Trump doctors must resist ‘VIP syndrome’, warns COVID expert

The doctor leading the world’s largest study of COVID-19 treatment has warned against giving President Trump experimental drugs that have yet to be fully tested.

Professor Martin Landray, joint chief investigator of the UK’s NHS Recovery Trial, said the antibody cocktail given to the president was promising, but had yet to be proven as safe and effective.

In an interview with Sky News, he said: “The same principles apply to every patient.

“Don’t expose people to drugs unless you know they are going to be useful, except in context of a clinical trial.”

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The temptation to overtreat important patients, sometimes to their detriment, is known colloquially by doctors as VIP syndrome.

The president has a large medical team dedicated to his care at the Walter Reed Medical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland.

“It does not matter what your job is or what your role in society is,” said Prof Landray.

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“Your body’s response, the virus’s response to a drug is not determined by status but by fundamentals of biology and medicine.”

The Recovery Trial has just started the first study of Regeneron’s cocktail of antibodies, known as REGN-COV2. It’s the first treatment designed to target the virus.

Around 2,000 NHS patients across the UK will be given the antibodies, with their outcome compared with a similar number receiving standard medical care.

“The early data from a few hundred patients shows the drug is effective against the virus. It’s bad for the virus, what we don’t know yet is if it’s good for the patient,” said Prof Landray.

Prof Landray says the same principles should apply to every patient
Image:Prof Landray says the same principles should apply to every patient

“Does it shorten the time in hospital, reduce the need for a ventilator and improve survival – we need to know that.”

The Recovery Trial has already shown that the cheap and widely available steroid dexamethasone reduces deaths by a third in patients on ventilators.

The drug was given to President Trump over the weekend when his blood oxygen levels dipped slightly below normal, and there are questions over whether he met the criteria for treatment.

Dexamethasone saves 'one in 8' patients in intensive care
Image:The trial has shown dexamethasone reduces deaths by a third in patients on ventilators

Giving the steroid too early could reduce the immune response to the virus.

Professor Landray said: “We were pretty clear that if patients are in hospital but don’t require oxygen then they don’t benefit from the steroid.

“There are side effects to all drugs and you would only give one where you expect there to be benefits.”

Professor Landray said treatments would continue to be tested as part of the Recovery Trial.

If the death rate could be significantly reduced then normal life could be resumed, even in the absence of a vaccine.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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