Trump vs Fauci: President And Doctor Spar Over Unproven Drug

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President Donald Trump listens as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an extraordinary exchange, President Donald Trump and the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, publicly sparred Friday on whether a malaria drug would work to treat people with coronavirus disease.

The scene played out on national television during the daily White House briefing on the outbreak. Anxious for answers, Americans heard conflicting ones from a just-the-facts scientist and a president who operates on gut instinct.

Reporters asked both men — first Fauci then Trump — if a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. A day earlier, when Fauci wasn’t with him at that briefing, Trump had called attention to the drug.

On Friday, Fauci took the reporter’s question and got right to the point.

“No,” he said. “The answer … is no.

“The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal,” Fauci added firmly. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”

He went on to explain that the Food and Drug Administration is looking for a way to make the drug available to patients for emergency use, but in a manner that gives the government data about whether it’s safe and effective. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH and in more than 30 years has handled HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola and now the new coronavirus.

Currently, there is no medicine specifically approved for treating COVID-19.

But Trump stuck to what his gut was telling him. As the two men took turns at the podium, Trump said he disagreed with the notion that there is no magic drug for the coronavirus disease. “Maybe and maybe not, ” he said. “Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see.”

He struck an upbeat note, while trying not to directly challenge Fauci.

“I think without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that … maybe than anybody, ” he said. “But I’m a big fan, and we’ll see what happens. And we all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It’s early.

“You know, I see things that are impressive … we’re going to know soon,” the president added. “And it’s very effective. It’s a strong — it’s a strong drug. So, we’ll see.”

Hydroxychloroquine and a similar drug — chloroquine — are available now and can be prescribed off-label by doctors in the United States. They may interfere with the coronavirus being able to enter cells, and some scientists have reported possible encouraging signs in test-tube and other small studies.

Other scientists are skeptical that those promising test-tube results will translate to benefits for patients.

Fauci has a history of being the fact-based counterpoint to the Trump administration’s upbeat assessments of the coronavirus outbreak.

After Fauci said weeks ago that even with all deliberate speed a vaccine could take a year to 18 months, Trump told a political rally one could be ready “relatively soon.”

As administration officials repeatedly assured the public that coronavirus tests were rapidly becoming available, Fauci at a congressional hearing said the lack of widespread testing was “a failing” of the system. Although Fauci has publicly supported Trump’s travel restrictions to try to keep the virus out, he warned the public the worst was coming even as Trump suggested the crisis was under good control.

On Friday at the White House podium, Fauci’s caution did little to dampen Trump’s enthusiasm.

“Look, it may work and it may not work and I agree with the doctor,” Trump said. “It may work, it may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. You know, I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. And we’re going to see. You’re going to see soon enough.”

The two even debated the safety of the malaria drug, with Trump saying it has a proven record and Fauci cautioning that safety has to be validated again because it would be used to treat the coronavirus disease, which is different.

In the end, the scientist seemed to be trying to find a way to avoid a direct confrontation with the president.

“No, there really isn’t that much of a difference in many respects with what we’re saying,” Fauci tried to explain. “The president feels optimistic about something. His feeling about it. What I’m saying is that it might — it might be effective.”

It wasn’t just Trump with whom Fauci took issue.

In answer to a reporter’s question, he called a suggestion by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that the administration was overreacting, given that thousands of people die on the highways every year, a “false equivalency.” He added: “I don’t think with any moral conscience you can say, ‘Why don’t we just let it rip and happen and let X percent of the people die?'”

And asked about economist Kevin Hassett’s suggestion that all Americans be tested so that uninfected people can get back to work, Fauci said, “I don’t connect the dots there.” Even if it might be nice to know the test results, it will take social distancing to slow the spread.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. This is where the Trump ideaology needs to take precedent, This is an epic outbreak and war. We ca’t wait till the red tape in the FDA bureaucracy decides that it was “clincally tested ” and factually works with no risks. We need to throw the kitchen sink at this. We have eyewitness videos who say it helped. Go for it but don’t put hopes in it

    • Archie, just a few weeks ago you were agreeing with Trump that this whole Coronavirus is an overblown hoax and will be forgotten by April. Now you’re agreeing with Trump and saying “this is an epic outbreak” and “we need to throw the kitchen sink at this.” Have you no shame?

    • Once again, ain’t that simple.
      We can’t wait for the red tape to make sure it works with no risks? Yes, we can and must.
      The first rule in medicine is “do no harm.”
      Giving people false hope, throwing “the kitchen sink,” and hoping something works is a recipe for disaster.
      Using-up the supplies of chloroquine would be devastating to those who really need it, e.g. the people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
      This is not a benign drug: it is an immunosuppresant and it does have side-effects.

      • We have ample supplies. We won’t use it up.

        Yes people need to know not to despair.

        By the way wouldn’t it be fun if nov elections are postponed and trump
        remains president? That may happen

  2. No better example of what a stupid fool Trump is. Arguing with a medical expert on a medical issue! Who should we trust? The expert or the “smart guy’s” gut?

    • The stupid fool is you, since the treatment has already shown good results, but you would prefer that more people die while the FDA drags things out testing and certifying it. Even Fauci hasn’t said it shouldn’t be prescribed and taken, just that it should be done carefully.

    • Think clearly now just one second you hater.
      He’s unfortunately you’re a trump hater so try thinking.
      There is a drug which is safe been around many many years, people take it for all different reason.
      Are you still thinking, there is no reason not to give it to people who are very sick with the virus, when there are many stories that it help.
      Even though there isn’t clinical testing.
      We have no other alternative.

      You and the media with the dem need to stop and cut of the hating.

    • We have heard eye witness videos . Yes I got two videos from people who took it and hit better. We can’t wait for so called experts fo formally study and test this. It’s a war and we can’t wait for those slow poke health specialists. Now if anyone said hey it’s for sure dangerous you’d have point . But all they are saying is that it hasn’t been clinically tested m. Shkioach we all saw what’s app videos of people who took it and got better

  3. Archie, just a few weeks ago you were agreeing with Trump that this whole Coronavirus is an overblown hoax and will be forgotten by April. Now you’re agreeing with Trump and saying “this is an epic outbreak” and “we need to throw the kitchen sink at this.” Have you no shame?

  4. Oy va voy. Obviiously frum people believe in Trump. they believe in every con in the book. Arguing with a medical professionaland yet the illusion is still too strong for you to penetrate. Hon

  5. Oy va voy. Obviiously frum people believe in Trump. they believe in every con in the book. Arguing with a medical professionaland yet the illusion is still too strong for you to penetrate. Hon

  6. The NBC reporter who tried to confront Trump regarding his optimism that this virus would eventually be defeated, got his tuchas kicked by Trump, yesterday. The reporter was very confrontational, rude, and disrespectful. Trump was right when he stated that reporter should not try to sensationalize stories, and was a terrible reporter.

  7. Fake news! This is not sparring! They were talking from different perspectives. Fauci is talking about double blind studies and Trump about anecdotal evidence.

  8. With all due respect to Dr. Fauci, he’s enjoying the spotlight and when this is over, don’t be shocked to see him prancing on all cable networks hocking away as this big new star. Go for it, Mr. President.

  9. Dr. Zelenko of Kiryas Yoel just released a video urging Trump to push that drug because he’s seeing positive results. This Fauci isn’t God. I don’t give a rat’s puff about Fauci because other drs. are seeing other results, so let’s be creative. Trump haters__ you’re stinking hypocrites.

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