In a rare Sunday edition of his coronavirus press conferences, President Trump said the Food and Drug Administration would issue an emergency use authorization for blood plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. “Today’s action will dramatically expand access to this treatment,” Trump said in his “truly historic announcement.”
Convalescent plasma — the liquid portion of blood containing antibodies in those who have recovered from COVID-19 — has been part of the regimen of care for many hospitals since the early months of the pandemic. But the president’s decision to expand the use of plasma appears to be another scenario in which he is politicizing a potential coronavirus treatment at the expense of the science confirming its efficacy.
Less than two weeks ago, officials at the National Institutes of Health — including Dr. Anthony Fauci and NIH director Francis Collins — stopped the Food and Drug Administration from issuing such an emergency use authorization, citing the lack of large, randomized trials proving the effectiveness of the treatment.
“If it has efficacy, it will be relatively modest at best,” explained physician and science editor Eric Topol. “Convalescent plasma has no randomized trials. It contains many antibodies that have no neutralizing effect.” And as STAT News notes, the emergency authorization may not expand access significantly, as the supply of plasma is “limited by the number of recovered patients who donate.”
But the Trump administration wasn’t thrilled by the veto at the NIH that would stall their announcement of an expanded treatment just as the 2020 campaign ramps back up. In an interview with ABC’s This Week, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that the administration wanted to pressure the federal agency “to make sure that they felt the heat” to ignore public-health experts and approve the president’s plan. Trump also weighed in, blaming the measured response as a function of “deep state” resistance to his will.
While the administration uses the language of waste-management consultants to coerce a federal agency into green-lighting the expansion of a clinically unproven treatment, the administration is reportedly considering a fast-track path for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate ahead of the election. According to the Financial Times, the White House is looking at an experimental product made by the U.K. firm AstraZeneca as a prospect for another emergency authorization, despite the fact that their vaccine has only been tested in a group of 10,000 volunteers — just a third of the size considered by the FDA as a viable pool to be considered for authorization.