- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday had a simple message for the media maelstrom over his use of hydroxychloroquine: Bite me.

Mr. Trump, however, refused to take the bait after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him “morbidly obese” in urging him not to take the drug, telling reporters that responding to her was a waste of time and that he’s heard good things about the drug.

“It doesn’t hurt people, it’s been out on the market for 60 or 65 years for malaria, lupus and other things. I think it gives you an additional level of safety,” Mr. Trump said after a meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

Administration officials on Tuesday defended Mr. Trump’s decision, which he revealed one day prior, shocking reporters and medical experts who say there isn’t clinical proof of its efficacy for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The drug is also known to disrupt heart rhythms in some users, an alarming side effect.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said some of the reactions to Mr. Trump’s decision were “apoplectic” and that members of her communications team have also taken hydroxychloroquine in the past.

Ms. McEnany said she spoke on Tuesday morning with Dr. Stephen Hahn, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who told her the malaria drug has been approved for several other uses.

“We have a lot of information about the safety of this drug, though ultimately you make that decision with your doctor,” she said on “Fox and Friends.” “So some of the misreporting on other networks — these apoplectic [analyses] of hydroxychloroquine — ignore the fact that tens of millions of people around the world have used this drug for other purposes.”

Rep. Roger Marshall, Kansas Republican, said Tuesday his entire family is taking hydroxychloroquine to try to ward off the virus, and Rep. Mike Kelly said he took it while battling the virus.

“I took it very early. My doctor prescribed it for me, and I got through the coronavirus,” Mr. Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican, told ABC’s “The View.” “I can’t say definitely if that’s what cured me, but I can say definitively that I took it, and I can say that I went through a period of time that I was sick. I came out of it within about nine days and self-quarantined another month on top of that.”

Vice President Mike Pence, whose spokeswoman tested positive for COVID-19 this month, said he is not taking the drug.

“But I would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician,” he said. “Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that’s been around for more than 40 years for treatment of malaria.”

“But, early in this process, the FDA approved what’s called off-label use where physicians could prescribe hydroxychloroquine in terms they deemed appropriate,” Mr. Pence said. “So my physician has not recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hydroxychloroquine can be prescribed to adults and children who plan to travel to areas of the world where malaria transmission occurs, such as Central America and the Caribbean.

It recommends that travelers take one dose a week before traveling to the affected area, one dose per week while there, and then for 4 more weeks after leaving.

The agency says there aren’t limits on its duration of use for malaria and it “a good choice for longer trips because you only have to take the medicine once per week.”

Mr. Trump pointed to the drug’s longstanding uses in explaining why he started on it a few weeks ago — a timeline that lines up with word that his personal valet tested positive for the coronavirus.

At a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Trump said he figured it wasn’t “a bad time to take it” after the valet’s diagnosis.

The president said he’s seen evidence of its efficacy against COVID-19 from France and Italy and dismissed an analysis from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which said more patients on it died than those who didn’t take it.

Mr. Trump suggested the study was “phony” and crafted by people who don’t like him and involved people who were very old, “in very bad shape” and “almost dead.”

At a Cabinet meeting, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said outside researchers looked at his agency’s usage, but the data were not peer-reviewed.

The Food and Drug Administration last month had warned patients against using the drug for COVID-19 treatment outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial, pointing to known side effects that include “serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems.”

Earlier this year, a Brazilian study was halted early due to cardiac complications from the drug.

The CDC’s fact sheet on treating malaria doesn’t mention heart problems but says travelers can mitigate side effects like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and headache by taking the medicine with food.

Mr. Trump has promoted hydroxychloroquine as a potential game-changer against the coronavirus for weeks. He said calls from doctors and supporters who vouch for the drug is all the proof he needed amid the pandemic, which has killed more than 90,000 people in the U.S.

Mr. Trump’s political rivals said they worry that people will get their hands on hydroxychloroquine without a proper consultation.

“Please, citizens of America, don’t take hydroxychloroquine as a prevention for COVID-19. It is not, medical experts have said, it is not. Remember, it is risky. The FDA has said it has risks,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “This is a medicine that experts say, at best, may not be effective in treating or preventing COVID-19, and at worst, causes serious heart problems in patients with certain conditions.”

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, had said Monday night on CNN that taking that drug was not a good idea for the president because of his “age group and in his, shall we say, weight group,” which she described as “morbidly obese.”

When asked about her remarks Tuesday, Mr. Trump replied “I don’t respond to her. I think she’s a waste of time.”

Mr. Trump said hydroxychloroquine is part of his broader efforts to discover therapies and, ultimately, a vaccine for the coronavirus.

“I think it’s worthwhile as a line of defense, and I plan on staying on it for a little while longer,” he said. “I’m just very curious, myself.”

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