White House, experts clash over use of drug for coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro listens to a news conference about a presidential executive order relating to military veterans outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, U.S. March 4, 2019. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)


White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday acknowledged that members of the task force dealing with the coronavirus outbreak clashed over the weekend about the efficacy of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for use against the disease.

Navarro had a heated clash on Saturday with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Axios reported. Fauci and other top health advisers have argued there have not been enough studies done to prove the drug was effective against the disease.

Navarro has been appointed by Trump to oversee the administration’s implementation of the Defense Production Act to help produce scarce medical supplies. While acknowledging he has no scientific background, Navarro said he believed the hydroxychloroquine studies done so far were convincing.

“There was that discussion on Saturday,” Navarro said in an interview with CNN. “If we didn’t have disagreements and debate the Trump administration would not be as strong as it is.”

The dispute illustrated the tensions between the White House’s scientific and health experts and other policymakers or advisers in the administration, led by the president himself, who have been pushing the malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxycloroquine, for use during the coronavirus crisis.

Trump has made his opinion on the drug well known and personally pressed federal health officials to make them available to treat coronavirus, two sources have told Reuters.  

The president has repeatedly pushed the drug as a potential treatment, most recently on Sunday, adding “But what do I know? I’m not a doctor.”

However, when Fauci, who is a doctor, was asked a question about the drug at the same task force briefing, Trump cut in and blocked him from answering, “Do you know how many times he’s answered that question? Maybe 15.”

At Saturday’s meeting of the task force, Navarro told CNN, “there was unanimous agreement that FEMA would immediately begin surging hydroxy into the hot zones to be dispensed only between a doctor and a patient decision not the federal government.” He said there were 29 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine sitting in a warehouse.

Navarro said that patients in the New York hospital system that come in presenting symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, are given a cycle of hydroxychloroquine. A state health department official said doses of hydroxychloroquine were shipped to 56 hospitals across New York, distributing enough “to treat 4,000 patients to date,” the New York Post reported.

Navarro argued there were now “numerous scientific studies that indicate potential efficacy,” including one published in the last few days involving Wuhan, China, where the virus first surfaced, that he said was one of the first randomized studies in a control group.

“All my role has been in this is to suggest that we have this in the stockpiles and that you should have that discussion about whether we should surge this in the task force,” he said.

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