Since most Americans who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to wait until spring—and cases are climbing—it is imperative that we focus on therapies to keep people out of the hospital and that we revisit the media-engineered saga of hydroxychloroquine.
Italy’s Council of State last week took a step in the right direction when it reversed the country’s July 22 ban on the off-label use of hydroxychloroquine. They issued this reversal following an appeal from a group of doctors seeking to use the anti-malarial drug for early outpatient treatment of COVID-19.
As cited in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Order 7097/2020 holds that the continuing “uncertainty” over the drug’s efficacy demands that they permit the individual doctor and patient to make their own informed decisions about using it.
So far, this development has been totally ignored by the American press. It does not fit the accepted narrative. (As a point of comparison, when a European Union agency recently published a memo linking hydroxychloroquine to “psychiatric disorders and suicidal behavior,” based on data from six patients in Spain, the news merited same-day coverage in Newsweek.)
Anyone who has watched cable news or opened a newspaper since March is aware that the corporate media has waged an aggressive campaign against hydroxychloroquine, aided by scientific journal editors and public health officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
The current accepted press narrative on hydroxychloroquine is that no evidence exists showing it is effective for treating COVID-19, and that it can, in fact, be harmful. Any person who suggests otherwise is accused of being “anti-science” and a promoter of “conspiracy theories” and “disinformation.”
But the narrative is false. First, there is strong evidence that hydroxychloroquine is helpful in treating COVID-19 when administered early in the disease—notably, from studies by the Mount Sinai Health System in New York and the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, which both showed that the drug cut the mortality rate for COVID-19 patients nearly in half. Large multi-hospital collaborations in Belgium and the Netherlands and numerous smaller studies have also demonstrated benefits.
Secondly, more than 2 billion people worldwide have taken hydroxychloroquine in its 70-year history, and it is known to be so safe that it can be taken by “pregnant women and nursing mothers,” according to the CDC. By contrast, the largest and most lauded study this year that claiming hydroxychloroquine may cause harm to COVID-19 patients was the scandalous, retracted Lancet paper, which that journal’s own editor called a “monumental fraud.”
And yet, since Election Day, the press has hewed to the “HCQ Bad” narrative, most visibly in their coverage of the two hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security on “Early Outpatient Treatment” of COVID-19, convened by Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
During the first hearing, on November 19, Yale epidemiologist Dr. Harvey Risch argued, “every study of outpatient use of one drug, hydroxychloroquine, with or without accompanying agents, has shown substantial benefit in reducing risks of hospitalization and mortality.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, offered the accepted press view, telling the committee, “Not only has hydroxychloroquine demonstrated minimal to no benefit in treating COVID-19, but it also poses substantial risks to patients.”
How did the press report on this hearing? The New York Times published an op-ed by Jha, titled “The Snake-Oil Salesmen of the Senate,” and with the sub-heading, “There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine helps Covid-19 patients.”
“Trial after trial has found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine improves outcomes for Covid-19 patients; some studies have found that it causes more harm than good,” Jha wrote. Once again, the paper of record is trying to erase the results from Mount Sinai and Henry Ford simply by ignoring them.
At the beginning of the second Senate hearing on December 8, Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) launched an astonishing attack on Dr. Risch and two other physicians who had testified at the first hearing in favor of hydroxychloroquine.
“Last month,” Peters said, “this committee held a hearing that was billed as a review of early outpatient treatments for coronavirus. Unfortunately, that hearing amplified unverified theories about treatments that are not supported by the scientific community.” He added, “the committee was used as a platform to attack science and promote discredited treatments” and “we have a responsibility to follow science, to follow facts, not conspiracy theories and not disinformation.”
That day, the New York Times ran a story about the hearing with the headline, “Elevating Fringe Theories, Ron Johnson Questions Virus Science.” Just this week, the Washington Post took a swipe at Johnson for organizing the hearings, stating, “He continues to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, rejecting scientific studies that found it can endanger COVID-19 patients.”
One group Senator Peters singled out for praise was the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which he said, “continues to use scientific standards to authorize innovative and effective early treatments.” And yet, it is largely thanks to the FDA—and the efforts of Dr. Rick Bright, who, in his whistleblower complaint written with Christine Blasey-Ford’s lawyer, Debra Katz, called hydroxychloroquine “this unproven and potentially dangerous drug”—that there are millions of donated doses of hydroxychloroquine languishing in the Strategic National Stockpile, unavailable for use by COVID-19 patients and their doctors.
As vulnerable and older patients fall ill, the decision to use a drug that might help keep them out of the hospital and will almost certainly not cause harm should be left between the patient and his doctor—as it will now be in Italy—without the corporate press and their narrative engineers interfering. Any measure that helps children return to school and business owners regain their livelihoods would be a no-brainer, if only the press—and their allies in public health and academia—would get out of the way.