Trump Staffers Pushed Unproven COVID Treatment At FDA, Panel Says

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — Officials in the Trump White House tried to pressure U.S. health experts into reauthorizing a discredited COVID-19 treatment, according to a congressional investigation that provides new evidence of that administration’s efforts to override Food and Drug Administration decisions early in the pandemic.The report Wednesday by the Democratic-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis also sheds new light on the role that television personalities played in bringing hydroxychloroquine to the attention of top White House officials. Investigators highlighted an email from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and others from Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon who had a daytime TV show and is now the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania. Ingraham attended an Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump, who himself took the anti-malaria drug.AdvertisementThe FDA originally authorized use of hydroxychloroquine in late March 2020 based on small studies suggesting it could have some effectiveness against the coronavirus. At that time, many researchers hoped that existing antiviral drugs could be used to fight the virus. But by June, FDA officials had concluded the drug was likely ineffective and could cause potentially dangerous heart complications, revoking its emergency use.Efforts by the Trump administration to control the release of COVID-19 guidance and install political operatives at public health agencies have been well documented.The report by the House subcommittee investigating the government’s COVID-19 response focused on pressure at the FDA, which serves as gatekeeper for the drugs, vaccines and other countermeasures against the virus.Much of the information comes from an interview with the agency’s former commissioner, Dr. Stephen Hahn, who was picked for the job by Trump in late 2019. Frustrated by the pace of FDA’s medical reviews, Trump repeatedly accused Hahn ― without evidence ― of delaying decisions on COVID-19 drugs and vaccines “for political reasons.”AdvertisementAlthough FDA commissioners are politically appointed, the agency’s scientists are expected to conduct their reviews free from outside influence. Indeed, the FDA’s credibility largely stems from its reputation for scientific independence.But Hahn told investigators that he felt pressure due to the “persistence” of Trump aide Peter Navarro’s calls to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine after the FDA’s decision to pull its emergency use.“We took a different stance at the FDA,” Hahn told investigators. “So that disagreement, which of course ultimately became somewhat public, was a source of pressure.”Much of the report focuses on actions taken by Navarro and Dr. Steven Hatfill, a virologist and outside adviser described by the subcommittee as a “full-time volunteer” on COVID-19 for the White House.“Dr. Hatfill and Mr. Navarro devised multiple pressure schemes targeting FDA and federal officials who they contended were wrongly impeding widespread access to hydroxychloroquine,” according to the report.AdvertisementIn his response, Hatfill said: “We never wrongly pressured anyone. We simply followed the science and the overwhelming evidence as detailed in several studies available at the time.”Navarro, in an emailed statement, said the subcommittee was “wrongly” perpetuating that hydroxychloroquine “was somehow dangerous.” He also said he has chronicled his battles with the FDA in his White House memoir.Importantly, there’s no evidence that White House efforts ultimately changed the FDA’s decisions on hydroxychloroquine or any other therapies.Investigators also cited a March 28, 2020, email from Oz to Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, stating that the drug “appears safe and results are better than expected.”Birx forwarded the email to Hahn within the hour, saying “we should talk.”A cancer specialist with no prior political experience, Hahn was widely criticized during the early COVID-19 response for decisions that appeared to cave to White House officials.AdvertisementAccording to emails obtained by the committee, Hatfill described “constant fighting with (Dr. Anthony) Fauci and Dr. Hahn …

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