Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie pushed back Thursday against critics of the VA’s use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients.
During an appearance on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends First,” Wilkie was asked about media reports claiming that taking the drug can kill patients instead of effecting a cure.
“Well I think it’s nonsense,” Wilkie said.
“And I’ll echo what the president said the other day. I think it’s more aimed at President Trump than it is against the science because as we speak, Dr. Fauci and his institute are conducting very detailed clinical trials if this and I would also underline the fact that it is the 128th most-used drug in this country,” Wilkie said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We have seen it work in many settings across America and our goal at VA is to do everything we can to preserve and prolong life,” he said.
Wilkie slammed a study he said “the press has been touting” as showing that the drug could be dangerous.
“That was something that researchers took and used VA numbers — didn’t even look at underlying medical conditions — and really misrepresented what was going on at VA,” he said.
Wilkie added that VA hospitals gave the drug to veterans for whom there was no other option.
“We used it with veterans who were in the last hours of life in the hopes that it would prolong that life and we will continue to do that under FDA guidelines, which we have been following religiously,” he said.
Wilkie also noted that the study the media has been fawning over was not clinically reviewed or peer-reviewed.
“It was gone over by three ophthalmologists,” he said. “Now, I like ophthalmology, but I’m not going to turn to an ophthalmologist to review studies on infectious diseases. So I think this was more aimed at taking a hit at the president than it was science.”
Wilkie said Trump’s use of the drug came after a serious review by physicians.
“We’re not going to take risks with the life of the president of the United States,” he said.
“We started using this in the military in 1955,” Wilkie continued. “I’ve taken it. Everyone who’s served in the military since the Eisenhower administration has taken this regularly. We know its side effects, we know what it does and if we can offer hope to people, we’re going to continue to do that.”
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also noted that the drug has a long, successful history.
“Hydroxychloroquine has been a drug that has been in use for 65 years for lupus, arthritis, and malaria. It has a very good safety profile,” she said, according to a White House media pool report.
“The FDA has approved this for off-label use. You know, this president is a big believer in the ‘Right to Try’ legislation.”
McEnany added that some media coverage of the drug has been over the top.
“But that being said, I’ve seen a lot of apoplectic coverage of hydroxychloroquine. You had Jimmy Kimmel saying the president is, quote, ‘trying to kill himself by taking it.’ You had Joe Scarborough saying, quote, ‘this will kill you.’ Neil Cavuto said, ‘what have you got to lose? One thing you have to lose our lives.’ And you had Chris Cuomo saying, ‘the president knows that hydroxychloroquine is not supported by science. He knows it has been flagged by his own people and he’s using it.’”
“Well, Cuomo mocked the president for this. And interestingly, I found this out just before coming here: Hydroxychloroquine, of course, is an FDA-approved medication with a long-proven track record for safety. And it turns out that Chris Cuomo took a less safe version of it called quinine, which the FDA removed from the market in 2006 because of its serious side effects, including death,” McEnany went on.
“So really interesting to have that criticism of the president,” she said, noting that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the brother of the CNN journalist, has said he was optimistic that the drug would work.
When asked about studies on the drug, McEnany was ready with a reply.
“There are several studies that have been brought up that the president has actually mentioned that I’d refer you to. There was one out of France — a French study involving more than 1,000 patients that found that the vast majority had, quote, ‘good clinical outcomes.’ And by the vast majority, that was more than 90 percent,” she said.
“There was an Italian study of more than 65,000 patients that demonstrated only 20 tested positive of those who are taking it prophylactically. And a South Korea study, as well. So there are several studies.”