I-TEAM: What's the real deal with hydroxychloroquine, the medicine the president is taking?

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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Thursday, May 21, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- President Donald J. Trump has taken a lot of heat this week after saying he's taking a drug to try and prevent coronavirus, one that hasn't proved 100 percent effective. But even an expert at AU Health says he would take it if it were plentiful.

"The front-line workers, many many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it. I'm taking it, hydroxychloroquine," Trump said during a briefing.

The president says his regimen is up Friday. But the backlash has come because there isn't enough testing to prove hydroxychloroquine actually prevents COVID-19.

The White House released a memo from the physician to the President, saying both he and his Commander-In-Chief "concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks."

"It's a very powerful drug, I guess, but it doesn't harm you, and so I thought as a frontline defense possibly it would be good and I've had no impact from it. I've had no, I feel the same. I haven't changed," Trump said in a briefing.

The memo references a member of the "President's support staff" testing positive for COVID-19.

"Well, he was exposed, so it's not a bad idea," Dr. Jose Vazquez, chief of infectious diseases of AU Health, said.

Especially since the staffer works in the West Wing as a personal valet whose duties include serving the president his meals.

"So that's pretty significant exposure. We don't know if it's effective for prophylaxis or prevention like he's taking it," Vazquez said.

And Dr. Vazquez knows a lot about the drug. He's used it to treat COVID-19 patients and says it's pretty safe.

"Toxicity-wise, it's unheard of to have any side effects really unless it's gastric like nausea, vomiting, like taking a pill," Vazquez explained. "Other than that, we don't see any cardio...We have not seen any cardiotoxicity, and we've given to just about everybody."

Vazquez has been on the front lines of this at AU since the beginning, so he's seen it in action. h]He's also exposed to the virus on a daily basis.

"If it were made more readily available, I probably would take it myself," he said. "So especially now that I'm rounding up, we actually have a COVID service that all we do is see COVID patients the whole day."

But hydroxychloroquine is used to treat other things like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. And because of its use for COVID-19, it has been in shorter supply.

"So, I probably would take it but I don't want to take it away from people that really need it," Vazquez said.

Vazquez says so far, research on the drug has been split, but a big study just finished at the University of Minnesota specifically testing those with COVID-19 and those exposed to it.

Hopefully, the study will bring some answers later this summer.

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