Did Trump, Ron Johnson Endanger Lives?
Promotion of unproven drug resulted in millions of pills being delivered to cities like Milwaukee.
Two of the biggest proponents of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for use against COVID-19 have been President Donald Trump and Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. The results have been troubling.
On March 19 Trump began extolled the drug at press conferences and in tweets and that continued until April 11. Sample comments at a press conference: “It’s worked unbelievably, it’s a powerful drug on malaria. And there are signs that it works on [coronavirus], some very strong signs…So there are some very strong, powerful signs, and we’ll have to see…It’s a very strong, powerful medicine, but it doesn’t kill people. We have some very good results and some very good tests.”
Trump’s top health expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, repeatedly expressed caution about using the drug, saying it is unproven for treatment of COVID-19, as did countless other health care experts, yet Trump ignored this, tweeting that the drug is “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.”
On April 10, as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson wrote a letter to the president declaring that “Evidence of successful treatment in thousands of patients is accumulating from many countries as well as U.S. physicians; it is far beyond ‘anecdotal’. Physicians taking care of patients in our communities across the country must be free to use the medicines at hand free of politicians and bureaucrats’ second-guessing and threats.”
In a second letter, Johnson forwarded thousands of signatures “urging the president to help give patients the right to try hydroxychloroquine.”
He pushed Trump to direct the Food and Drug Administration to end its restriction that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are only approved “for certain hospitalized patients,” and to direct the FDA to include the option of early outpatient use of these medications. He also pushed for a presidential directive or executive order to a) prohibit governors from restricting hydroxychloroquine to only hospitalized patients, and b) prohibit state medical boards and state pharmacy boards from threats of disciplinary action against doctors and pharmacists who prescribe and dispense the drug.
Well before this, on March 28, the the FDA reacted to Trump’s urgings to issue an Emergency Use Authorization allowing hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine phosphate products donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to be distributed and used for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19, as a summary of government actions by Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin noted. On April 14, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirmed that the agency had distributed almost 20 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to cities across the nation.
“After my staff requested more information on this shipment, FEMA confirmed that Milwaukee received two rounds of shipments… on April 6 and April 8, containing over 335,800 tabs of hydroxychloroquine,” Baldwin wrote.
Trump’s promotion of the drug resulted in a massive nationwide increase in prescriptions of it, as a story by the New York Times reported. And FEMA’s shipment of 20 million tablets of the drug added to the frenzy to try the unproven remedy
The result was great harm to patients. A Veterans Affairs study released April 21 found that COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than those who were not. And the FDA said it has received reports in its adverse event reporting system and from poison control centers, detailing “serious heart-related adverse events and death in patients with COVID-19 receiving hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine,” as National Public Radio reported.
In Milwaukee community activist George Matthews passed away from complications due to COVID-19 at St. Luke’s Hospital after a doctor prescribed hydroxychloroquine. Mathews told his sister Bernadine Matthews, “Trump’s drug didn’t work,” as WISN has reported. Bernadine Matthews told Fox 6 that “George and I both had some concerns” about the drug.
Baldwin has now requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General investigate the Trump Administration’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine and FEMA’s shipments of the drug across the nation. Her letter notes that FEMA “has failed to provide any clarity regarding distribution or final delivery locations in Milwaukee, or justification for its prioritization of a shipment of an unproven therapeutic over other requested supplies, including swabs for use in COVID-19 testing and ventilators.” She also called for all information about shipments of drugs to other parts of the state, calling for “a comprehensive and detailed list of all entities in the state of Wisconsin that received a shipment of hydroxychloroquine.”
The letter also notes that Dr. Rick Bright was removed from his position as the director of HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response “after reportedly expressing the need for a more in-depth assessment of the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID- 19.” Bright himself has said he believed his transfer to another position “was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.”
In calling for an investigation, Baldwin charged that the Trump administration has repeatedly “demonstrated a lack of competence in managing our response to this pandemic. I am extremely concerned that the promotion of hydroxychloroquine exemplifies another effort to prioritize the misguided whims of the White House over science and public health.” The result, she noted, may have “jeopardized the health of thousands of Americans.”
Urban Milwaukee contacted Sen. Johnson for comment about his promotion of hydroxychloroquine, and did not receive a response.
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