A day after President Donald Trump declared an anti-malaria drug a “game changer” in the fight against the novel coronavirus, the nation’s top infectious disease expert downplayed any role it might play in the fast-moving pandemic and said signs of the drug’s promise were purely “anecdotal.”
Fauci’s statements at a White House briefing Friday amounted to clinical cold water thrown on the president’s repeated upbeat assessments on the U.S. fight against the virus, also known as COVID-19.
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Trump has falsely declared in recent weeks that anyone who wants a test could get one, despite limited access in parts of the country that continued through this week.
On Thursday, Trump declared an anti-malaria drug called chloroquine a “game changer” in the effort to develop a coronavirus treatment and announced the drug had been “approved.”
Chloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine, has been approved to treat and prevent malaria since 1944. But no drug has been approved to treat COVID-19, and a vaccine is estimated to remain at least a year away.
When asked if the drug was promising Friday, Fauci, standing next to Trump, said “the answer is no” because “the evidence you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence.”
“The information that you’re referring to specifically is antecdotal,” he added. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”
Trump then stepped forward to add: “We’ll see. We’re going to know soon.”
The president then repeated his assessment that the drug was potentially a “game changer” and said: “We have millions of units ordered.”
When asked if he was giving the nation a false sense of hope, Trump said no.
“It may work, it may not work,” he said. “I feel good about it.”
On chloroquine, U.S. health officials say it’s possible that doctors might could try the drug to treat coronavirus symptoms if it’s already on the market. Clinical trials are under way.
But the FDA says it wants to study the potential of the drug before recommending its use, in part so that patients and their doctors don’t waste critical time on a drug that might not work.
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On testing, Fauci said it’s true that not everyone who wants a test can get one.
He said access to tests has improved in recent days noticeably, with the private sector having jumped on board.
But, he added, he continues to hear from people unable to determine if a patient has been infected – a serious problem when trying to mitigate the spread.
“I understand and empathize with the people who rightfully are saying I’m trying to get a test and I can’t,” Fauci said.
A reporter asked: “So is that another way of saying we are not at a point where we are meeting the demand pressure?”
“The answer is yes … We are not there yet because otherwise people would never be calling up saying they can’t get a test,” he said.
Fauci and Trump agreed that people without symptoms don’t need to tested. And Fauci said even without testing, communities can respond to the outbreak by limiting social contact.
“Testing is important. It would be nice to know. And there are certain things you could do” with results, Fauci said. “But let’s not conflate testing with the action we have to take,” which includes social distancing and washing hands.
ABC News’ Benjamin Gittleson, and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.