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Trump decision to take hydroxychloroquine more reasonable than it sounds

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  • President Trump on Monday told reporters that he is personally taking hydroxychloroquine.
  • The announcement launched a huge amount of backlash.
  • While Trump’s announcement is worrying from a leadership standpoint, it may not be as wild from a health standpoint. 
  • While the drug has risks, if Trump has properly weighed those risks with his doctor it is fair for him to try the drug.
  • A version of this post first appeared in “Insider Today,” a daily email written by Henry Blodget and David Plotz. To receive it in your inbox, please sign up here.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After weeks of going quiet on hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the anti-malarial drug he used to tout as a “game-changer” for the coronavirus, President Trump startled everyone yesterday by announcing that he was taking it himself.

This announcement eclipsed the rest of the day’s news, which may be one reason Trump brought the topic up again.

The comments also triggered the same widespread condemnation the President received in the weeks he was talking up the drug in press conferences.

One aspect of this criticism is fair. Hydroxychloroquine can have dangerous side effects, and there’s still no real evidence that it works. The power of suggestion and leading-by-example, meanwhile, is real. The announcement by the president of the United States that he considers HCQ’s risks worth taking will likely prompt others to take it, too. And if taking the drug kills or hurts some people without helping them, the president will be partially responsible. 

So Trump should not be talking up HCQ, or even sharing his own personal medical choices, no matter how much his gut tells him that the drug’s benefits offset its risk.

But the President’s decision to take the drug himself is reasonable, as long as he’s taking it in safe doses with his doctor monitoring him for side effects.

Insider’s hydroxychloroquine expert Andy Dunn asked Dr. David Boulware whether there is any evidence that HCQ prevents or reduces the risk of coronavirus infection. Dr. Boulware is doing a study at the University of Minnesota to answer this question right now.

Here’s Dr. Boulware’s response: 

“There are no data that pre-exposure prophylaxis is effective to prevent coronavirus. It may be. It may not be. We do not know.”

In other words, an expert on infectious diseases believes that the question of whether HCQ prevents infection is worth a study to answer. It might work. It might not work. We don’t yet know.

As I noted last month, when President Trump was touting HCQ as a game-changer, the possibility that it might work is persuasive logic in the face of a frightening disease that is otherwise untreatable. Long before the FDA approved HCQ for emergency use against coronavirus, in fact, many doctors in the US, France, South Korea, and elsewhere were prescribing it based on this logic.

In the ensuing month, several studies have come out suggesting that HCQ does not work. And several other studies have been stopped because the side-effects on some patients were deemed dangerous. So the risks are real.

But…

For some people — Trump apparently included — the remaining possibility that HCQ might work seems enough to offset these risks. 

That’s fine and fair. 

We all make individual risk assessments and judgments every day. Some of us view certain activities as “too risky” and view those who engage in them as reckless and stupid. Others believe that the benefits of the same activities outweigh their risks and choose to do them. 

Based on what we know about the possible risk/reward trade off of taking hydroxychloroquine, Trump’s decision is within the realm of reasonable, even if you think it’s reckless and stupid. It might work. It might not work. When Dr. Boulware’s study concludes, we should know one way or the other.

A version of this post first appeared in “Insider Today,” a daily email written by Henry Blodget and David Plotz. To receive it in your inbox, please sign up here.

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