The battle over the merits of an anti-malarial drug as a potential treatment for coronavirus is raging within the White House, as health experts caution against President Trump’s frequent touting of hydroxychloroquine.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday appeared to confirm reports of a heated meeting over the weekend in the White House Situation Room in which he touted studies promoting the therapeutic benefits of the drug.
“If we didn’t have disagreement and debate in the Trump administration, this administration would not be as strong as it is,” Mr. Navarro said on CNN.
Mr. Navarro said there was unanimous agreement at the task force meeting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would start “surging” the drug into hot zones, with doctors using it at their discretion.
President Trump recently touted that 29 million doses were going into the strategic national stockpile.
Mr. Navarro brought a stack of materials into the meeting Saturday to tout studies showing its therapeutic benefits.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back and reiterated a point he has stressed publicly that there’s been little more than anecdotal evidence.
“I agree with the analysis of Dr. Fauci in this sense — we don’t have definitive, a 100% science to say that this absolutely works and we don’t know what degree that it does work,” Mr. Navarro said.
Mr. Trump has frequently heralded the drug as a potential “game-changer” in the fight against the coronavirus.
“What do you have to lose?” he said when talking about virus patients fighting for their lives in hospital intensive care units.
The president suggested over the weekend that he might personally take the drug, apparently as a preventative measure.
Mr. Trump has tested negative for the coronavirus at least twice.
Mr. Navarro, who has no medical training, told CNN: “I would have two words for you: ‘second opinion.’
“Basically, what I have said and the only thing I have said is that the scientific studies that I have seen point to the possibility that it has both therapeutic efficacy as well as possible prophylactic efficacy,” Mr. Navarro said. “This is a situation where this drug could save lives, and I think there needs to be a debate.”
A recent international poll of more than 6,200 doctors found that hydroxychloroquine was the most effective therapy for COVID-19, out of a list of more than a dozen options.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency authorization to allow doctors to administer the drug to coronavirus patients under certain conditions, though there is no official FDA-approved product available to treat the virus.
“This may help you to get better,” the FDA says in a fact sheet for patients, which also lists potential side effects such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and headaches.
Dr. Fauci and others in the medical profession are urging caution.
Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, told CNN that she would not prescribe it to a patient who had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and that there could be negative side effects or even deaths.
The AMA and the American Pharmacists Association recently issued a joint statement saying they “strongly oppose” the idea of doctors prescribing the drug preventatively and pharmacies and hospitals stocking up anticipating a future need.
“We caution hospitals, health systems and individual practitioners that no medication has been FDA-approved for use in COVID-19 patients, and there is no incontrovertible evidence to support off-label use of medications for COVID-19,” they said.
Still, Dr. Eric Wei, vice president and chief quality officer for NYC Health and Hospitals, on Monday said many patients in the city’s hospitals are receiving hydroxychloroquine as part of treatment regimens.
“We’re making sure that we’re following the science,” Dr. Wei said. “We are still looking at the data, but right now we’re willing to try just about anything to save patients.”
There are ongoing tests on its efficacy in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that limits pharmacists’ ability to dispense the drug outside a hospital or inpatient setting.
“Doctors have to prescribe it — there are some people who have preexisting conditions where it doesn’t work, or they’re taking medication that’s not consistent with this treatment,” Mr. Cuomo said Monday. “But anecdotally, it’s been positive.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, one of a handful of congressmen who have tested positive for coronavirus, on Monday said he took hydroxychloroquine during his recovery.
Mr. McAdams said he took the hydroxychloroquine alone and not in combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic. That combination has also been mentioned as a potential treatment for coronavirus.
He said he’s not aware of any side effects and that he doesn’t know whether it helped or not.
“I’m not saying it didn’t, I just know that I was sick for about eight days and ultimately got better,” he said on Fox Business Network. “So I’m going to leave it up to the doctors and the scientists to say within the whole body of knowledge whether it worked, whether not taking [antibiotics] — maybe that was a factor in my treatment and what that means.”