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Why Trump Silenced Fauci on Hydroxychloroquine

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:48 PM
Laura Hoy
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:48 PM
  • Donald Trump’s reluctance to accept that hydroxychloroquine may not treat coronavirus was clear when he kept Dr. Fauci from answering questions about it this weekend.
  • There is some early evidence suggesting that the drug works.
  • But there are also plenty of studies contradicting those results, leading medical professionals to advise against using it  on a large scale.

The media have jumped on the fact that Donald Trump silenced top coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci when asked about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus.

Fauci was hesitant to endorse the treatment, saying the evidence is limited at best :

In terms of science, I don’t think we can definitively say it works. The data are really just at best suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect.

Fauci’s sentiment has been echoed by doctors around the world who point out that more testing is required. 

So why would President Trump go as far as stockpiling 29 million pills on that kind of advice? There’s a lot of speculation, but giving the president the benefit of the doubt—it could be because there’s some evidence that it works.

The Case for Hydroxychloroquine

One of the first reliable clinical trials of the drug came out of Wuhan just a few days ago. It showed that patients in the treatment group who were taking the anti-malaria tablets displayed significant improvements  over those in the control group who took no additional medication.

President Donald Trump, hydtroxychloroquine
Donald Trump’s push to use anti-malaria drugs to treat coronavirus isn’t totally unfounded. | Image: AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

A survey of Spanish doctors showed that 72% were using the pills to treat COVID-19. In Italy 55% of physicians were trying to treat the virus with the medicine. Of the 6,200 international doctors surveyed, the majority said hydroxychloroquine was the most effective COVID-19 therapy . 

With that evidence in mind, the president can be forgiven for wanting to push the drug forward:

I’m seeing people dying without it…When that’s happening, they should do it. What really do we have to lose? We don’t have time to say, ‘Gee let’s take a couple of years and test it out.

But Trump’s willingness to push the medication  out to the public gets murky when you consider the negatives. No one is disputing early evidence that the anti-malarial drugs may be useful in treating coronavirus, but there simply isn’t enough data to go on.

Can Anti-Malarial Drugs Treat COVID-19?

The bottom line for hydroxychloroquine is no one knows whether it’s effective in treating coronavirus and unfortunately the process for finding out takes time. Doctors like Mr. Fauci are hesitant to promote the drug as a cure without evidence because it has side effects that are potentially deadly.

chloroquine, Donald Trump
Clinical trials are essential to determine how the drug impacts different patients. | Image: GERARD JULIEN / AFP

Dr. Megan L. Ranney of Brown University noted that although it could work to treat some patients, it might not in others . Those details need to be ironed out before exposing the masses to the drug’s potential side effects:

There are side effects to hydroxychloroquine. It causes psychiatric symptoms, cardiac problems and a host of other bad side effects.

There are many anecdotal reports that the drug works to treat coronavirus, but there is just as much evidence that it doesn’t. A small-scale French study shows hydroxchloroquine doesn’t help resolve coronavirus cases —and that’s just one of many that claim the drug isn’t a useful treatment. 

Senior Consultant Physician Dr. Joyeeta Basu says that the lack of clear evidence suggests hydroxychloroquine doesn’t have much an impact :  

If it truly has a dramatic effect on the clinical course of Covid-19 we would already have evidence for that. We don’t, which tells us that hydroxychloroquine, if it even works at all, will likely be shown to have modest effects at best

Aside from questions about the drug’s effectiveness, there are other concerns about pushing it out as a treatment prematurely. Namely, it could reduce the supply of the medicine for those who actually need it. One of the reasons the approval process for hydroxychloroquine can  be expedited is that it’s already an existing treatment for rheumatic diseases. 

If the medication is deemed a cure to coronavirus, it may disrupt treatment for existing patients , which could further stretch healthcare resources. That might be a risk doctors are willing to take, but without evidence that the drug actually works, it’s a dangerous gamble.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.