8:04 p.m. ET, April 3, 2020
Fact check: Trump, Pence stumble over clinical details while touting coronavirus treatments
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both stumbled over medical details, and spread inaccurate information, while touting new coronavirus tests and potential treatments.
Trump mentioned anti-malaria drugs that are being tested as potential treatments, saying that the clinical trials are “having some good results,” even though public health officials say the results are months away.
Moments later, Vice President Mike Pence said the Food and Drug Administration had “approved” a new method to test the coronavirus, even though the FDA only granted emergency authorization for the test, which requires a much lower standard.
Facts First: Both comments overstate the medical realities a bit. For Trump, he has repeatedly touted and expressed unbridled optimism about the drugs, even without conclusive scientific data to back up his claims. For Pence, he oversold the FDA’s confidence in the new Covid-19 test.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly touted two pharmaceuticals
, chloroquine and the chemically similar hydroxychloroquine, as potential “game-changers” that could end the pandemic and save lives.
This is the continuation of a glaring messaging gap within the administration. Trump has breathlessly promoted the drugs while the public health officials are cautiously waiting for scientific evidence, and tamping down expectations, by saying that the information out there already is only anecdotal and not proven on a large-scale.
Later in the press conference, Pence brought up the new blood test
for coronavirus antibodies. “And the big news, of course, over the last few days was that the FDA, once again, in near record time, has approved an antibody test developed by Cellex,” Pence said.
This isn’t quite accurate. The FDA uses very specific terminology about medical drugs, tests and equipment, and the FDA would likely disagree with the notion that it “approved” the test. These terms are important, as medical professionals need clarity to be sure their use of these items is safe for every patient.
What really happened was that the FDA granted “emergency use authorization” for the tests. This essentially means that the FDA will let health care providers use the tests during this crisis, even though it hasn’t gone through all the steps that medicines and medical tests usually go through before receiving a full “approval."