President Trump told a stunned press conference that he is taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in an attempt to protect himself from COVID-19 — a use for the drug the FDA has warned could cause life-threatening side effects.
“I happen to be taking it," Trump said on Monday. "I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine."
"Why, sir?" yelled out one reporter.
“Because I think it’s good," said the president. "I’ve heard a lot of good stories."
There is currently no cure for COVID-19. Multiple studies into the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment have had mixed results, although it is being used in trials in hospital settings. No studies have yet looked at the efficacy of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine in preventing COVID-19.
A small clinical trial in Brazil was halted after some coronavirus patients being treated with chloroquine experienced irregular heart rates and more than a dozen died, according to a study published mid-April.
Trump said the White House doctor had not recommended it, but gave him a prescription when he requested it. "I said I'd like it," Trump said.
"I hope to not be able to take it soon, but I think people should be able to," he added. The president said he has been told many essential workers are quietly taking it.
Trump said he'd been taking the controversial drug for about two weeks.
During that time, multiple staffers who work at the White House have tested positive for COVID-19. They include one of the president's personal valets and Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, who is married to one of Trump's top advisers, Stephen Miller.
"All I can tell you is so far I've been OK," said Trump.
Later Monday, White House physician Sean Conley said in a memo that Trump continues to be in good health and has continually tested negative for the coronavirus.
"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.
For months, Trump has repeatedly touted antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a possible miracle treatment for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, despite medical authorities having mixed success with the drug.
"What do you have to lose? Take it,” Trump said at coronavirus task force press briefing on April 5.
In late April, the US Food and Drug Administration warned against taking hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — to prevent or treat COVID-19, noting they could cause serious side effects including heart problems and even death.
Trump said a doctor from Westchester, New York, had reached out to him, saying how helpful hydroxychloroquine had been to his patients and that he hadn't lost one, which encouraged him.
"I've received many such letters," said Trump, suggesting that patients should be able to request treatment with hydroxychloroquine, and added, "You're not going to get sick or die." But that's exactly what medical authorities have warned could happen.
Trump said he's also taking zinc, a common vitamin supplement.
Hydroxychloroquine is regularly prescribed to patients with arthritis or lupus, and the push for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment has seen many patients struggling to fill their normal prescriptions.