(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro, who the president recently tapped to help implement the Defense Production Act amid the coronavirus crisis, is publicly pushing back against the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
After Navarro reportedly lashed out at Dr. Anthony Fauci over the weekend, he went on CNN Monday morning to tout a drug that Fauci has cautioned is still being studied, while listing his own qualifications as a “social scientist” and arguing the president needs a “second opinion.”
“Doctors disagree about things all the time,” Navarro, an economist, told CNN’s New Day Monday. “My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist. I have a Ph.D., and I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”
The comments come after Axios first reported that on Saturday, Navarro, in the Situation Room, lashed out at Fauci after he questioned the trade adviser on the science behind his promotion of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
“On Saturday, and if we didn’t have disagreement or debate in the Trump administration, this administration would not be as strong as it is,” Navarro told CNN, appearing to confirm the argument took place.
“The issue wasn’t about me offering my medical opinion,” Navarro continued. “The question was whether we should take the 29 million doses in the FEMA storehouses and surge them into the zones, and it was unanimous in that task force meeting to do so. So, that’s the only question I posed.”
Trump has put more stock in hydroxychloroquine than his top medical experts, having previously described the drug as possibly one of “the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.”
Fauci, meanwhile, has cautioned against putting too much promise in any “anecdotal evidence” before clinical trials are complete, emphasizing social distancing instead.
Navarro went on Monday to primarily reference what he said was a control group study out of Wuhan, China — done with moderately ill patients and was not double-blind but showed some potential benefits — adding he had spoken to some doctors who had found it useful. He also claimed some on the frontlines were taking the drug as a prophylactic.
Although hydroxychloroquine is FDA-approved for some uses, including the treatment of malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, it is not currently approved for coronavirus — a point Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn have continued to note.
But despite tension from his own health officials, the president at Sunday’s task force briefing continued to show his support for the drug and announced that the federal government has stockpiled 29 million pills of it — “a big number.”
“Now, we have purchased and we have stockpiled 29 million pills of the hydroxychloroquine, 29 million,” Trump said. “A lot of drugstores have them, by prescription, and also — and they are not expensive — also we’re sending them to various labs, our military, we’re sending them to the hospitals. We’re sending them all over.”
The president said the FDA had already approved the drug, but the agency, for now, has only expedited its use to treat COVID-19 in controlled, clinical trials.
Vice President Mike Pence announced Sunday that it would be used in a trial of 3,000 patients in Detroit, a coronavirus hot spot, adding that the federal government is “more than prepared” to make hydroxychloroquine available to doctors’ offices and pharmacies in the area “as they deem appropriate.”
Clinical trials are also underway in New York, the hardest hit state with a death toll of over 4,000.
“It can help them, but it’s not going to hurt them,” Trump said, without citing evidence.
“I’m not looking at it one way or the other, but we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early. But we have some very good signs,” he continued.
Trump gave more medical recommendations Sunday, saying people without heart problems could combine hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin, a common antibiotic, which he said “will kill certain things that you don’t want living within your body.”
He also suggested health care workers and frontline responders could take the drugs as a preventative measure, saying, “They say taking it before the fact is good, but what do you have to lose?”
“I’ll say it again: What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice and it’s their doctor’s choice, or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine — try it, if you’d like,” Trump said, adding, “I’m not a doctor, but I have common sense.”
Toward the end of the briefing, a reporter asked Fauci directly for his opinion on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, but Trump stopped the doctor from answering.
“Do you know how many times he’s answered that question?” Trump interjected. “He’s answered the question 15 times.”
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