Donald Trump’s political appointees exerted pressure on top U.S. health officials to distribute chloroquine-based medications after the president began touting hydroxychloroquine as a potential miracle cure for the novel coronavirus. Vanity Fair reports that Brett Giroir, Trump’s COVID-19 testing czar and the assistant secretary for health who oversees the U.S. Public Health Service, sent an email with the subject line “Hydroxychloroquine” to a group that included FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, and Navy Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, who leads a supply-chain task force at FEMA, that read: “WH call. Really want to flood Ny and NJ with treatment courses. Hospitals have it. Sick out patients don’t. And can’t get. So go through distribution channels as we discussed. If we have 29 million perhaps send a few million ASAP? WH wants follow up in AM.” Giroir later argued strongly against those who sought to limit the drugs to hospitals: “NOPE. Needs to go to pharmacies as well,” he wrote. “The [emergency use authorization] matters not. The drug is approved [and] therefore can be prescribed as per doctor’s orders That is a FINAL ANSWER.” The FDA’s chief of staff, Keagan Lenihan, urged the pills be quality-controlled before being distributed, saying: “Potentially serious issues with product so let’s be careful when we take that win.”
On Tuesday, the administration’s top coronavirus vaccine developer, Rick Bright, said he was pushed out of his position for resisting efforts “to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.” On April 21, a study of 368 COVID-19 patients at veterans hospitals showed that about 28 percent of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died, compared with 11 percent of those who didn’t receive the medication.