, I think I can speak for a lot of — from a lot of experience, because it’s been out there for over 20 years. So it’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not like a brand-new drug that’s been just created that may have an unbelievable monumental effect, like kill you.
We’re going to know very soon. And I can tell you the FDA is working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you wanted, you can have a prescription. You get a prescription. And by the way — and it’s very effective. It works.
I have a feeling you may — and I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. I mean, there’s been some interesting things happened and some good — very good things. Let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know the expression: What the hell do you have to lose? Okay?
Q So what to do you say to — the units that were ordered — the units that were ordered.
THE PRESIDENT: John, go ahead.
Q I’ll just follow up. Nearly 200 dead. What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? I guess, nearly 200 dead; 14,000 who are sick; millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?
THE PRESIDENT: I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say.
Q Mr. President, the units that were just declared —
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism, and the same with NBC and “Con-cast.” I don’t call it — I don’t call it “Comcast,” I call it “Con-cast.”
Let me just — for who you work — let me just tell you something: That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows. I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens.
Q Can I get back to science and the logistics here?
THE PRESIDENT: You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Q The units that were ordered, are they for clinical trials or are they for distribution to the general patient population?
THE PRESIDENT: We are going to — as I understand it, we are going to be taking samples in New York. Governor Cuomo very much is interested in this drug. And they are going to work on it also, after they get a certain approval. We’re waiting for one final approval from the FDA. We’ll see what happens.
But we’ll use it on people that are not doing great, or even at the beginning of not feeling well.
Q So this would sort of fall under the modified auspice —
THE PRESIDENT: And, John, what do we have to lose?
Q So this would sort of —
THE PRESIDENT: Wait, John — it’s been out there for so long. We hear good things. Let’s see. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t.
Q I understand all of that. I’m just thinking the application here. So that would be under, sort of, a modified compassionate access?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re doing that, I guess. And that’s –that’s what it’s called.
Q I would like Dr. Fauci, if you don’t mind, to follow up on what the President is saying. Should Americans have hope in this drug right now? And, sir, I would like to follow up on Peter’s question here. Could you please issue — address Americans in this country who are scared right now? This is a very valid concern that people have.
DR. FAUCI: No, there really isn’t that much of a difference in many respects with what we’re saying. The President feels optimistic about something — his feeling about it.
What I’m saying is that it might — it might be effective. I’m not saying that it isn’t. It might be effective. But as a scientist, as we’re getting it out there, we need to do it in a way as — while we are making it available for people who might want the hope that it might work, you’re also collecting data that will ultimately show that it is truly effective and safe under the conditions of COVID-19. So there really isn’t difference. It’s just a question of how one feels about it.
Q Is there any reason to believe it’s not safe?
DR. FAUCI: Well, certainly as a drug — any drug, John, has some toxicities. The decades of experience that we have with this drug indicate that the toxicities are rare and they are, in many respects, reversible. What we don’t know is when you put it in the context of another disease, whether it is safe.
Fundamentally, I think it probably is going to be safe, but I like to prove things first. So it really is a question of not a lot of difference. It’s the hope that it will work versus proving that it will work. So I don’t see big differences here.
THE PRESIDENT: I agree. I agree.
The part of the exchange with Peter Alexander of NBC News is accessible via the tweet below.
Full video of Trump's exchange with NBC's Peter Alexander shows:
1⃣Hopeful & optimistic Trump reassures Americans, says drug to treat coronavirus may be "gamechanger."
2⃣Alexander attacks Trump's positivity, accuses him of "misrepresenting," implies people should not have hope. pic.twitter.com/GQOqqa2hwq
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) March 20, 2020
Two points: (1) A trial led by the University of Minnesota began this week to determine chloroquine can prevent or reduce the severity of the virus. See here (Reuters) and here (Trial Site News). (2) Physicians can prescribe chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for off-label use against the virus right now.
For some reason neither FDA Commissioner Hahn nor Dr. Fauci has clearly made these points in the briefings so far. I think someone has made these points to President Trump and that they are implicit in his remarks. President Trump is on the case (tweet below).
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)…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2020
The attention of the press, however, is, as always, elsewhere.