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Trump-Touted Drug Linked to Higher Death Risk in COVID Patients. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Kaitlan Collins at the White House will be standing by to watch for the president at any moment. And I hope to see you back here Sunday morning a.m. Eastern.

Don't anywhere right now though. The president about to be in the briefing room. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. This is CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

And just in, the president is holding an impromptu news conference any moment now. And this comes as 95,000 Americans have died from the virus. And some bad news about the drug that he has repeatedly touting -- has touted and is currently taking. A large new study links hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to a higher risk of death in coronavirus patients. Researchers looked at seriously ill, infected patients in more than 600 hospitals worldwide. And those treated with either medication were more likely to die or develop a heart condition.

Now, keep in mind, this is the drug that the president has called a game changer.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If things don't go as planned, it's not going to kill anybody. It will be wonderful. It will be so beautiful. It will be a gift from heaven and it works.

And if some other person put it forward and say, oh, let's go with it, what do you have to lose?

Try it if you like.

I have seen things that I sort of liked. So, what do I know I'm not a doctor. I'm not a doctor but I have common sense.

I think it gives you an additional level of safety, but you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. It's had a great reputation. And if it was somebody else other than me, people would say, gee, isn't that smart?

A lot of people swear (ph) by it. It's gotten a bad reputation only because I am promoting it. So, I'm a very bad promoter.

I have taken it I think just about two weeks. So, I think it's another day and I am still here.


KEILAR: What do you have to lose, he asks? Well, potentially, your life.

Elizabeth Cohen is CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez is an internal medicine and viral specialist.

Elizabeth, let's dive in to the specifics of what this large study found. Tell me about these increases in risk for both death and heart problems.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brianna. Let's just jump into these numbers. This is a study that was led by folks at Harvard and was published in The Lancet just today. They looked at six patients in 671 hospitals. These were hospitalized coronavirus patients on six continents. Nearly 15,000 of these patients receiving hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with other drugs.

What they found is that those who were taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine were likely 33 percent to 45 percent more likely to die, even after they adjusted, because there were some differences between patients who weren't taking the drugs and a control group who was not. Also, the patients taking the drugs were 2.4 and 5 times more likely to develop heart arrhythmias.

Again, these are hospitalized patients, but still, President Trump has painted, as we just saw, with a broad brush, saying, why not try it, this study tells you, why not try it.

KEILAR: I mean, Doctor, 33 percent to 45 percent, Elizabeth, more likely to die? Those are staggering numbers. And yet the sales of hydroxychloroquine reportedly doubled in March. So, who's prescribing these drugs?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE AND VIRAL SPECIALIST: Well, I am not. So, I don't know who is prescribing it. But this is the mother of all studies right now. This was 96,000 patients that were followed since -- they looked at their chart since last December to April.

Let me put it this way. People were sick to begin with. If you didn't take any of these medications, 9 percent of the people died. If you took the combination of hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, 25 percent died. That is three times more people die when on this medication.

Desperate times, some people start doing desperate things, and that is what is so dangerous, that the president of the United States is saying, hey, this is nothing. Well, it is something and it's something very dangerous. And on top of that, all right, if not followed correctly, you have almost ten times greater chance of having heart arrhythmia. This medication, the hydroxychloroquine can prolong the time the chambers of the heart communicating with each other and you can have all these erratic arrhythmias.

So, if people wanted proof, there already has been proof that hydroxychloroquine does not help with the COVID virus and now there is proof that not only doesn't it help but when you are really sick, it is life-threatening and dangerous, period.

KEILAR: And there is also the smaller V.A., Elizabeth.


It's a lot like this one that also found higher risk of death. Here is what the president said when he was asked about that.


TRUMP: That was a false study done where they gave it to sick people, extremely sick people, people that were ready to die. It was given by obviously not friends of the administration. And the study came out, the people were ready to die. Everybody was old. That study was a phony study put out by the V.A.

A lot of people have taken it. A lot of doctors have taken it. A lot of people swear by it. It's gotten a bad reputation only because I am promoting it.


KEILAR: He said it is not friends of the administration. I mean, I guess that's sort of true because it is the administration, right? This is a V.A. study. But -- yes. Elizabeth?

COHEN: The V.A. is a part of the government.

KEILAR: That's right.

COHEN: So, if anyone who's going to be a friend of Trump, it would be the V.A. So, that completely doesn't make sense. But putting the -- we don't have to go to the V.A. study. There have been two studies, one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the other published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that were significantly larger than the V.A. study that showed that hydroxychloroquine didn't work.

So, I don't know why he's harping on this V.A. study. It's smaller. Look at the two that are larger that were published in prestigious medical journals that showed that it didn't work. And one of those also showed that it made heart arrhythmias more -- that people who took the drugs were more likely to have heart arrhythmias. And now, we have this third study, which is Dr. Rodriguez just said, is the mother of all studies. So, we have a study in The Lancet, in New England of Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association all pointing to concerns.

Does he think all of them hate Trump? Is that it? Does he think the entire world is conspiring against him? That's dangerous right there. I mean, you have three studies of three prominent medical journals. I don't know what more he wants.

KEILAR: Yes. And these are scientific studies. They are looking to get the answers so that people can stay healthy.

Doctor, if you can also fact-check for us of this idea that there could be a different impact on people using it preventatively versus when they are hospitalized, he seemed to kind of be making that point. Talk to us about that.

RODRIGUEZ: That is exactly what I was going say. As of now, there is absolutely no evidence, there has been no study that has shown that taking hydroxychloroquine prophylactically, which means to prevent getting the COVID virus is helpful.

So, there is a study, I believe, going on with healthcare workers who were taking a bit. This is a study. Studies have to be objective. And there is not enough anecdotal evidence that people that are on hydroxychloroquine, for example, for other illnesses, like lupus, still get infected. It logically makes no sense that an antibacterial drug, like hydroxychloroquine, will help against a virus. Never has that happened. So, there is no proof that it will prevent --

KEILAR: Doctor, you mentioned this global study. This is coordinated by Washington University and St. Louis. It's testing this on 30,000 frontline workers across the world. So, in light of these findings, do you think that study should continue?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think it should continue, for the simple reason that it is a controlled study. It is on people that are not sick and, you know what, this needs to be put to bed once and for all. And until something can be shown that it doesn't conclusively help, people are going to latch on to mystical, magical thinking if that's what they were to believe in.

Again, there is anecdotal evidence and lots of it that people that on this medication for the diseases still get the COVID-19 virus. So, yes, study should continue. Let's see what it shows.

KEILAR: With that many workers, it's a very large sample.

And, Elizabeth, let's talk about some other medical news. There were some earlier results from a human vaccine trial in China. Tell us about this.

COHEN: It's interesting. This is the first time we have seen published evidence of what a vaccine can do for humans. And I will see that we talked to two experts. It's a study done in China. We talked to two experts in the U.S. They were not impressed. And these were their words, not mine. They are not impressed with these these results. Let's take a look at what they found. It was 108 study subjects, and this is by CanSino, a Chinese company. And nearly half of them developed a fever when they were vaccinated. They went away but that was a concern to the doctors.

Also, the folks who took this at low to medium doses, because you could have taken it at low, medium or high, folks who took it at low and medium doses, half of them did not develop neutralizing antibodies. And that's kind of the standard. You want neutralizing antibodies. Half of them did not.

At a high dosage, they saw even more side effects, and so they're not even continuing on with that.


So, the two doses that they're going to continue on with, only half of the people so far have had neutralizing antibodies developed.

Again, some questions as to how powerful this is, one doctor we talked to said that they ought to just hang it up, they should be done with this because this showed it didn't work. Another doctor we talked to said that's worth investigating some more. But, certainly, no one seems to be jumping up and down about these results.

KEILAR: And as we are waiting the president is holding an impromptu appearance in the press briefing room there at the White House, I want to ask you about this, Doctor, this vaccine news and also just -- there are so many shots on goal, as we've heard experts talk about this, attempts of vaccines. You can just tell with news of everyone that comes out for some of these pharmaceutical companies, they are putting out press releases. I know doctors want data. But for every one of these things that comes out, there is this question of can we hang some hope on this. And it seems -- it just seems like one of those things where we are hoping, hoping, hoping but you have to do the work, and this is going to take a lot of work.

RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely, it takes a lot of work. And there's a plus and minus by all these press releases. This is not really science. When you do a study, the data has to go out there and it has to be peer reviewed by other scientists to make sure it is valid and to be questioned.

So, is there hope? Yes. some of the vaccines are showing some potential of hope. And Moderna one, all right, showed neutralizing antibodies. The Oxford one is showing promise. So, there are three lead horses in this race but it is far from the finish line.

And one of the potential dangers of this is that we jump the gun too soon and then we give people, for example, a vaccine that, A, has a lot of potential side effects, B, doesn't work in the long run, and then what have we done? We have given people vaccines, millions of people vaccines thinking that they might sort of protected against the virus, they go out like nothing is going to happen, and, boom, they get seriously ill.

So, this is like boiling water. You can't rush it. It's going to come out and we're going to see results when it happens and when it is available safely.

KEILAR: And not undermining the faith in vaccines of generations and generations. Thank you so much, Doctor, thank you, Elizabeth Cohen.

I want to go straight now to Kaitlan Collins. She is at the White House. And, Kaitlan, the president has been teasing some new guidelines for churches in America. Does this have anything to do with this impromptu news conference? What are you hearing?

COLLINS: I think we could hear about that. Those are those guidelines that did not get put out, had been delayed with the CDC and the White House, was going back and forth. And, Brianna, we heard from sources that the White House felt like they were too detailed. And then, basically, churches were going to look at those guidelines or other places of worship were going to look at these guidelines and not think they were feasible to carry out.

So, there have been some tweaking to them. There was even a point where there was a consideration for no guidance at all on this. But we are told, and the president did say yesterday, he believes that guidance is going to come out today. He said, maybe tomorrow. But we are hearing from sources that it could be one of the things that the president is going to be discussing at this briefing here just in a few minutes.

But we should not, this is pretty abrupt. We were expecting a briefing with the press secretary at 2:00, and then actually called a lunch, which basically means it's safe for reporters to leave the White House and go out and get lunch, and there are going to be any events. Well, that lunch was, of course, blundered by the White House. They now say there is going to be a briefing. We are expecting the president at 1:00. They're clearly running just a few minutes behind.

So, we are waiting to see him but also, he's going to be asked about this study, Brianna, and the fact that he is someone who finished taking his hydroxychloroquine regiment today. And then not only has he been taking, he's been encouraging people to take it, saying, what do you have to lose, this sentiment that we've heard and echoed So, often. So, there will be questions about that as well.

And you have to think, the last time we saw the president in this briefing room, I believe, was the day after that briefing where he mused about potentially using bleach or sunlight as a way to possibly cure or treat coronavirus, something that he later said he was being sarcastic about, but he faced a lot of blowback from the medical community over those comments. And I believe that was the last briefing where he took questions.

He did come out the next day, did not take questions. And other than that, we've seen him in different formats, not really taking questions in the briefing room, as he did for so many days on in during the beginning of this pandemic. So, this will be one of his first appearances here since then. We could be getting more guidance on exactly what the White House has in mind for churches and other places of worship as they start opening up the rest of the country. KEILAR: And it's hard to imagine him backing away from hydroxychloroquine. He's had so many opportunities, but this new study shows, I think, you're about three times likely to die taking it with coronavirus.


That is irresponsible if the president continues to tout this for people, especially since preventative methods aren't known beyond a clinical setting. So, we're going to be watching that with you, Kaitlan, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Everybody stand by. We're going to take this news conference. President Trump will be in the briefing room here in just a moment. We'll bring this to you as soon as it begins.


KEILAR: Any moment now, the president will be holding what was really an unexpected press conference as a serious new warning comes out about the drug that he has been touting and he has been taking, hydroxychloroquine. And in the meantime, this weekend traditionally marks the start of summer, right? But Memorial Day will look quite different under the social distancing guidelines of this pandemic.


Some states have reopened beaches but they're trying to prevent overcrowding.

Here is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): It's Memorial Day weekend. We expect people to be getting out, going to parks, beaches, et cetera. We understand that. But we have to remain vigilant at the same time. I know the weather is warmer. I know people have been cooped up. I know there is tremendous energy to get out. You have to remain vigilant.


KEILAR: CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. And, Evan, Jersey Shores, of course, known for its crowded boardwalks and beaches, so how is this going to work?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the goal here is really to focus on personal responsibility. Authorities are asking people to wear masks in positions where they can't social distance and on the beach to socially distance from each other.

Now, there are also other sort of more enforced rules, such as here in Point Pleasant, they have kept the number that can be on the beach to what they think is a safe number to keep social distance. So, if people show up and it's already at capacity, they'll turn them away. That's not happening today. There is rain on the forecast, so we really haven't seen that so far.

But it's an interesting dilemma for the people who run these beach towns, because, as you say, it is a huge part of the economy, and usually what they do is try to pack these places as full as they can during these beach months. I talked to the mayor of Point Pleasant here, he says it's a very different job this time around.


MAYOR PAUL KANITRA (R-NJ), POINT PLEASANT BEACH: Here is the key. Nobody wants to be the mayor from Jaws who lets everybody back in the water a little too soon, right? And at the end of the day, I just started on January 1st, I am trying to do the best I can, just like mayors up and down the coast are. We have our own unique set of circumstances and situations here in Point Pleasant Beach, resources available to us. So, we are trying to utilize that, the information that we have, resources available to us just to create a very safe environment.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, now, if you are on the beach, despite that Jaws mayor-style jacket, it's very different than we see in that movie. If you're on the beach today, you are allowed to do things that you'd normally do on the beach, you can sunbathe, you can hang out or whatever, but you have to maintain those social distance groups.

And areas, like the boardwalk, here at Point Pleasant are still closed. Others are still closed. Other boardwalks are open but this one is still closed. It is too narrow, the mayor, says to let people on it right yet. This is the kind of thing that we're seeing all up and down the coast, just trying to figure out that balance between opening the beaches and keeping people safe at the same time. And it's a real challenge here at Point Pleasant. It will be something that we'll see over the course of the rest of this beach season, Brianna.

KEILAR: Nobody wants to be the mayor from Jaws. That's the best thing I have heard all week. And, Evan McMorris-Santoro, great report. And I'm so sorry you drew short straw there to be at the beach today. Thank you.

In some new guidance, the CDC estimates that about a third of people who were infected with coronavirus don't show symptoms and about 40 percent of virus transmission happens before people even feel sick. These are numbers that part of five planning scenarios for modelers and health officials.

And joining me now to help break down these numbers and tell us that this mean is Dr. Roshini Raj. She's an Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Langone Health.

So, Doctor, that's pretty stunning, right? A third of people never even show any signs, they never know that they have coronavirus, what does it mean transmission of this?

DR. ROSHINI RAJ, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, NYU LANGONE HEALTH: Well, these numbers really underscore why the social distancing is so important. Because even if someone has no symptoms, they are very able to transmit the virus if they are infected. And now, we see a large percentage of people, about 35 percent are asymptomatic. So, they'll feel perfectly fine but they're still capable of infecting others.

One of the numbers you didn't mention the CDC said also in this report that you are really just as easily able to infect others, whether you have symptoms or not, which is why it's important even if you're feeling well to follow a lot of these guidelines, like masks, et cetera.

KEILAR: So, it's just as easy -- you're basically just as contagious, you're saying, even though an asymptomatic person wouldn't, say, have a cough. You'd expect they won't to be producing those respiratory droplets but actually they are just as contagious.

RAJ: That's what the CDC mentioned in one of the reports that they just released, that you are still just as able to spread it to other people even if you don't have symptoms.

KEILAR: Wow. OK. So, the agency also released an estimate on the mortality rate in the U.S., saying that 0.4 percent of people who show symptoms and have COVID-19 will die. This number was in the best-case scenario, they said. I mean, we know right from the beginning of this, where there were questions about, was it 2 percent or 3 percent, 0.4 percent, significantly lower than that. What do you make of this estimate?


RAJ: Well, I think the problem with these numbers is, first of all, they are changing a lot, not everyone agrees with the CDC estimates and it's really based on just what data they have available right now. And they themselves said this is really for planning purposes on a state level or a city level. It's not for people at home to make individual decisions.

So, that 0.4 percent might be much higher in certain parts of the country and also it will change depending on your risk groups. So, it's definitely higher for elderly people. It's probably lower for younger people. But it's -- unfortunately, with this virus, what we are learning is everything changes almost on a daily basis as we get new information. So, I really would hang my hat on any particular number like this. And, again, they don't have complete data because we really haven't tested in the numbers that we would need to find a true estimate.

KEILAR: I just want to tell our viewers very quickly, Dr. Raj, we are awaiting the president. He's coming out for an impromptu press conference there at the White House briefing room. So, we are keeping an eye on that. We will bring that to you as soon as he appears.

But, Dr. Raj, the CDC says, and this is something I think a lot of people are paying attention to, that the virus does not spread easily from touching surfaces or objects, that people are mostly catching the virus through person-to-person transmission. Is there anything really new there that viewers should take to heart, especially as we know a lot of people have been careful about surfaces? Is there any of their behavior that they should be changing or is this just sort of a little peace of mind?

RAJ: Yes, I think it's more of a little peace of mind. I don't think this should change people's behavior dramatically. Because while they said it's less likely, and it's not very likely to happen if they didn't say it's impossible to catch it from the surface.

I think why they came out with this recently is because, you know, a couple of weeks ago, we saw studies showing that the virus can live on certain surfaces for hours and even up to three days on certain things, like plastic, and that made people very, very concerned and worried.

I think what they're trying to tell people now is if you do go grocery shopping, you do happen to touch something, you should go to a panic because it is much less likely than if you're actually within six feet of someone who is sick.

But that doesn't mean we should kind of not think about it at all. We should still be careful about surfaces. But to the point of washing groceries and fruits, vegetables because they have been in the grocery store, I think that, we can say, is probably not necessarily. But, overall, I don't think behavior should change but it should have a little peace of mind, as you said.

KEILAR: And if you are one of those people who is wiping down packages and taking precautions with surfaces, you should certainly, I guess, the message would be, use a mask, right? Make sure maybe some emphasis on the mask. OK. All right.

RAJ: Exactly.

KEILAR: Dr. Raj, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

And at any moment we are going to be hearing from the president in a surprise news conference. So how is he going to respond to this new study out that shows the drug he has been touting taking, this is his last of, I think, 14 days at this point on, hydroxychloroquine, that it's actually linked to a higher risk of death, significantly higher in coronavirus patients. Stand by.