By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, in a surprise announcement, said on Monday he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medicine against the coronavirus despite medical warnings about the use of the malaria drug.
Trump volunteered the disclosure during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the White House as he met restaurant executives whose businesses are reeling from the impact of the virus.
“I’m taking hydroxychloroquine,” Trump said. “I’ve been taking it for the last week and a half. A pill every day.”
Weeks ago, Trump had promoted the drug as a potential treatment based on a positive report about its use against the virus, but subsequent studies found that it was not helpful. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about its use.
In an April 24 statement, the FDA said it was “aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems” in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or an older drug, chloroquine.
Trump, 73, who is tested daily for the virus, said he had asked the White House physician if it was OK to take the drug, and the doctor told him: “Well, if you’d like it.”
The president, a well-known germaphobe, has nonetheless refused to wear a protective mask in the West Wing.
White House physician Sean Conley said in a memo that Trump was in “very good health” and had been receiving regular COVID-19 testing, which has all been negative since one of his support staff tested positive for the disease two weeks ago.
“After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks,” Conley said in the memo released by the White House.
Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked on CNN about Trump’s taking the drug, said: “He’s our president. I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say weight group what is morbidly obese, they say.”
According to the results of an annual presidential physical examination conducted in February 2019, Trump had gained weight over the past year and was now in the obese range, although remaining in “very good health overall.” https://reut.rs/3bGMCtl
Morbid obesity is generally defined as a body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight relative to height – of 40 or higher. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight and 30 or above is obese.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in an MSNBC interview that what Trump did with hydroxychloroquine was “reckless” and was giving people “false hope.”
Trump’s disclosure came as Moderna Inc reported progress in a potential vaccine for the virus. The only drug that has emerged so far as a potential treatment is Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir.
Fox News Channel, immediately after Trump’s remarks, interviewed Dr. Bob Lahita, chairman of medicine at St. Joseph University Hospital in New Jersey, who cautioned people not to take hydroxychloroquine.
“There’s no effect that we have seen and we have treated multiple patients with it,” he said.
Trump said he also took a single dose of azithromycin, an antibiotic meant to prevent infection. In conjunction with hydroxychloroquine, Trump said he was taking zinc.
“All I can tell you is so far I seem to be OK,” he said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Eric Beech and Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)