Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday he is not taking doses of hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19, a day after President Donald Trump made the shocking announcement that he had started using the anti-malaria drug a “couple of weeks ago.”
“I’m not. But I would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician,” Pence told Fox News’ Kristin Fisher. “My physician has not recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise.”
Pence’s comments come a day after Trump said he been taking hydroxychloroquine while trumpeting the drug as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. There is no known evidence that it works in cases of COVID-19, however, and doctors have warned about a bevy of serious side effects, including dangerous heart abnormalities. The Food and Drug Administration also issued its own cautionary advice last month, saying it should not be used except in formal medical studies.
A memo released Monday by the White House physician, Sean Conley, said he had had “numerous” discussions with Trump about the “evidence for and against” the drug. Conley said they concluded the potential benefits outweighed the “relative risk.”
But the president’s revelation sparked immediate concern from many in the medical community who worried it could set a dangerous precedent for Americans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also said she worried about Trump himself, citing his age and weight, saying she wished he were not “taking something that has not been approved by the scientists.”
Trump defended his comments on Tuesday amid a growing chorus of criticism, saying without evidence that a “lot of people” and a “lot of doctors” were taking the medication.
“It’s got a very bad reputation only because I’m promoting it,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting. “So I’m obviously a very bad promoter.”
He also labeled as “phony” and “false” a study of Veterans Affairs patients that found higher death rates among those hospitalized with coronavirus infections who were given hydroxychloroquine.
“It was given by obviously not friends of the administration,” Trump said Tuesday of the study. “The people were ready to die. Everybody was old, had bad problems with hearts, diabetes and everything else you can imagine. So they gave it. So immediately when it came out, they gave a lot of false information.”