Aug 23, 2020
Donald Trump August 23 White House COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript
President Donald Trump held an August 23 coronavirus press conference where he announced the FDA is issuing an emergency authorization for a COVID-19 treatment called convalescent plasma. Trump touted the approval as a “historic announcement.” Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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Donald Trump: (01:38)
Thank you very much, and it’s good to see you all. Hope you had a great weekend at your convention. We’re going to have a great convention coming up, and I look forward to it.
Donald Trump: (01:51)
But before I discuss a very historic breakthrough in our fight against the China virus, I’d like to provide an update on the recent wildfires in California and the storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday, I approved a major disaster declaration for California, spoke to Governor Newsom as they battled two of the worst wildfires in the history of their state. That continues.
Donald Trump: (02:19)
The federal government has already deployed over 26,000 first responders and personnel to battle the wildfires. We’re working very closely with the Governor and very closely with a lot of great state representatives and local representatives. We’ll take care of the situation, but we have 26,000 first responders already. Our hearts go out to the thousands of families who have lost their homes, as we grieve for the families of two first responders and five residents who have tragically lost their lives in a very horrific fire, one of the biggest we’ve ever seen.
Donald Trump: (03:01)
My administration is also closely monitoring Hurricane Marco and Tropical Storm Laura, which are coming in rapidly. Hurricane Marco is expected to make landfall in Louisiana tomorrow, and Tropical Storm Laura is expected to hit Louisiana two days later. This is somewhat unprecedented, the scope of the storms, and also the fact that they come so quickly after one another. Both storms have the potential of gathering strength before they make landfall and could cause significant damage across the Gulf Coast and also in Puerto Rico. We have everybody stationed and ready to go in Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast. We have tremendous, tremendous people. FEMA is lined up. We have the Coast Guard ready. The Coast Guard has done a fantastic job. They do such good work, and we want to thank our great Coast Guard.
Donald Trump: (03:58)
I’m asking all Americans in the storm’s path to follow the instructions of your state and local governments very closely. I’ve approved emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and for Louisiana. FEMA is mobilized on the ground and is ready to help. They will be in there very quickly, very, very quickly. I spoke to Governor John Bel Edwards also of Louisiana, and I’ve informed him, and at his request also, a major disaster declaration is signed and ready to go. We have everybody ready in Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast, Louisiana, and also on the forest fires in California. We have a great team. Unfortunately, we have some very, very powerful natural disasters.
Donald Trump: (04:47)
On the therapeutics front, this is what I’ve been looking to do for a long time. This is a great thing. Today, I’m pleased to make a truly historic announcement in our battle against the China virus that will save countless lives. The FDA has issued an Emergency Use Authorization, and a that’s such a powerful term, Emergency Use Authorization, for a treatment known as convalescent plasma. This is a powerful therapy that transfuses very, very strong antibodies from the blood of recovered patients to help treat patients battling a current infection. It’s had an incredible rate of success. Today’s action will dramatically expand access to this treatment.
Donald Trump: (05:39)
I want to thank Dr. Hahn and Secretary Azar. I want to thank the FDA, all of the people that have been working very hard on this. It showed tremendous potential. It’s only made possible because of Operation Warp Speed. That is everybody working together. We’re years ahead of approvals that we would be if we went by the speed levels of past administration. We’d be two years, three years behind where we are today, and that includes on vaccines that you’ll be hearing about very soon, very shortly.
Donald Trump: (06:16)
To deliver treatments and vaccine to save lives, we’re removing unnecessary barriers and delays, not by cutting corners, but by marshaling the full power of the federal government. We provided $48 million to fund the Mayo Clinic study that tested the efficacy of convalescent plasma for patients with the virus. Through this study over 100,000 Americans have already enrolled to receive this treatment, and it is proven to reduce mortality by 35%. It’s a tremendous number. The FDA, MIT, Harvard, and Mount Sinai Hospital have also found convalescent plasma to be a very effective method of fighting this horrible disease. Based on the science and the data, the FDA has made the independent determination that the treatment is safe and very effective.
Donald Trump: (07:12)
Recently, we provided up to $270 million to the American Red Cross and America’s blood centers to support the collection of up to 360,000 units of plasma. In late July, we launched a nationwide campaign to ask patients who have recovered, and these are patients that have been incredible the way they’ve donated. But these are people recovered from the virus to donate plasma. Since then, weekly plasma donations have doubled. Today, I once again urge all Americans who have recovered from the virus to go to coronavirus.gov and sign up and donate plasma today, please. It’s been really an incredible … Just incredible people. The country has united so strongly behind this.
Donald Trump: (08:08)
I’ll go over the numbers, but if you look at what’s happened and the success that we’ve had that people don’t talk about, the United States has experienced the lowest case fatality rate of any major country in the world. You don’t hear that. The European Union’s case fatality rate is estimated to be three times higher than that in the United States. Europe has seen 33% more fatalities compared to a typical non-pandemic year than the United States.
Donald Trump: (08:38)
I just want to ask two of our people that have done such a fantastic job, Alex Azar and Stephen Hahn to say a few words. Stephen, I want to thank you because the FDA really stepped up and especially over the last few days in getting this done. The results have been incredible, and I think you’ll see the results even go up very substantially. So we appreciate it. And maybe I’ll ask Alex to go first, and then Stephen. Thank you very much, Alex.
Alex Azar: (09:06)
Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. Thanks for the bold leadership that allowed us to deliver this very happy news today. Thanks to your all-of-America approach, America has done more than any other country to expand the arsenal that we have to battle COVID-19. Thanks to early efforts by your administration, Americans have broader access to these treatments, including convalescent plasma, than patients anywhere else in the world.
Alex Azar: (09:33)
In early April, early in our fight against COVID-19, the FDA, BARDA, the Mayo Clinic, and other partners sprang into action to set up an expanded access protocol for this promising treatment. President Trump is the right-to-try President, and he’s fought hard to ensure that Americans can have access to promising COVID-19 treatments. Convalescent plasma has been a tried-and-true therapeutic method in prior outbreaks, but the President wanted to ensure that we develop the data to support its use. This FDA authorization is one result of that effort.
Alex Azar: (10:06)
The data we gathered suggests that patients who were treated early in their disease course, within three days of being diagnosed with plasma containing high levels of antibodies, benefited the most from treatment. We saw about a 35% better survival in the patients who benefited most from the treatment, which were patients under 80, who were not on artificial respiration. I just want to emphasize this point because I don’t want you to gloss over this number. We dream in drug development of something like a 35% mortality reduction. This is a major advance in the treatment of patients. This is a major advance.
Alex Azar: (10:51)
Convalescent plasma is one new tool that we’ve added to our arsenal against COVID-19 alongside remdesivir, steroids, and a number of other promising options currently being studied. Because of the President’s Operation Warp Speed, we expect to have other new results and new options reaching patients as soon as this fall. Operation Warp Speed is supporting experimental therapeutics all the way through to manufacturing, so that if they meet FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy, they can begin reaching patients without a day wasted.
Alex Azar: (11:24)
Americans who have tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 can go to coronavirus.gov to find out a quick, convenient way to play a potentially lifesaving role in our fight. Know if you donate plasma, you could save a life. We’ve also provided guidance, so healthcare providers can contact patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and give them information on how they can donate.
Alex Azar: (11:48)
So thank you again, Mr. President for supporting this remarkable progress against COVID-19, and I want to thank Dr. Hahn, Dr. Marks, and the entire team at the FDA for the speed with which they’ve approached this, the diligence to ensure that this meets the standards at FDA. I’ll turn it over to Dr. Hahn, if it’s okay, Mr. President.
Donald Trump: (12:07)
[crosstalk 00:12:07] thank you very much. Please, Doctor?
Dr. Hahn: (12:09)
Thank you, Mr. President-
Donald Trump: (12:10)
Dr. Hahn: (12:10)
… for your leadership. It’s good to be here today to announce FDA’s recent decision. From the beginning of this pandemic, the President has asked FDA to cut back red tape to try to speed medical products into the hands of providers, patients, and American consumers. I just want to echo the President’s thanks to the more than the 17,000 men and women who work at FDA. They have worked day and night to, in fact, do that.
Dr. Hahn: (12:36)
Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood. That liquid portion contains the natural immunity that someone develops in response to an infection, in this case COVID-19. That liquid portion can be extracted. And for many years, as the President and Secretary Azar said, has been given to patients with infectious diseases for more than a hundred years. So there was a really good rationale for why this might work. In fact, as was mentioned, in early April, an expanded access program was started at the Mayo Clinic with the support of the federal government under President Trump’s leadership. That has gone on for the last four months. More than 90,000, close to 100,000, Americans have enrolled in this program, and over 70,000 have received treatment. This is one of the largest expanded access programs in the history of FDA. So a very successful approach to evaluating how convalescent plasma would work.
Dr. Hahn: (13:34)
In the independent judgment of experts and expert scientists at FDA who have reviewed the totality of data, not just the data from this expanded access program, but more than a dozen published studies, as well as the historical experience associated with this, those scientists have concluded that COVID-19 convalescent plasma is safe and shows promising efficacy, thereby meeting the criteria for an emergency use authorization. In the optimal patients, as described by secretary Azar, treated with convalescent plasma at the highest titers, there was a 35% improvement in survival, which is a significant clinical benefit. Now, we’re waiting for more data. We’re going to continue to gather data, but this clearly meets the criteria that we’ve established for emergency use authorization, and we’re very pleased with these results.
Dr. Hahn: (14:27)
Let me just put this in perspective. Many of you know I was a cancer doctor before I became FDA commissioner, and a 35% improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit. What that means is, and if the data continue to pan out, 100 people who are sick with COVID-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma. We’ve seen a great deal of demand for this from doctors around the country. What this emergency use authorization today does, it allows us to continue that and meet the demand.
Dr. Hahn: (15:00)
Again, I want to echo the President’s and the Secretary’s ask of the American people. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, please donate. It could save a life. Mr. President, thank you again.
Donald Trump: (15:11)
Thank you very much, Stephen. I appreciate it.
Speaker 6: (15:18)
Donald Trump: (15:19)
Okay, any questions?
Speaker 6: (15:19)
Mr. President? Mr. President?
Speaker 7: (15:19)
Thank you, Mr. President. I want to first ask you about the COVID-19 drugs that are in phase three.
Donald Trump: (15:23)
Speaker 7: (15:24)
Are they going to be available to the American population on … You and I talked previously about this idea of right to try.
Donald Trump: (15:32)
Speaker 7: (15:33)
Can we assure the American people that if it’s being studied and it’s in phase three, you have that right?
Donald Trump: (15:38)
That’s a great question, and I’m not sure a lot of people have been thinking about right to try. We’re all waiting for the final answer. Maybe I could ask Stephen, but I would say that right to try is exactly … If somebody is virtually terminal, in other words they’re not going to make it, and if we have these incredible therapies and drugs that are happening, Alex, I think it’s a very interesting question. I congratulate you for that question because I think we’re-
Speaker 7: (16:05)
Thanks, Mr. President.
Donald Trump: (16:05)
… all waiting for that exact final endpoint. What about that, Stephen? We have all of these seemingly great answers that are ready to come out, but because of the process, it takes a little- Can we use some of this early under Right to Try? Please.
Dr. Hahn: (16:18)
So it’s a really good question. Of course, it all depends on the clinical circumstances and what a doctor and a patient together decide with respect to the administration of any agent.
Dr. Hahn: (16:29)
But if you think about what happened with convelescent plasma and the expanded access program, this is exactly what happened. We have ongoing clinical trials that are randomized between placebo or an inactive substance and the convalescent plasma. While that was going on, we knew that there was great demand from patients and doctors. The expanded access program is a way of actually doing that and fits perfectly with what the President just said about allowing people to be able to use something that we have now determined to be very safe.
Donald Trump: (16:57)
I think it was something we have to really consider very strongly.
Dr. Hahn: (17:00)
Donald Trump: (17:00)
I think it’s fantastic. You should get credit for that.
Speaker 7: (17:04)
Thanks, Mr. President.
Donald Trump: (17:04)
Thank you. That’s very good.
Speaker 8: (17:04)
Donald Trump: (17:04)
Please, in the back. [OEN 00:17:08]?
Speaker 9: (17:10)
Thank you Mr. President. Convalescent plasma as a treatment has been around for nearly a hundred years. You mentioned Operation Warp Speed, which enabled this process to move along a lot faster. What went into the effort for this to be approved for COVID-19? And was that holdup political in nature?
Donald Trump: (17:30)
Well, I think that there might have been a holdup, but we broke the logjam over the last week, to be honest. I think that there are people in the FDA and actually in your larger department that can see things being held up and wouldn’t mind so much. That’s my opinion, a very strong opinion. And that’s for political reasons. This has nothing to do with politics. This has to do with life or death. So we are being very strong, and we are being very forthright. We have got some incredible answers, and we’re not going to let them be held up because every day is lives, and we’re not going to let that happen. Okay? Very good, thank you.
Speaker 10: (18:06)
Donald Trump: (18:06)
Please, go ahead.
Speaker 11: (18:10)
Mr. President, in announcing this today, you said that the FDA has made the independent determination that the treatment is safe and very effective. Yet Dr Hahn just said it was showing promising efficacy. Which of the two is correct?
Donald Trump: (18:25)
Well, I think I’ll let Dr. Hahn answer that question.
Dr. Hahn: (18:29)
Under our legal authority for Emergency Use Authorization, this is not the same as an approval, but it’s an authorization, and it allows us to expand the access to this. We know we’re going to continue to collect data. We knew that for all of our Emergency Use Authorizations.
Dr. Hahn: (18:44)
So, for example, remdesivir, which was approved or authorized on May 1st, we’re still collecting data, and we will continue to do that with plasma as well. So it’s the nuances of the language around the authorization that we use and the legal aspect too.
Speaker 11: (18:57)
It’s a promising treatment. You couldn’t say it’s very effective just yet.
Dr. Hahn: (19:02)
If you’re one of those 35 out of 100 people who these data suggest or show survive as a result of it, this is pretty significant for that person and their family.
Donald Trump: (19:12)
Okay, this is a very big day. It’s a day we’ve been looking forward to. Thank you very much. Great questions.
Speaker 12: (19:18)
Was there pressure on you, Dr. Hahn, to authorize this?
Speaker 13: (19:18)
Speaker 14: (19:18)
Mr. President [crosstalk 00:19:19]
Speaker 12: (19:19)
Dr. Hahn. Could you answer that question? [crosstalk 00:19:19] Dr. Hahn, to authorize this.
Speaker 12: (19:21)