Virus Update: Data Wars Rage Over Trump-Boosted Drug
Scientific fisticuffs are flying over hydroxychloroquine (HC), the anti-malaria drug enthusiastically promoted by President Trump in the war against the coronavirus. The president—backed by an array of global reports, anecdotal evidence, and outside advisers—thinks HC could be an effective preventative, a weapon for frontline medical personnel, and helpful when administered in the early stage of the virus. On May 18, Trump doubled down and made it personal, announcing that he himself had been taking HC. Trump’s critics are aghast at this exercise of the presidential bully pulpit, warning that HC has serious side effects and possibly zero effectiveness in fighting the virus.
But the president has had an impact. Medical studies are moving at warp speed. Yesterday, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a University of Minnesota study that concluded HC did not work as a preventative for the disease. The study, with more than 800 participants, “had an unusual design,” noted NPR in a report on the findings.
“It was all web-based,” a leader of the project told NPR. “People would go to our website if they were interested in enrolling.”
To qualify for the study, NPR reported, “people had to be within a few days of their encounter with a Covid-19 patient and not have any symptoms of the disease themselves. ‘Encounters’ meant being within six feet of a sick person for more than ten minutes while wearing neither a face mask nor an eye shield, or while wearing a face mask but no face shield. The volunteers received either a five-day supply of hydroxychloroquine, or a placebo.” The study concluded that HC was not effective in preventing healthy people from getting the disease. Read more about it here.
Meanwhile, an influential study published May 22 in another high-profile medical journal, The Lancet, has come under fire. The study, based on a more than 90,000 patient records from a little-known hospital data company, concluded that patients taking HC were more likely to develop abnormal heart rhythms and more likely to die.
The reaction to the Lancet report was swift. Trump was denounced. France, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the World Health Organization put holds on clinical trials investigating HC.
But questions soon emerged about the Lancet report. How much was known about Surgisphere, the hospital data-base company behind the study?
Within a week, more than 100 scientists published an open letter to the Lancet raising questions about Surgisphere’s methods and the integrity of its data. Yesterday, the WHO reversed course on HC and resumed clinical studies.
Read more about the Lancet controversy here.
Is something rotten at Surgisphere? Read about it here.
Judicial Watch readers have questions of their own about the Lancet study.
“I really hate to go down this path,” writes one emergency responder, requesting anonymity due to concerns about career repercussions, “but we know damn well this whole thing has been sucked into the blender of U.S. politics. This study almost seems written by design to play into that.”
This reader notes that the Lancet report indicates that patients in the study already were “very, very sick,” because only the very sick in the past months have been admitted to U.S. hospitals. “So… the patient is already fragile” and has “classically negative co-morbidities and contra-indications for use.” The patient is then given a heavy dose of drugs, which “by design, are toxic. Fragile + over-dosed toxin = bad outcome.” And what do the authors of the study do? “Blame the drug.”
Epidemiologist Andrew Bostom writes us to say that there are two “truly enormous” HC-related studies getting underway, but won’t be completed until year’s end. Meanwhile, Dr. Bostom suggests, the Trump approach to HC is appropriate and compassionate.
“Above all, do no harm,” Dr. Bostom writes. “Both chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), given short-term, are safe and effective for malaria prophylaxis and treatment (ongoing, barring areas of parasite resistance). HCQ, in particular, is also remarkably safe for chronic treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (‘Lupus’) and other rheumatic (‘inflammatory’) diseases. Accordingly, it was completely appropriate to try them as compassionate-use drugs to treat even late-stage Covid-19…. The fact that such patients might begin to experience ‘toxicities’ when they are severely ill with Covid-19, often with multi-organ system failure grossly impairing the ability to metabolize HCQ or CQ normally—or many other drugs for that matter—is hardly a revelation!”
Hastily published studies, Dr. Bostom suggests, leave us groping in the dark. It’s a situation, he says, “made uniquely worse by the anti-Trump Left, including the ‘academic’ Left, with their vicious politicization of what should have been a purely investigative clinical-science issue.”
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: [email protected]
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