Trump Says He Wants to Keep People Off Ventilators in Favor of Unproven Drug Combination

Trump briefing screengrab 4-4-20
Donald Trump speaks during an April 4, 2020 press briefing (screengrab) Andrew Feinberg/White House video feed screengrab

President Donald Trump on Saturday said the unproven drug combination he has referred to as a coronavirus treatment could be preferable to placing Americans suffering from COVID-19 on any of the 10,000 ventilators states have requested from a federal stockpile.

Trump, who has no medical training, has for several weeks metioned a combination of an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, and azithromycin as a potential cure for the virus that the World Health Organization has classified as a global pandemic.

While there are a number of ongoing clinical trials testing the efficacy of those and other medications to see if any will be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, medical experts have cautioned against the use of any drug therapies that have not been proven to work in a controlled trial.

On Friday, the federal government's top virologist, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, specifically warned what further studies are needed to determine whether the drugs touted by the president will work against COVID-19

"We still need to do the definitive studies to determine whether any intervention, not just this one, is truly safe and effective," Fauci said during an appearance on Fox News.

But during Saturday's White House press briefing, Trump stepped up to the microphone unprompted to reference the drug combination again just moments after Fauci addressed a reporter's question about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths expected this coming week.

Trump appeared to be continuing to respond to a question he'd been asked earlier on whether it was "time to level with the American people" about the number of ventilators available to treat patients whose lungs have been made too weak to function by the virus.

During his initial attempt to answer the question, he said the federal government would "try" to ensure that states with a large number of cases had adequate numbers of ventilators "wherever we possibly can" -- but suggested that leaders in states such as New York were responsible for shortages because they "had chances of stockpiling a lot of ventilators," long before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 but didn't.

Returning to the topic of ventilators, the president said that one reason he keeps touting the unproven drug combination is because of reports that a significant number of COVID-19 patients who are placed on ventilators do not regain enough lung function to have the ventilators withdrawn.

"One of the reasons that I keep talking about hydroxychloroquine is that the question that nobody ever asks, and the question that I most hate the answer to, is what happens if you do have a ventilator," Trump said.

"But when you have a ventilator... and it's working beautifully, I don't like the answer because it's not a very high percentage," he continued.

"So I want to keep them out of ventilators, I want to keep them -- if this drug works, it will be not a game changer because that's not a nice enough term. It will be wonderful, it'll be so beautiful, it'll be a gift from heaven if it works, because when people go into those ventilators, you know the answers, and I'm glad you don't write about it."

The White House did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.