A recurring theme during the opening night of the 2020 Republican National Convention was that President Donald Trump saved hundreds of thousands of American lives because of his quick and efficient response to the coronavirus pandemic — a claim that Trump critics are denouncing as absolutely absurd in light of how deadly COVID-19 has been in the United States. One of Trump's recent claims, made at a news conference on Sunday, August 23 — the day before the convention got underway — is that his administration's emergency approval of blood plasma for coronavirus patients in hospitals reduced the number of deaths by 35%. But scientists, according to New York Times reporters Katie Thomas and Sheri Fink, find that figure to be misleading.
At the August 23 news conference, three people touted that 35% figure: Trump, Health Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Trump described the 35% figure as "tremendous," while Azar told reporters, "I don't want you to gloss over this number" and Hahn insisted that 35 out of every 100 hospitalized COVID-19 patients "would have been saved because of the administration of plasma."
But scientists, Thomas and Fink report in the Times, "were taken aback by the way the administration framed this data, which appeared to have been calculated based on a small subgroup of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a Mayo Clinic study: those who were under 80 years old, not on ventilators and received plasma known to contain high levels of virus-fighting antibodies within three days of diagnosis."
Moreover, the Times reporters add, the 35% figure "was not in an analysis conducted by the Mayo Clinic that has been frequently cited by the administration."
Dr. Walid Gellad of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Times, "For the first time ever, I feel like official people in communications and people at the FDA grossly misrepresented data about a therapy."
According to Gellad, it is a "big problem" if Trump and his officials are "starting to exaggerate data."
Dr. Robert Califf, who served as FDA commissioner under President Barack Obama, also took issue with the 35% figure when, on August 23, he tweeted:
Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California (a San Diego suburb), told the Times that convalescent plasma has not shown the benefit in treating COVID-19 that Hahn described and stressed, "He needs to come out with that — and until he does, he has no credibility as an FDA commissioner."