The mainstream media is just getting around to admitting COVID-19 may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Reporters have since confessed they dismissed the theory early on because former President Donald J. Trump entertained it.
The same may be said for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), after which Mr. Trump spoke of its promise last year, was turned into a political pariah that was quickly dismissed and discredited — all without a proper scientific investigation into its effectiveness.
In April 2020, a small French study showed HCQ combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic, was safe and effective in lowering COVID-19’s virus count in patients who had first contracted the disease. Mr. Trump immediately cited the study — as it was good news — the world was at the height of the pandemic and HCQ had been approved and used by physicians for 85 years to treat both malaria and some autoimmune diseases.
The drug was generic, cheap and widely available. It offered hope as the nation waited for Big Pharma to develop a cure-all vaccination.
Meanwhile, frontline doctors around the world started deploying HCQ. Drs. Jeff Colyer and Daniel Hinthorn wrote in the Wall Street Journal in March of 2020, “We are physicians treating patients with Covid-19, and the therapy appears to be making a difference. It isn’t a silver bullet, but if deployed quickly and strategically the drug could potentially help bend the pandemic’s ‘hockey stick’ curve.”
Yet, because Mr. Trump was publicly rooting for the drug, members in the press — and some within the scientific community — instinctively started rooting against it. Multiple media outlets brought on “experts” claiming HCQ shouldn’t be prescribed outside its approved indications and/or that it was harmful because of its well-known side-effects. HCQ was smeared because there were no randomized control trials (RCTs) backing it up — studies that would take months to complete as millions were being infected with COVID-19.
Dr. Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public health wrote in Newsweek last July that HCQ became “viewed as a marker of political identity, on both sides of the political spectrum.”
Meanwhile, scientific studies downplaying HCQ started emerging, which helped fuel the media’s pessimistic narrative. In April, the Veteran’s Administration released a study showing patients who received HCQ and HCQ and azithromycin died at a higher rate than those who received standard care. What the press omitted from these findings was the fact those who received HCQ were much sicker, and therefore not the best recipients in which to judge the drug’s success rate (HCQ works best in those who are in the early stages of the disease).
In May, two respected scientific journals the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine reported studies showing HCQ increased the death rate of COVID-19 patients and caused heart problems. It was the panacea the media and the Democrats needed to finally shut the door on HCQ — except both studies were retracted within the following two months for shoddy work.
Still, the damage was done. The negative headlines had been written. The misinformation absorbed.
Later in July, the Henry Ford Health Center in Detroit released a study which found HCQ lowered mortality rates in hospitalized COVID-19 patients by more than 50%. Yet, Dr. Anthony Fauci was quick to poo-poo its merits as it wasn’t an RCT, and the media happily obliged him, ripping it apart.
The Henry Ford Health Center stood by its study, however, and looked to expand it to a larger set of patients, to improve its scientific value. However, it quietly abandoned the research last December — it simply couldn’t recruit the patients needed because of the political football HCQ had become.
RCT’s did eventually emerge downplaying the effectiveness of HCQ, but they did not examine the benefits of pairing HCQ with azithromycin in the early stages of the disease. Yet, the debate was over, consensus had formed, and America was to stop talking about HCQ — no need for any further RCTs.
Still, just this January, a Hackensack Meridian Health study out of New Jersey, showed people with mild symptoms of COVID-19, who took HCQ were significantly less likely to end up in the hospital with the disease. The doctors who conducted the study say their findings suggest HCQ should be tested further in the context of a broader clinical trial.
As One North Jersey doctor, Stephen Smith, head of an infectious disease center in East Orange, told NorthJersey.com, he’s been having good results treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients with HCQ and azithromycin, but “has been having trouble finding someone to analyze the information because of what he believes is a stigma against the drug stemming from the political debate over its use.”
• Kelly Sadler is commentary editor at The Washington Times.