Rear Admiral Scott Deitchman, MD, MPH, U.S. Public Health Service (ret.)

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The president of the United States has been stricken by the very disease of which he said on September 21st, “It affects virtually nobody.” Every patient who develops COVID-19 illness deserves the best available treatment, and this patient is no different.

Because the president is a public figure, we’ve been told what medications his doctors gave him. The president received what those doctors think are the best possible treatments for COVID-19. The list we’ve seen as of October 4, 2020 includes:

· Dexamethasone: an inexpensive steroid that has been shown by well controlled scientific studies to benefit patients with severe COVID-19 illness;

· REGN-COV2, an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment so new it’s still under investigation and hasn’t yet been submitted for FDA approval, but made available by for the president by a special exception called “compassionate use;”

· Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that seems to have some effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19;

· Famotidine, a medication that reduces the production of stomach acid;

· zinc, vitamin D, and melatonin;

· a daily aspirin; and

· oxygen.

Think about this. The president received what his doctors think are the best possible treatments for COVID-19, including both standard and experimental medicines. He’s the president. Whatever might help, even the newest, most rare medication, he got.

Notice what’s missing? Hydroxychloroquine.

As late as July 28, 2020, the president was still touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, even as studies showed its effectiveness was not significantly different from placebo. Even as the Food and Drug Administration discontinued the emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine because it was unlikely to be effective. Even as medical experts pointed to the clinical trials indicating hydroxychloroquine was not effective in treating COVID-19.

As recently as August, administration officials delayed a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that described how doctors were prescribing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Perhaps those officials objected to the report’s statement that “current data on treatment and pre- or postexposure prophylaxis for COVID-19 indicate that the potential benefits of these drugs do not appear to outweigh their risks.”

And yet, when the president himself was the patient, hydroxychloroquine was nowhere to be seen. This is typical of this administration’s approach to COVID-19.

The administration consistently has misled Americans as to how serious the pandemic is, what the science tells us about how to control it, and how to treat cases. Other nations have confronted the seriousness and adopted control measures that have worked, while our president been inconsistent about effective measures such as masks and social distancing. That’s why the US, with 6 times the population of South Korea, for example, has had more than 500 times South Korea’s number of COVID-19 deaths. Touting hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure, driving states to spend millions of dollars on acquiring the drug, only distracted us from the hard work that could and should have been done to protect the nation.

No, the president is not receiving hydroxychloroquine during his COVID-19 illness. Apparently neither he nor his physicians really believe it is a miracle drug. This president values the truth of medical science when taking care of himself, even as the rest of the country endures needless COVID-19 illness, death, and economic hardship. And the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s reserve of emergency drugs and medical supplies, is stuck with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine.

That’s not good enough for us. We deserve a president and administration that will tell the nation the truth about COVID-19, use the best possible medical science from credible physicians and scientists, and consistently lead the country using those resources to best control this pandemic. We must settle for nothing less.

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Dr. Scott Deitchman is a retired rear admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service and a former Assistant Surgeon General. In 2006–7 he served in the White House as the Vice President’s Medical Advisor on Homeland Security Affairs.

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