President Donald Trump’s promotion of an unproven coronavirus treatment is creating a “dangerous situation,” according to misinformation expert Lisa Fazio.
Trump has repeatedly talked up the potential benefits of anti-malaria drug chloroquine and the more widely used hydroxychloroquine despite a lack of clinical evidence showing that either are effective against COVID-19.
Trump’s endorsement is particularly worrisome given the amount of misinformation already surrounding the coronavirus, Fazio told Business Insider.
“It’s a dangerous situation to have anyone be promoting something that we don’t yet know if it’s safe for useful,” Fazio told Business Insider, “especially when that means that you’re taking the drug out of the hands of people who do need it.”
Trump has repeatedly talked up the potential benefits of chloroquine, an anti-malaria pill that was first approved in the US in 1949, and a much more widely prescribed version called hydroxychloroquine, that are being tested as possible treatments for the coronavirus.
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However, there’s no gold-standard clinical evidence to show that either are effective against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Early results from studies in France and China have been promising, but experts and analysts have pointed to flaws and limitations of the studies and have cautioned against drawing broad conclusions, as Business Insider’s Andrew Dunn reported.
People are desperate for a coronavirus treatment
Still, with 1.5 million people infected and no cure or approved medical treatment for the virus, people are desperate for anything that could help. That’s created an environment where confident but misleading claims — like the ones Trump has made — can run rampant, Fazio said.
“One of the tricky things about this situation is there’s lots of stuff that we know we don’t know,” said Fazio, whose research focuses on how people learn new things and how to combat the effects of misinformation.
“The authorities are saying, ‘we just don’t know,'” Fazio said. “So, anyone who has a firm statement, there’s a good chance that they’ll be believed versus experts who have to give this more nuanced, ‘it might be helpful, it might not, we don’t know yet’ type of stance.”
Strong endorsements from high-profile people have real consequences
But strong endorsements from high-profile people like Trump and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are having real consequences. As they’ve amplified anecdotal reports of the drugs having positive results, demand has ramped up so much that the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are now in shortage.
That’s a problem for patients who depend on these medications to treat their arthritis or lupus, who are now struggling to fill their prescriptions.
“People rely on this medication,” Erin Fox, a drug-shortage expert and the senior pharmacy director for the University of Utah’s health system, told Business Insider. “They have chronic illnesses, and they really rely on this. Once you’re stable on these therapies, it’s not something that is easy to switch.”
Michael Rea, the CEO of Rx Savings Solution who was previously a pharmacist, said he was most concerned about the panic that could sweep over people in extreme situations like this.
“Don’t let fear dictate your decisions,” Rea said. “Only use the drug, prescribe the drug, obtain the drug if you truly need it.”
Andrew Dunn contributed reporting.
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