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Update On Trump's Medical Status


All right. We just got a lot of information there from the White House. And to help walk through some of that and some other things going on today, we are joined by our colleague from the science desk NPR's Richard Harris.

Hey, Richard.


KELLY: What jumped out at you from what we just heard from Brian Morgenstern there at the White House?

HARRIS: Well, more lack of information about how many people in the White House are sick - that's a big question mark. And also, I was interested to hear that they give masks to people but it's not a rule within the White House that people actually have to wear them even after all this transpired at the White House right now. So those are just a couple of highlights that I thought were interesting.

KELLY: OK. I want to turn you to some other comments that the president made on social media today. He was once again comparing COVID-19 to the flu. He said Americans should just put up with it. He said COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu in most populations. I should note, Facebook took the post down. They say it broke its rules against harmful misinformation. What do scientists say?

HARRIS: Well, we've seen more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, of course, this year. And health officials don't count every single flu death. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 22,000 deaths occurred this past season as a result of the flu. So clearly, COVID is much worse. I talked to Dr. William Schaffner, who's a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, and he says both are serious.

WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: If anything, COVID is more transmissible than the flu. And we think it's probably more hazardous. It has a higher fatality rate. So both are serious.

HARRIS: And Schaffner wishes that the national leaders were spending their energy urging Americans to get a flu shot since that does significantly reduce the risk of getting sick with the flu.

KELLY: I mean, the president says he is feeling much better, that he's feeling well, that we should not be afraid of COVID-19 - his personal experience with the disease obviously informing his comments. But how typical is his personal experience? He got the very best care one could possibly get.

HARRIS: He did, indeed. But, you know, millions of Americans have been infected with the virus, and most of them have survived. So obviously, the president would rather have people focus on the survivors instead of those who have died or many who are suffering long-term consequences, such as heart disease. But Dr. Schaffner says, you know, that's a kind of skewed perspective.

SCHAFFNER: Just because you've come away, relatively speaking, unscathed doesn't mean that others aren't hurt profoundly. And you have to have that ability to see it in the whole.

KELLY: I mean, as we noted, the president understandably, rightly, got the very best possible medical care. He is the president of the United States. Do we know how much of a role that plays in someone being able to recover?

HARRIS: We don't really know. In his case, most of the medical treatments he received are widely used and widely available with the main exception of an experimental antibody treatment that seems promising. But, you know, it's impossible to say whether that actually helped the president in this circumstance. And Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, says, remember, the president isn't fully over his illness.

LEANA WEN: Based on the White House's own timeline, the president is, as of today, on Day 6 of his illness. Days 7 through 10 are when we could potentially experience another deterioration in his condition. And so he's not out of the woods yet. In effect, I hope that his doctors are keeping an extremely close eye on his condition.

KELLY: One more thing to ask you about in the minute or so we have left, Richard, which is the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, has updated its guidance about COVID vaccines. We've been waiting on that. What are they saying?

HARRIS: Right. Now, this guidance, which was reportedly delayed by the White House, finally came out today, sort of a power struggle there. And it seems the FDA has won it. Basically, it follows a more conservative course for approving vaccines, which means there doesn't necessarily going to be a vaccine before Election Day the way the president keeps talking about. The guidance adds transparency to this whole process, and it's supposed to increase public confidence. You know, people are worried that if a vaccine has been approved for political reasons, maybe they won't take the vaccine. So, I mean, that was really the struggle, which was the FDA saying, we want to make sure that there's high public confidence in the vaccine. And the White House saying, oh, but we want to have something to say before the election.

KELLY: Right - all of this wrapped up in timing about the election, when we'll get a vaccine, when it will be widely available and when people might take it. That is NPR's Richard Harris getting us up to speed.

Thank you, Richard.

HARRIS: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.