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Trump slams 'phony' media report of lethal hydroxychloroquine, says DoD used drug safely for decades

'People should want to help people, not to make political points. It’s really sad when they do that.'

Updated: May 26, 2020 - 2:32pm

President Trump on Tuesday slammed what he called a "phony" media report claiming that the drug hydroxychloroquine is lethal, saying the United States, including the Department of Defense, had safely used the drug for decades.

"What has been determined is that it doesn’t harm you," said Trump, one day after announcing that he's taking the drug, then taking a storm of criticism. "It’s gotten a bad reputation only because I”m promoting it. So I’m obviously a very bad promoter. If anybody else were promoting it, they’d say, 'It’s the greatest thing ever.’" 

After Fox News host Neil Cavuto last night told viewers that data showed hydroxychloroquine "will kill you," Trump retweeted a message calling Cavuto an “as***le” and another one calling him “foolish and gullible.”

@FoxNews is no longer the same,” Trump wrote in a separate tweet, adding that he misses “the great Roger Ailes,” the founder of Fox who died in 2017.

The drug has been been approved for decades by the Food and Drug Administration for malaria and other illnesses. 

During a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday Trump criticized a retrospective study of Veterans Affairs patients hospitalized with coronavirus showing hydroxychloroquine was ineffective.

Trump argued the study failed to take into consideration the underlying co-morbidities associated with higher coronavirus death rates.

"That was a phony study, and it’s very dangerous to do it," he said. "The fact is, people should want to help people, not to make political points. It’s really sad when they do that."

Trump said the drug is currently being used by “thousands and thousands” of front-line doctors fighting the coronavirus as a first line of defense to protect against COVID-19. 

Trump says after his valet and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the virus, he figured it wasn’t “a bad time to take it" for preventative purposes "as a front-line defense."

"I’ve had no impact from it," Trump said. "I feel the same, I haven’t changed I don’t think too much. And at some point, you know, I won’t take it. It doesn’t seem to have any impact on me." 

Trump said other studies from Italy, France, Spain, and the U.S. showed hydroxychloroquine had promise for patients with coronavirus.

"And it’s a very inexpensive drug, it’s almost pennies," he said. "It’s very inexpensive. And it’s been out for close to 70 years for a couple of different things, lupus and malaria and even arthritis, they say."

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in the same meeting that the reported study critical of hydroxychloroquine was “not a VA study" and resulted in a "phony story" about the VA contradicting Trump. He said any VA patients who received hydroxychloroquine got it using guidance from The Food and Drug Administration in consultation with doctors.

"I want to clear something that the media has not reported accurately," Wilkie said. "Researchers took VA numbers, and they did not clinically review them. They were not peer-reviewed. They did not even look at what the president just mentioned, the various co-morbidities that the patients who are referenced in that study had." 

Wilkie said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), who has been widely praised by the media for his coronavirus handling, had requested "tens of thousands" of doses of hydroxychloroquine.

"The instructions I received from the president were very clear: and that was to preserve and protect life," Wilkie said. "Those of us who have had a military life, some of us around this table, we’ve been taking this drug for years. As the president mentioned, the Department of Defense and VA have been using it for 65 years. On any given day, VA uses 42,000 doses of this drug, and what we did when this virus first hit us was to use every means necessary to help preserve life. We believe that the Congress was right, and the president signed legislation to protect life. The right to try, and we did this in consultation not only [with] the families of those veterans, but we did this in consultation with our doctors under FDA guidelines."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the FDA had approved hydroxychloroquine for decades for malaria, lupus, and arthritis treatment and that it was also available for use for "off-label purposes" not listed on the drug's packaging. 

The FDA last month issued a warning that people should not take chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus symptoms outside of a hospital or formal clinical trial.

The FDA cited reports of "serious heart rhythm problems" in patients with the virus who were treated with a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (Z-Pak). 

"This is the 'right to try' president," Azar said at the same meeting. "He, for the first time, got the historic 'Right To Try' legislation for experimental therapies, but that applies to our existing regime, which is approved products may be used in the judgement of a physician in consultation with their patient." 

Trump met with cabinet members at 3:00 pm EDT. Watch the video below: