Trump says anti-malaria drug will be used ‘almost immediately’ to treat coronavirus but is shot down by own health chief

President says popular Malaria drug has shown 'very, very encouraging early results' treating COVID-19

John T. Bennett
Thursday 19 March 2020 16:48 GMT
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After weeks ago appearing unaware that vaccine testing can take years, Donald Trump on Thursday announced efforts to accelerate drugs to treat coronavirus and allow more Americans to access them – but his comments were again contradicted by one of his top public health experts.

Though vague, the president said he hopes Americans can go back to their typical lives "very soon" as much of the country is in a virtual lock down as the number of virus cases has doubled in two days – to over 10,000. "You'll be able to tell a lot in a week or so," he said without explaining why. One major reason appeared his confidence in a drug already on the market to treat – but not cure or prevent – the sometimes-deadly novel virus.

"Immediate, like, as fast as we can get it," Mr Trump described the new treatment push, adding he is moving to clear "red tape" to allow drugs already cleared by US federal agencies to counter other ailments and also to obtain medicines made in other countries to lessen the deadly bug's severity.

One is called Hydroxychloroquine, which Mr Trump described as a common drug used to treat Malaria.

The US Food and Drug Administration has worked to approve it much faster than normal to treat COVID-19, he said, saying it "won't kill anybody" even though it is a "very powerful drug" that has already "shown very, very encouraging early results." It will be issued by doctors as a prescription, the president said.

But then he turned the White House briefing room microphone over to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who told a slightly different story, marking just the latest time during the outbreak and subsequent national shut down that the president has said one thing and a top federal health official has said another – or something similar, but also very different. Such has been the case on a myriad issues during the former reality television host and New York businessman's term in the White House.

Putting some process around Mr Trump's vague timeline, Mr Hahn explained that the Malaria drug will be tested for treating COVID-19 "in a very large clinical trial."

"That is a drug that the president has directed us to take a closer look at as to whether an expanded use approach to that could be done to actually see if that benefits patients," said Mr Hahn, adding: "And, again, we want to do that in the setting of a clinical trial, a large pragmatic clinical trial, to actually gather that information and answer the question that needs to be ... asked and answered."

The FDA boss also said his agency and others continued work on a vaccine for the novel virus, but echoed his public health colleagues by saying that might be "a year away."

In recent weeks, Mr Trump has contradicted his public health team by making comments that suggested he thought a vaccine could be developed, tested and deployed in just a few months. At one point, one of his top health aides, Anthony Fauci, had to break into a Cabinet Room meeting with drug manufacturers to correct the president by telling him a development-to-deployment vaccine effort could take over a year.

As he has on the scope and severity of the coronavirus, Mr Trump on Thursday sounded a new tone on a possible vaccine.

"You have to have long tests," the president told reporters, to make sure once the drug "goes into someone's body, it's not going to cause destruction [or] do bad things."

Meantime, the president said he would approve any provisions added to a coming economic stimulus bill to restrict any monies companies receive from it to go to stock buy-backs. White House officials and lawmakers want those funds to help employees.

He also said he did not make a final implementation of his powers under the Defence Production Act to allow the federal government to obtain critical medical equipment and supplies because he would prefer for states to make those purchases. "We're not a shipping agent," the president said of the federal government

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