Before GOP convention, Trump pushes use of blood plasma treatment for COVID-19
WASHINGTON – A day before Republicans convene to nominate him for a second term, President Donald Trump spent Sunday promoting a potential treatment of COVID-19 using blood plasma.
Trump called reporters to the White House to announce his administration has granted emergency use authorization for treatment using blood plasma, though more than 70,000 patients have already received it on an experimental basis.
"This is a powerful therapy," Trump said, describing the authorization as "a very historic breakthrough."
Trump and aides cast the news as a major therapeutic breakthrough, though some medical analysts said it's already happening and that Trump's demands to rush up some kind of cure for COVID-19 could lead to dangerous treatments of some patients.
"President Trump, again, puts his political gains ahead of public health," said Benjamin Corb, public affairs director with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
Some medical experts also said there’s not yet enough data to justify the widespread use of blood plasma treatment as called for in Trump’s authorization.
“While the data to date show some positive signals that convalescent plasma can be helpful in treating individuals with COVID-19, especially if given early in the trajectory of the disease, we lack the randomized controlled trial data we need to better understand its utility in COVID-19 treatment,” said Thomas M. File, Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Trump is expected to use this week's Republican Party convention to emphasize his administration's search for a vaccine to stop the coronavirus that has killed more than 176,000 Americans and gutted the U.S. economy. The convention, which will be online because of the spread of COVID-19, opens Monday.
Stephen M. Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said officials there are "encouraged by the early promising data that we’ve seen about convalescent plasma," and are "committed to releasing safe and potentially helpful treatments for COVID-19 as quickly as possible in order to save lives."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who like Hahn joined Trump at the news conference, called the emergency authorization "a milestone achievement" for Trump.
Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University, called it "a political stunt on the eve of the convention."
"Plasma may have some efficacy," he said. "but we don’t have placebo compared randomized trial data to know how much it helps."
Trump said his announcement "has nothing to do with politics."
Treatment using plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, has already been given to more than 70,000 patients, "so it's available," said Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, speaking on CBS' Face The Nation.
"What the emergency use authorization will allow is probably more commercial distribution, and it will allow manufacturers of plasma products to more easily recoup the costs," Gottlieb said.
Trump also scheduled the news conference after bashing the FDA, all but accusing it of slow-walking potential treatments in order to hurt him ahead of the presidential election in early November.
In a Saturday tweet, Trump claimed without evidence that "the deep state" within the FDA is "making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd."
Trump also used a tweet to criticize the FDA over news reports that it has revoked its emergency use authorization of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, unproven treatments the president has endorsed.
"Many doctors and studies disagree with this!" Trump claimed in a tweet, although medial professionals have criticized him for promoting hydroxychloroquine despite its potential dangers to certain patients.
Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the FDA, told CBS that it is guided by "science and a deeply seated sense of public health mission that permeates that agency."
Medical analysts said Trump may be putting too much political pressure on the FDA, part of an overall effort to develop a vaccine as soon as possible.
Corb said it takes time to develop a safe and effective vaccine or treatment, and a thorough process "is necessary to ensure our safety, and to ensure that a treatment isn't worse than the disease."
Any hint that the FDA might be under political pressure to make decisions could end up harming public trust in the credibility of an agency that will be at the heart of deciding when – and if – any coronavirus vaccines are ready for general use, said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education with the Immunization Action Coalition.
“As we are nearing the possibility of rapidly deploying vaccines against COVID-19, vaccines ultimately intended for the entire adult population of the United States, we need to be taking every step possible to demonstrate to the public that accelerated vaccine development will not compromise the effectiveness and safety standards the FDA has consistently upheld,” said Moore, who is a professor of health policy at Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise