Fauci, Birx Say Hydroxychloroquine Has No Benefit Against COVID-19, as Scientists Blast Study Touted by Trump

Two members of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, have said scientific evidence does not support claims that hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19, despite its touting by President Donald Trump.

On Thursday, Katty Kay of BBC News asked Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to respond to claims by the president that hydroxychloroquine works against COVID-19. Earlier this week, Trump retweeted messages criticizing Fauci, and a video that made false claims, including that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19.

Fauci said: "It's not productive or helpful for me to be making judgments on right or wrong but what I can say is what I've said all along, that the overwhelming body of data from trials that were well run, randomized placebo controlled trials, indicate that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in treating coronavirus disease."

Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House task force, made similar comments on Fox & Friends on Thursday, the day that the Ohio Board of Pharmacists banned the use of the anti-malarial drug for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

Host Ainsley Earhardt asked Birx why the board banned the drug from being prescribed after Trump told reporters he believed it works in the early stages of the disease. Earhardt also cited anecdotal reports of doctors saying the drug was effective in their COVID-19 patients.

Birx said: "Because science and medicine have always been full of accounts like this. And, that's why you do randomized clinical trials to actually be able to compare patient to patient. Everything that you just reported on had no controls in those individual practices." Controls in trials, or including people not getting a certain treatment in experiments, are important because they help to minimize bias in results when investigating if a drug does or doesn't work.

She said: "We know in the randomized controlled trials to date—and there's been several of them—that there's not evidence that it improves those patients' outcomes. Whether they have mild, moderate disease or whether they're seriously ill in the hospital."

There was hope that the anti-malaria drug would be helpful against COVID-19 after it was shown in a lab to stop the coronavirus from replicating in cells. However, randomized clinical trials—the gold standard for testing if drugs work—have not found that the drug can either prevent people catching the coronavirus or treat COVID-19. After issuing an Emergency Use Authorization for the drug to treat COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since revoked it, and states it can cause heart problems when used to treat the disease.

One study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases earlier this month, cited by Trump, claimed that hydroxychloroquine in combination with an antibiotic could made it less likely for patients to die than those who didn't. It has since been harshly criticized by other scientists, who argued in letters to the journal's editor it was not properly designed and could be biased as was not randomized, and that the patients given the drug may have been healthier to start with. The patients given the drug were also twice as likely to be prescribed steroids, which are known to help with COVID-19.

The highly respected Henry Ford Health System just reported, based on a large sampling, that HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE cut the death rate in certain sick patients very significantly. The Dems disparaged it for political reasons (me!). Disgraceful. Act now @US_FDA @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 7, 2020

Tammy Battaglia, a spokeswoman for Henry Ford, told Newsweek: "Letters to the editor and scientific debate are a normal part of advancing research knowledge. We've acknowledged the varying conclusions multiple studies have reached, along with the limitations of our retrospective HCQ [hydroxychloroquine] study as well as those of other published studies on the topic. This affirms our belief in the need for a well-designed, randomized, double-blind clinical trial."

This article has been updated with comment from Tammy Battaglia and information about the complaints from scientists published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci (left), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks next to Response coordinator for White House coronavirus task force Deborah Birx, during a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards D-LA in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on April 29, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images