Trump defends hydroxychloroquine use after meeting with GOP senators

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE on Tuesday defended his decision to take hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against the coronavirus, saying it's an individual decision but that he believes it provides "an additional level of safety" despite warnings that the drug can cause heart problems.

"I think it gives you an additional level of safety," Trump told reporters after attending a Senate GOP lunch. "But you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. Many front-line workers won’t go there unless they have the hydroxy."

"This is an individual decision to make," he added. "But it’s had a great reputation and if it was somebody else other than me people would say, 'Gee isn’t that smart.'"

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Trump told reporters on Monday he had started taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial, after championing it as a potential treatment for the coronavirus despite limited evidence from the medical community.

A letter from the White House physician released later Monday said he and Trump concluded "the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks." The letter did not include any information about the dosage or explicitly state that Trump had been prescribed the drug.

Still, his declaration that he started taking it over a week ago was cause for alarm for medical experts given the drug's unproven efficacy and known potential side effects. 

The FDA issued a warning last month that hydroxychloroquine should not be taken outside of a hospital or clinical trial because of the risk of severe heart problems.

The drug showed no benefit for patients in an analysis of those hospitalized in Veterans Health Administration medical centers. The study, released last month, found the two primary outcomes for COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were death and the need for mechanical ventilation. 

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The president downplayed those findings on Tuesday, arguing that the veterans study involved "people in very bad shape." He cited more positive reports from Europe, though there is still not a consensus in the medical community that the pill has benefits as a prophylactic. 

The White House was careful on Tuesday morning to clarify that Americans need a prescription to take hydroxychloroquine, and Trump told reporters that "people are going to have to make up their own mind" about the drug.

It's not clear if Trump's use of the drug came up during the meeting at the Capitol with Republican senators, which was expected to focus on future legislative responses to the coronavirus pandemic.