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Johnson presses Trump on malaria medication

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) is sending President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE a letter from hundreds of physicians urging him to ease restrictions on malaria medication that has grabbed headlines, despite scant evidence, as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

Johnson said he decided to start gathering signatures for his letter over concerns that absent guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors and hospitals "were reluctant to try" hydroxychloroquine.

"Patients deserve the Right to Try hydroxychloroquine. ... It's time to end the logjam of 30 million tablets of Hydroxychloroquine," Johnson said in a pair of tweets on Friday.

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Johnson, according to his office, began circulating the letter about 10 p.m. Thursday. As of noon Friday, 776 practicing physicians had agreed to sign it. He's also launched a form on his website to gather more signatures, arguing that there's an "urgent opportunity to inform President Trump about the need to free physicians to use available medications such as Hydroxychloroquine."

"Physicians taking care of patients in our communities across the country must be free to use the medicines at hand free of politicians and bureaucrats’ second-guessing and threats. It is unprecedented — and lethal — for state governors and medical boards to forbid physicians’ freedom to prescribe long-approved and safely used medications," the letter reads.

The letter asks for Trump to issue a presidential directive to lift an FDA restriction that says hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine taken from the Strategic National Stockpile can only be approved "for certain hospitalized patients," and to direct the FDA to include the drugs as an option for outpatient medication.

Johnson and the physicians also want Trump to issue an executive order to ban governors from limiting hydroxychloroquine to hospitalized patients and to block medical and pharmacy boards from threatening disciplinary action against doctors and pharmacists who use the two drugs for patients infected with or exposed to the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid conditions such as arthritis. Its effectiveness at treating COVID-19 has not been proven, though the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Thursday that it had begun enrolling participants in a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

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Trump has publicly touted the drug as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, despite a more measured reception from top health officials within the administration.

"What do you have to lose?" Trump said on Sunday. "I’m not looking at it one way or another. But we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early."

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Biden unveils virus plan and urges patience | Fauci says it's 'liberating' working under Biden | House to move quickly on COVID-19 relief Fauci: We are not 'starting from scratch' on vaccine distribution Fauci says it's 'liberating' working under Biden MORE, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned last week that there currently isn't any "strong" evidence that hydroxychloroquine has proven effective.

“We don’t operate on how you feel, we operate on what evidence and data is,” Fauci said.