Desperate for something they can sell as a coronavirus cure, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are pressing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and they’re getting ready to take it to the next level. Already someone has died after taking a fish drug with chloroquine in the name because Trump raved about the magic of chloroquine. And people are hoarding the drugs, causing widespread shortages for people who definitely need them for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other conditions.
Now the White House is seeking to bypass the scientific method and Food and Drug Administration rules by working with the technology company Oracle—which was founded by a Trump backer—to create an online platform where doctors would report on their use of the unproven off-label drugs.
The Trump obsession with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine is being driven in part by television doctors like David Agus, Marc Siegel, and Mehmet Oz, so you know it must be a great thing. The plan appears to be to entirely bypass the process of randomized studies to find out if the drugs actually work on COVID-19 and instead go with scattershot self-reporting by doctors—a process that threatens to leave out bad results rather than rigorously following every time the drugs are administered.
Trump has already pressured the FDA to promote the drugs, and FDA officials have had to work to keep Trump from overhyping the possible treatment too much, including publicly walking back Trump’s misleading statements.
Often you’ll hear that hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin work together well—but the study that claim comes from had only 26 people in it, just six of whom took the azithromycin. Out of the original 26, some had no symptoms to begin with, three dropped out of the study when they went to intensive care, one dropped out due to nausea, and one died. And this is the magic bullet Trump has been promoting.
Now we’ve got Trump’s desperation, Jared Kushner’s drive to privatize public health, and Oracle’s self-promotion combining to create a shoddy, careless mockery of a clinical trial. The good news is, at least some of the people involved have such bad track records for actually getting things done that it’s unlikely to materialize at the scale being promoted.