By: Mark Glennon*
If you read nothing else in recent news about the fight against coronavirus, read the Newsweek column from Thursday by a leading epidemiologist at Yale University, Harvey A. Risch headlined, “The Key to Defeating COVID-19 Already Exists. We Need to Start Using It.”
It might save your life.
“Tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily. Fortunately, the situation can be reversed easily and quickly,” Risch wrote, and he detailed exactly why.
It’s about the most current scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine, also known as HCQ, is safe and effective for many COVID-19 victims when used with the right combination of other drugs, particularly for high-risk patients who are treated early.
For the sake of high-risk patients, for the sake of our parents and grandparents, for the sake of the unemployed, for our economy and for our polity, especially those disproportionately affected, we must start treating immediately.
Only if you follow national news on coronavirus have you already read about Risch’s article. It has been republished elsewhere there and widely quoted.
But not in Illinois, and most Illinoisans undoubtedly are unaware of the latest science on hydroxychloroquine that Risch summarized. Most folks get their news by a cursory glance at headlines, a few chosen stories and maybe an evening local TV program.
Search Illinois media sources and you will find that almost all reporting on hydroxychloroquine is at least 45 to 60 days old. At the time, the drug was being dismissed as ineffective based on studies that have turned out to be defective, for reasons Risch describes.
Worse, on Friday the Chicago Tribune published an exceptionally dishonest and irresponsible New York Times article that claims no value in HCQ and entirely ignores the most recent scientific evidence Risch wrote about.
And the last word on HCQ from the State of Illinois was on April 19 when Governor JB Pritzker said he would not prohibit doctors from prescribing it for COVID19, but that there was no evidence that it is effective. HCQ “is being overused without a lot of testing to back it up. “I don’t disagree that it shouldn’t be used off brand unless you really know that it works and right now we just don’t know that it works,” he said.
Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health should update that to present the current research.
Another reason HCQ hasn’t been widely used are concerns earlier expressed that it could cause heart problems.
But I was recently contacted by a leading Chicago area physician and researcher, Chad Prodromos, who has found no evidence of that. He suspected that concern was unfounded based on his familiarity with HCQ, which has been widely used for decades for other purposes, so he dug into it.
The unfounded concern was costing lives, he told me, so The FOREM, a non-profit research foundation he founded, performed a thorough, systematic review of the relevant peer reviewed literature on the issue. They found no evidence of any material cardiovascular risk.
They further discovered, to their surprise, that numerous recent high quality studies have uniformly shown that HCQ is actually quite protective to the heart. A radio interview of Prodromos on his study is here.
Risch’s article also refutes cardiovascular concerns about hydroxychloroquine.
The biggest reason hydroxychloroquine has been dissed is that it has been politicized. It’s perhaps the saddest chapter yet in the politicization of science. President Trump hyped HCQ early, so many national and local pundits immediately ridiculed it. From Risch’s article:
I believe this misbegotten episode regarding hydroxychloroquine will be studied by sociologists of medicine as a classic example of how extra-scientific factors overrode clear-cut medical evidence. But for now, reality demands a clear, scientific eye on the evidence and where it points.
Look, I don’t care what you think of Trump. Cheer him if you want for promoting HCQ early, or shame him for doing so before he had the evidence for it. Just get the damn politics out of it and report the science pro and con.
And if you’re in the high risk group that may be helped by HCQ, get diagnosed fast if you think you may have the virus and consider using the drug with a doctor’s consultation.
Nor am I making any firm claims about HCQ’s efficacy or risks. That’s for the experts to sort out – and for you and your doctor if you get infected.
The sole point for now is just that The latest findings on hydroxychloroquine have not yet been told to Illinoisans, and that’s putting lives at risk.
Update 7/29/20: A major new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found HDQ to be ineffective in treating COVID-19. Prof. Risch, however, has stepped up his defense of the drug. The debate continues.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.