The one who raised hope is not the one President Trump put forward.
Again: it is not true that we have new and compelling evidence of the effectiveness of a drug. But news of a trial showing some benefit to Covid-19 patients of the antiviral drug remdesivir helped push the stock market higher on Friday. A report from the National Institutes of Health also suggested that the drug had stopped the progression of covid-19 – at least in monkeys.
For hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial, the news is less positive. There is still no proven evidence that improvements after taking the drug are causal. A number of controlled studies have in fact failed to demonstrate evidence that hydroxychloroquine or a related drug, chloroquine, has an effect on the disease. A New York family accuses the drug of causing a heart attack in his mother – an unproven claim but consistent with concerns about the use of the drug. The CIA even warned its employees against using the drug due to the possibility of “sudden cardiac death”.
You’ve probably heard of hydroxychloroquine. In the past month, Trump has mentioned it at least 45 times, according to public comments cataloged by Factba.se. His promotion of the drug was integrated into the partisan / cultural fight against the coronavirus pandemic, with his allies and his campaign actively trying to reinforce the arguments for the drug, clearly because it is something that Trump has emphasized as important. .
For Trump, the fight is low risk. When touting the drug, the worst thing that happens is that he has to rely on anecdotal evidence to prove his case. Should Hydroxychloroquine Suddenly Be A Miracle Cure – Something Former FDA Administration Scott Gottlieb Has Noted is unlikely, given its already wide use – Trump manages to boast that he was right. His instinct, once again triumphing over the experts. There are of course other drawbacks, including limited availability of the drug for patients who need it for other treatments and negative side effects. But it’s easy to see why Trump might think he can escape a lot of damage.
What is interesting is that Trump could have bet on remdesivir. During the March 19 briefing by the White House Coronavirus task force, Trump talked about a number of drugs.
“Nothing will bother us as we look for an avenue to find what works best against this horrible virus,” said Trump. He started by touting chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
“It has shown very encouraging results – very, very encouraging,” said Trump. “And we’re going to be able to make this medicine available almost immediately.” … I think it’s great – there are a lot of promises, based on the results and other tests. “
“I think it’s going to be great,” he added later.
Then he continued on to other possible treatments.
“There are promising therapies produced by Gilead, and this is remdesivir,” he said. “Remdesivir. And it is a drug for other purposes that has been released and has had very good results for other purposes, but it seems to have a very good result, linked to this virus. ”
The precise genesis of Trump’s fixation with hydroxychloroquine in particular is unclear. At the time of this briefing on March 19, the drug had already been mentioned several times on Fox News and Fox Business. In the weeks that followed, however, hydroxychloroquine in particular was mentioned repeatedly on Fox channels, day after day. Host Laura Ingraham talked about it the most – and brought doctors to the White House to sell Trump on the drug.
In Tweeter on March 21, Trump paired the drug with another called azithromycin, saying the combination “has a real chance of being one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” But azithromycin never really got the attention of Trump or Fox News.
There was another way it could all have happened for Trump. Instead of relying on hydroxychloroquine, by collecting millions of doses of the drug for a sort of uncontrolled national experience in its use, he could have reserved judgment, allowing the trials to go ahead while making the drugs available. He could have let science rule and his own rhetoric follow. But that’s not how Trump functions as president.
We spent a month hearing about an unproven drug. Trump has touted the government’s efforts to make it available, while expressing his obvious hype in language that we’ll see what’s going on. Why? There is no other obvious reason than the mere fact that Trump hyped the drug. He wanted it to work mostly, it seems, because he said it could work.
If he had chosen another path on March 19, who knows? If he had let the doctors do their research, he could have been one of the first advocates of the most useful drugs. Instead, there will always be these lingering questions: why promote this drugs, and why so energetically?