US President Donald Trump issued a stout defense on Tuesday of a disproved use of a malaria drug as a treatment for the coronavirus, hours after social media companies moved to take down videos promoting its use as potentially harmful misinformation.
The president, in a marked shift from the more measured approach he’s taken toward the virus in recent days, took to Twitter to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and to amplify criticism of Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US.
In a White House briefing, Trump defended his decision to promote a viral video of a group of doctors promoting the use of the drug on Monday, even though his own administration withdrew emergency authorization for its use against the coronavirus.
“I think they’re very respected doctors,” Trump said, adding they believed in the drug. “There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it.”
The doctors, members of a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, took part in an event organized by Tea Party Patriots Action, a dark money group that has helped fund a pro-Trump political action committee.
Scientific studies have shown hydroxychloroquine can do more harm than good when used to treat symptoms of COVID-19.
Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr, and others shared a video of the event on Facebook and Twitter, prompting both companies to step in and remove the content as part of an aggressive push to keep the sites free of potentially harmful information about the virus, though not before more than 17 million people had seen one version of the video circulating on the web.
The decision to remove the videos sparked conservative claims of “censorship,” with Simone Gold, one of the doctors, tweeting that “there are always opposing views in medicine.”
“Treatment options for COVID-19 should be debated, and spoken about among our colleagues in the medical field,” she wrote. “They should never, however, be censored and silenced.” Others stressed the differences between medical opinion and peer-reviewed scientific studies.
Many high-quality studies have found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine, when used with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, as touted many times by Trump, helps treat coronavirus infection or prevent serious disease from it. They include studies commissioned by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the World Health Organization and universities in the US and around the world.
Because of the lack of benefit and the risks of serious side effects such as heart rhythm problems, the US Food and Drug Administration recently revoked its brief authorization of emergency use of the drug for COVID-19. NIH treatment guidelines also specifically recommend against hydroxychloroquine’s use, except in formal studies.
In addition to sharing the video, Trump retweeted several tweets that attacked the credibility of Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force.
Facebook said the video is “sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” according to spokesman Andy Stone.
Twitter also said it was working to remove the video. The company also took down a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. describing one version of the video as a “must watch!!!” and temporarily halted him from tweeting.
In the video, Dr. Stella Immanuel, a physician from Houston, whom Trump described as spectacular, promotes hydroxychloroquine as a sure-fire cure for the coronavirus. She claims to have successfully treated 350 people “and counting,” including older patients and some with underlying medical conditions.
“You don’t need masks, there is a cure,” Immanuel says in the video. But in videos posted to her Facebook page, Immanuel regularly wears masks while preaching during religious events.