By Erik Sass, TES Editor-in-Chief
On May 18, President Trump announced that he began taking a combination of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), azithromycin, and zinc about 10 days prior. This was around the same time that multiple White House staffers were reported to have contracted the novel coronavirus. The President appears to be taking this drug combination as a prophylactic measure to prevent infection from and/or a bad outcome from the novel coronavirus.
The mainstream media narrative that these drugs are “unproven,” or even that they have been shown not to work against COVID-19, is misleading at best. The evidence we have to date doesn’t mean what they say it means, and they’re ignoring the fact that we’ll shortly have much more evidence that will be much more informative.
One thing we do know is that nothing works against COVID-19 when people are already very sick. Based on early data, HCQ seems like it could have a therapeutic effect if treated early in the progression of disease. However, doctors have been more likely to prescribe HCQ to very sick patients as a desperate last measure, when other drugs have failed. That means we should question the results the media has touted to claim that this treatment doesn’t work, or can even be dangerous, including recent reports from the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. These were backward-looking, statistical reviews of HCQ’s use on patients who were already hospitalized and seriously ill, often with significant co-morbidities.
Multiple clinical trials have been recently conducted or are still underway. It’s widely known that New York State ran a clinical trial testing a combination of HCQ and azithromycin on COVID-19 patients, but the results have not been made public. Governor Cuomo may have shared information about this trial privately with the Trump administration during his visit to the White House on April 21. And just last Thursday, May 14, the National Institutes of Health announced it was starting a new clinical trial to test the same combination – HCQ and azithromycin – on patients with mild to moderate COVID-19. There is at least some reason to hope that HCQ works to prevent infection as well: a new study from South Korea, which has been using HCQ against COVID-19 since February, claims that post-exposure prophylaxis with HCQ prevented infection in all 211 healthcare workers who were exposed to COVID-19.
The fact of these trials isn’t conclusive information about the medicine’s potential for treatment or prevention. But it does show there’s more to the story than the media would have you believe. The safety issue in particular has been overblown and distorted: before the current controversy HCQ was widely considered a safe drug, and it has been routinely prescribed on outpatient basis (meaning, given to non-hospitalized patients) to millions of people in the U.S. and abroad for decades with no reports of fatal arrhythmias in regular usage.
The Economic Standard’s analysis shows that the President was and continues to be well within the global medical mainstream in considering HCQ as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Many countries have adopted this treatment as the standard of care for COVID-19, including a number with advanced healthcare systems like France, Spain and Italy. What’s more, there are at least 187 clinical trials underway across the globe, testing HCQ both to treat those already infected with COVID-19 patients and to protect still-uninfected frontline workers.
The hope is that some of these trials may soon show that HCQ might keep some people from getting infected, getting sick, or getting sicker, which will help buy time for us to develop a decisive cure or vaccine. But the media wants to freeze the narrative by calling the treatment “unproven” – when it would be more accurate to say it is still under study. We should resist the urge to politicize the issue and the underlying science. Only if we step out of the partisan frame will we be able to properly interpret and act on the forthcoming results of the ongoing clinical studies.
Erik Sass is editor-in-chief of The Economic Standard.