Novartis Responds to Social Media Criticism of Trump Administration Promoting Hydroxychloroquine

The pharmaceutical company Novartis responded to criticism leveled against it on social media on Monday about the drug hydroxychloroquine and the reason the president has touted it. Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that is a major manufacturer of the drug told Newsweek the criticism was "without merit."

President Donald Trump has championed the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Some on social media, however, criticized Novartis, which makes the drug, saying that the drug was unproven and the company was cashing in, and claiming that Trump was pushing it because of a deal Novartis had with his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

In addition to calling the criticism "without merit," Novartis told Newsweek it was committed to donating up to 130 million doses of generic hydroxychloroquine should it prove effective in treating COVID-19. It said that its generics and biosimilars division Sandoz "intends to donate all of our HCQ inventory that is not already allocated to existing orders and customers."

On Sunday, Trump recommended the anti-malaria drug for the second day in a row, saying at a media briefing that he was optimistic about its potential to treat COVID-19 patients and that the federal government had stockpiled around 29 million pills.

It followed a report last week that the drug had hastened recovery for a small number of patients in China with COVID-19, according to The New York Times.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to allow the use of hydroxychloroquine and another anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, for those infected by COVID-19. However, infectious disease expert and leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest the drug can treat COVID-19.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci
U.S. President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hold a press briefing on April 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump has touted the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

On Sunday night and Monday morning, Novartis started trending. Some referred to the company's payment of $1.2 million to Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen for health care policy consulting work during a contract that was signed in 2017.

In 2018, Novartis said it had signed a one-year contract with Cohen's shell company, Essential Consultants, for $100,000 per month for advice on how the Trump administration might approach healthcare policy matters.

However this ended just a month into the deal after the Swiss company decided that Cohen was not able to provide "the services that Novartis had anticipated," CNBC reported.

Novartis told Newsweek it started to ship a consignment of 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine tablets to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for immediate use in controlled clinical studies.

"Our manufacturing site is working 24/7, and we are also exploring further scaling of capacity to increase supply, including working with manufacturers around the world to meet global demand," the company said.

Last month, Novartis Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan said hydroxychloroquine was his company's biggest hope against the coronavirus.

He told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung that preclinical studies in animals and data from the first clinical studies "show that hydroxychloroquine kills the coronavirus," however he did note that "it's too early to say anything definitively."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

Correction: This story and headline have been updated to more accurately reflect the criticism of Novartis and its response.

Novartis Responds to Social Media Criticism of Trump Administration Promoting Hydroxychloroquine | U.S.