The politically charged debate on hydroxychloroquine – medical experts say there is no conclusive evidence that he is doing what Trump suggested – points to a recurring phenomenon in this administration, in which the President presents a very public, sometimes controversial position on a subject only so that agencies within government chart a different, more cautious approach.
A CIA website for employees with questions about the coronavirus raised the subject on March 27, noting that there were reports in the media suggesting that the drug “has activity against the COVID-19 virus”.
“At this point, it is not recommended to use the drug by patients, except by healthcare professionals who prescribe it as part of the ongoing investigative studies. There are potentially significant side effects, including sudden cardiac death, associated with hydroxychloroquine and its individual use in patients should be carefully selected and monitored by a healthcare practitioner, “said the response, before adding in bold: “Please do not get this medicine by yourself. ”
A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on internal employee communications. The notice was posted in response after an employee asked if he should take the medication without a prescription.
The warning came about a week after the president first touted the drug at a White House press conference. “I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game-changer,” said Trump.
The president has become a bigger stimulant for the drug as the public health crisis worsens, saying at a briefing on April 3 that hydroxychloroquine “looks like it is having good results.”
On Monday, the president added, “Most recently, a friend of mine told me that he has improved with the use of this drug, so who knows? I think if someone recommended it other than me, it would be used everywhere. “
Trump’s cause has been picked up by some of his supporters, including Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, but medical experts have issued the same cautionary note that the CIA gave its employees.
On April 5, as the president’s comments continued to alarm medical experts, Trump added a note of caution to his praise of the drug, saying, “You have to go through your medical staff, get approval. But I saw things that I like a little. So what do I know? I am not a doctor. . . . But I have common sense. ”
Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades to treat malaria and has also been used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But it’s unclear if it works for covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Among the few preliminary studies, one was promising, although this result was later questioned by the study editor.
Experts have warned of side effects, such as cardiac arrhythmia, which can be fatal.
A recent study in Brazil on chloroquine, which is similar to hydroxychloroquine, was halted early because a number of test subjects developed dangerous heart problems.
Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the data on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against the virus were “really at best suggestive.”
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration urgently approved an effort by the Trump administration to distribute millions of doses of antimalarial drugs to hospitals across the country, saying that trying unproven treatments was worth it to slow down the disease in critically ill patients.