Saturday, March 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He quadrupled down on untested drugs as cures for COVID-19.

Yesterday, Trump was gently rebuked in real time by a medical expert for his promotion of certain existing drugs as potential treatments for COVID-19. Even then, Trump got the last word, saying he wasn't wrong to get people's hopes up over his hunch that chlorquinine and azithromycin might help because "I'm a smart guy. I feel good about it." 

To be clear, there is absolutely no evidence that the antimalarial drug chlorquine or the antibiotic azithromycin will have any use as a treatment or cure for COVID-19. In times of crisis, doctors often try unusual treatments in an attempt to stumble on a shortcut to an effective drug therapy. But only one tiny study has been done so far on chlorquinine, and it concluded only that it was worth studying in larger numbers. 

Even that one study did not show that chlorquinine might improve patient health, but only that it could potentially make a sick person contagious for a shorter period of time. But COVID-19 is usually most contagious before an infected person feels sick and seeks treatment.

In spite of all that, Trump once again shouted his enthusiasm for this drug combination at the daily briefing and on Twitter today. (He also "solved" the critical shortage of protective equipment for medical professionals by saying that masks and filtered should be reused. People who actually make and work with them say that is generally a very bad idea.)

The political calculus for Trump is simple: in the unlikely event that a common drug is already a cure, he can take credit for having solved the problem without ever doing anything about it. And if it fails, he can say it was just an idea.

But the hype has real-world consequences. In Nigeria, after Trump began hyping the drugs, worried patients began buying them and self-medicating, which resulted in poisonings. And hydroxychloroquine is an important drug for the treatment of lupus. Trump's ad campaign for its use against COVID-19 has already resulted in shortages.

So what?

  • The health and safety of Americans is more important than Donald Trump's political messaging.