Pence: I’m not taking hydroxychloroquine
The acknowledgment from Pence comes as Trump continues to face intense criticism for his announcement on Monday, when he told reporters at the White House he began taking hydroxychloroquine in combination with other medicines a “couple of weeks ago” despite testing negative for the coronavirus.
The president was again pressed on his decision to take the drug, during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Trump defended positive reports backing the drug and dismissed as “phony” a study involving patients at veterans hospitals that found the malaria drug could have dangerous side effects.
“There was a false study done where they gave it to very sick people, extremely sick people,” Trump told reporters. “People that were ready to die. It was given by obviously not friends of the administration. And the study came out. The people were ready to die. Everybody was old, had bad problems with hearts, diabetes and everything else you can imagine. So they gave it. So immediately when it came out, they gave a lot of false information.”
Trump added that hydroxychloroquine has a “bad reputation only because I‘m promoting it,“ and said the drug had had no negative impacts on his health. He then turned to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie.
Azar defended Trump as the “Right to Try president,“ adding that since the drug has been approved and on the market, a doctor can consult with the patient to administer medication for off-label purposes. Wilkie jumped in to “clear up something that the media has not reported accurately.“
“That was not a VA study,” 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 They were not peer-reviewed.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 comorbidities that the patients who were referenced in that study had. I also want to echo what the secretary of HHS said.“
“Those of us who have had a military life, some of us around this table, we have been taking this drug for years,” Wilkie added. “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.“
Trump also clarified his motivation for taking the drug, adding that he felt it was a good time for the “extra layer of defense“ against the virus after two people close to himself and the vice president tested positive.
“I think many of (the cabinet members) would take it if they thought it was necessary,“ Trump said. “I also had a case where we had somebody fairly close to me, very nice young gentleman. He tested positive. And he tested positive, plus, I deal with Mike a lot, and Mike had somebody very close to him who I also see who tested positive. So I thought from my standpoint, not a bad time to take it. Because we had the combination. Those two people.“
Public-health experts have warned the president’s disclosure of his personal therapeutic preferences amounts to another dangerous endorsement of the drug — which has been shown in observational studies to have limited or no proven benefits for coronavirus patients, and could even be harmful when used in certain combinations.