An epidemiology professor at the Yale School of Public Health said hydroxychloroquine could save 100,000 lives from the coronavirus but added that the controversial anti-malaria drug has instead been used in a “propaganda war.”
“I think 75,000 to 100,000 lives will be saved,” Dr. Harvey Risch said in an interview Tuesday evening with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham after she asked if thousands of lives could be saved if a hydroxychloroquine stockpile was released.
“It’s a political drug now, not a medical drug, and that’s caused the complete population’s ignorance. And I think we’re basically fighting a propaganda war against the medical facts, and that color is not just the population of people, how they think about it, but doctors as well,” Risch said earlier in the interview.
Risch also addressed colleagues who have denounced using the drug as a treatment for coronavirus patients.
“There are many doctors that I’ve gotten hostile remarks about, saying that all the evidence is bad for it, and, in fact, that is not true at all,” Risch said, claiming the medication can be used as a “prophylactic” for front-line workers.
“All the evidence is actually good for it when it is used in outpatient uses. Nevertheless, the only people who actually see that are a whole pile of doctors who are on the front lines treating those patients across the country, and they are the ones who are at risk of being forced not to do it,” Risch said.
President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine during the early days of the pandemic and even revealed in May that he was taking the medication as a preventative measure against COVID-19.
“A lot of good things have come out. And you’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers, before you catch it. The front-line workers — many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it,” he said on May 18.
Public officials and media pundits have been highly critical of the drug’s use during the pandemic because of a dearth of evidence that it has the ability to combat or ward off the coronavirus.
“Despite positive results seen from the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in some patients hospitalized with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), concerns have begun to mount worldwide about how these drugs affect patients’ cardiovascular health, specifically the heart,” a notice that appeared on the peer-reviewed American Journal of Managed Care website in April said. “The drugs’ safety and efficacy in this area have come under fire due to the lack of actionable data from large-scale clinical trials.”
The Food and Drug Administration even issued a warning about using the drug to treat the coronavirus outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial, saying it could cause heart rhythm problems. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization that allowed hydroxychloroquine samples donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to be used to treat COVID-19 patients while a clinical trial was unavailable, but it was revoked last month. The FDA said its legal criteria for the emergency use authorization were no longer being met because it determined the drug was unlikely to be effective in treating the coronavirus. The FDA also noted that the drug may cause other hazardous health effects.
One peer-reviewed study published this month from the Henry Ford Health System found that coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine while being treated in a hospital were more likely to survive. “In this multi-hospital assessment, when controlling for COVID-19 risk factors, treatment with hydroxychloroquine alone and in combination with azithromycin was associated with reduction in COVID-19 associated mortality,” the study’s authors wrote.
Hydroxychloroquine was touted by President Trump early on in the pandemic, despite warnings from some public health officials that the drug’s effectiveness against COVID-19 was anecdotal. Ever since, it has become a hot-button political issue.
After fast-tracking approval in March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled its emergency use authorization in June after studies showed it was ineffective and potentially dangerous. One of the major studies causing concern though, was retracted after inaccuracies were found in the data the study was based upon.
Since then, a new study conducted by the Henry Ford Health System found that “…treatment with hydroxychloroquine cut the death rate significantly in sick patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and without heart-related side-effects.”
Published July 2, the Henry Ford study reported that, “In a large-scale retrospective analysis of 2,541 patients hospitalized between March 10 and May 2, 2020 across the system’s six hospitals, the study found 13% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine alone died compared to 26.4% not treated with hydroxychloroquine.
None of the patients had documented serious heart abnormalities; however, patients were monitored for a heart condition routinely pointed to as a reason to avoid the drug as a treatment for COVID-19. Patients treated with hydroxychloroquine at Henry Ford met specific protocol criteria as outlined by the hospital system’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
The vast majority received the drug soon after admission – 82% within 24 hours and 91% within 48 hours of admission. All patients in the study were 18 or over with a median age of 64 years; 51% were men and 56% African American.”