Donald Trump has revealed he has started taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug he has repeatedly touted as a possible coronavirus treatment despite concerns about dangerous side-effects.
The US president said he had been taking the drug daily in pill form for around 10 days and had discussed it with the White House doctor before doing so.
Mr Trump said many front line workers were using hydroxychloroquine to prevent getting Covid-19, citing a letter he had received from a doctor talking up the possible benefits.
“All I can tell you is so far I seem to be okay,” the president said. He stressed he had no coronavirus symptoms, suggesting he was taking the drug to somehow avoid infection.
Mr Trump also said in passing that he had been taking zinc – another drug that has been loosely discussed as having possible remedial benefits when it comes to coronavirus.
Neither hydroxychloroquine nor zinc have been proven to help prevent or treat coronavirus. Research remains on-going about whether they could be beneficial.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has actually warned against using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside of a hospital or clinical trial over fears it causes heart problems.
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Sean Conley, the president’s physician, released a letter on Monday evening outlining the thinking behind Mr Trump using hydroxychloroquine.
Mr Conley said: “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.”
The statement acknowledged there were potential risks in taking the drug. It also weighed its merit in the framework of “treatment”, rather than as a prevention – which was how the president justified taking the drug.
Mr Trump made the announcement unprompted while taking questions from reporters during a round-table event in the White House on Monday afternoon.
“A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy. You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front line workers before you catch it,” Mr Trump said.
“The front line workers – many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it, I happen to be taking it.”
Over the barrage of shouted questions that followed, Mr Trump continued: “I’m taking it. Hydroxychloroquine. Right now. Couple of weeks ago. Started taking it because I think it’s good.”
Mr Trump referenced a letter he got from a “very respected “doctor from Westchester, New York, who described how through using hydroxychloroquine, zinc and other treatments he had managed not to lose a single of his hundreds of coronavirus patients.
The president said the doctor, who he does not know and did not name, had urged him to “please keep pressing that sir” – a reference to Mr Trump’s previous support for using hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure.
“It seems to have an impact. And maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get sick and die,” Mr Trump said, despite warnings from his own government about potential knock-on effects.
He noted the drug has been used to tackle malaria for 40 years. Asked what medical evidence there was that it helped against coronavirus, Mr Trump said: “Here’s the evidence, I get a lot of positive calls about it.”
Mr Trump said at one point: “The expression I use is ‘What do you have to lose?’ What do you have to lose?’
“I take a pill every day. At some point I’ll stop. I’d like to have the cure and the vaccine and that will happen soon.”
The comments are at odds with the FDA, which last month issued a stark warning about the potential side-effects of using hydroxychloroquine.
“FDA cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for Covid-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems,” the top line of the announcement read.
Mr Trump said he had asked the White House doctor about taking hydroxychloroquine. He said he had not received a recommendation to take the drug but had been given the go-ahead.
He also downplayed a negative study about the potential of hydroxychloroquine to tackle the virus, blaming it on “people who aren’t Trump fans”.
It is just the latest time Mr Trump has publicly talked up the idea of using unproven treatments for coronavirus.
At one White House press briefing he triggered a fierce backlash by suggesting disinfectant injected into the body could help treat Covid-19. He later said he was being “sarcastic”.