Trump undercuts his top infectious disease expert on whether an unapproved treatment for coronavirus is safe, a day after the FDA said it had not yet been approved

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Trump undercuts his top infectious disease expert on whether an unapproved treatment for coronavirus is safe, a day after the FDA said it had not yet been approved

Trump and Fauci March 20

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump listens to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a White House briefing on March 20

  • Trump has boosted the drug chlorine, which is used to treat malaria, as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
  • The FDA has not yet approved it as a treatment, leading to confusion about whether or not the drug can be used.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, his top infectious disease expert, stressed the need for clinical study of chloroquine's use for COVID-19 on Friday.
  • Trump jumped in shortly after and said he was a "big fan" of using chloroquine and that that he "comes from a very positive school when it comes to in particular one of these drugs."
  • He did acknowledge the need to "see how it works out."
  • Fauci repeatedly had to stress the need for clinical testing, and the lack of definitive proof for the treatment, during the briefing.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Trump undermined his own top infectious disease expert at a Friday White House briefing on the question of whether chloroquine, a drug that has been known to treat malaria but has not yet been rigorously tested and approved for treating the coronavirus, could be used to combat the new disease.

At a separate briefing the day before, Trump had said that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the coronavirus. But shortly after, the FDA commissioner Stephen Hahnc contradicted Trump, saying that the FDA would need to determine that in a clinical trial. A spokesman for the FDA told Bloomberg News that the drug had not yet been approved for COVID-19 patients.

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With confusion about the drugs' efficacy at treating coronavirus swirling and public demand surging, reporters asked for clarification at Friday's White House briefing about whether the drugs were a known treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responded bluntly that, "The answer is no, and the evidence that you're talking about...is anecdotal evidence."

"We're trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it's truly safe and truly effective," Fauci said. "But the information that you're referring to specifically is anecdotal, it was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can't make any definitive statement about it."

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But Trump continued to promote the potential treatment as he did on Thursday, jumping in immediately after Fauci finished speaking to add that he was a "big fan" of chloroquine.

Trump acknowledged Fauci's assessment that "it's early" but continued, "I've seen things that are impressive and we'll see, we're going to know so we're going to know soon, including safety, but, you know, when you get that safety this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem and it's very effective it's a strong. It's a strong drug, so we'll see."

"I will say that I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to in particular one of these drugs and we'll see how it works out," he said later in the press conference.

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After another round of questions about treatments, Fauci once again returned to the podium, this time striking a more conciliatory tone with the president but still emphasising the need for clinical testing.

"Fundamentally, I think it probably is going to be safe, but I like to prove things first, so it really is a question of not a lot of difference," Fauci said. "It's the hope that will work, versus proving that it will work."

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