Reality TV host? Tick. Real estate mogul? Tick. POTUS? Tick. Doctor and/or pharmacist? Not the last time I looked.
Yet here was Donald Trump offering to the world his insights about medications that might — MIGHT — work for COVID-19. The results were predictable. People rushed to buy it, patients who needed it couldn’t get it and, inevitably, someone died.
How can someone in a position of such responsibility behave with such monstrous irresponsibility? Trump, of all people, knows the power of the half-fact; how people who are desperate and scared will latch onto any crumb of hope.
It only took a whiff of pandemic for toilet rolls to disappear from shelves worldwide. What did Trump think would happen when he named Chloroquine, and its close cousin Hydroxychloroquine, as possible treatments for COVID-19?
“Hey, Martha, the Don says this might work. But let’s wait until we know for sure. And I reckon we should leave it for those that really need it. Gee, wish we’d got some sanitiser…”?
No, didn’t think so.
Also, just for the record, old does not equal safe. Barbiturates are old. So is shock therapy. The side effect list for (hydroxy)chloroquine is extensive and scary.
It’s also a drug with what’s called a low therapeutic index, meaning the gap between the dose that works and the dose that’s dangerous is small. This is especially true for kids. People naturally tend to think “if some is good, more must be better”, which makes this drug particularly risky.
How was the man in Phoenix, Arizona, who died after taking fish tank cleaner that included chloroquine phosphate, to know?
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Pharmaceutical companies have huge back catalogues of drugs, with databases of their actions and possible uses. There are multiple compounds, including some known anti-virals, that are showing promise for COVID-19.
Let the scientists do the research, the pharmacologists and doctors do the advising. Then let them tell us what, if anything, is worth trying.
For the president of the USA to jump the gun and name the drug was foolish. For him not to foresee the result of his apparent endorsement is unforgiveable.
Nick Carr is a Melbourne based GP, author and broadcaster.