Is Hydroxychloroquine the Key to Defeating COVID-19?

Leigh Teece

Yale epidemiology professor and director of Yale's Molecular Cancer Epidemiology Laboratory, Harvey Risch, maintains that hydroxychloroquine is 'the key to defeating COVID-19'. Hydroxychloroquine has been the subject of a politicized medical debate for the last several months. Many researchers believe that physicians should be widely prescribing it to save the lives of thousands of coronavirus patients.

Dr. Risch, argues in a July Newsweek op-ed that "the data fully support" the wide use of hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment of COVID-19.

"When this inexpensive oral medication is given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control, it has shown to be highly effective," Dr. Risch argues in the column.

Hydroxychloroquine has been the subject of a bitter and protracted political argument since mid-March, when President Trump said the drug was showing promising effects in treating COVID-19. Media outlets and commentators shortly thereafter began publishing troubling about the drug's alleged fatal dangers as well as its reported ineffectiveness in treating the disease.

Dr. Risch, in Newsweek, argues that multiple studies over the past several months have shown that the drug is a safe and efficacious treatment method for COVID-19. The. CDC agreed prior to the politicized CoVid-19 uproar, that Hydroxychloroquine is safe, according to early 2020 online research done by this editor, Leigh Teece. Here is what the CDC published on their website:

"Hydroxychloroquine can be prescribed to adults and children of all ages. It can also be safely taken by pregnant women and nursing mothers."   

The CDC website went on to report relatively minor side-effects from the use Hydroxychloroquine:

"What are the potential side effects of hydroxychloroquine? Hydroxychloroquine is a relatively well tolerated medicine. The most common adverse reactions reported are stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and headache. These side effects can often be lessened by taking hydroxychloroquine with food. Hydroxychloroquine may also cause itching in some people. All medicines may have some side effects. Minor side effects such as nausea, occasional vomiting, or diarrhea usually do not require stopping the antimalarial drug."

Among the successful treatment experiments, Dr. Risch writes, are "an additional 400 high-risk patients treated by Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, with zero deaths; four studies totaling almost 500 high-risk patients treated in nursing homes and clinics across the U.S., with no deaths; a controlled trial of more than 700 high-risk patients in Brazil, with significantly reduced risk of hospitalization and two deaths among 334 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine; and another study of 398 matched patients in France, also with significantly reduced hospitalization risk."

Dr. Risch says the drug is most effective "when given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control."

In spite of the clear benefits of Hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Risch nevertheless concedes that the subject "has become highly politicized."

"For many, it is viewed as a marker of political identity, on both sides of the political spectrum," he said. "Nobody needs me to remind them that this is not how medicine should proceed."

He also argues that "the drug has not been used properly in many studies," and that delays in administering the drug have reduced its effectiveness.

"In the future," Risch says in the column, "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," he adds, "reality demands a clear, scientific eye on the evidence and where it points." 

Since publication of Dr. Risch's work in July, 2020 about the positive effects of hydroxychloroquine, the FDA has changed its tune about the benign effects of the drug, apparently in reaction to the political debate that's arisen during CoVid-19:

"June 15, 2020 Update: Based on ongoing analysis and emerging scientific data, FDA has revoked the emergency use authorization (EUA) to use hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 in certain hospitalized patients when a clinical trial is unavailable or participation is not feasible. We made this determination based on recent results from a large, randomized clinical trial in hospitalized patients that found these medicines showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery. This outcome was consistent with other new data, including those showing the suggested dosing for these medicines are unlikely to kill or inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19. As a result, we determined that the legal criteria for the EUA are no longer met."

The Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, where Dr. Risch is employed, said the following on July 29, 2020:

"I have championed maintaining open academic discourse, including what some may view as unpopular voices. The tradition of academia is that faculty may do research, interpret their work, and disseminate their findings. If persons disagree with Dr. Risch’s review of the literature, it would be advisable to disseminate the alternative scientific interpretations, perhaps through letters or other publications with alternative viewpoints to the American Journal of Epidemiology, Newsweek, or other outlets. My role as Dean is not to suppress the work of the faculty, but rather, to support the academic freedom of our faculty, whether it is in the mainstream of thinking or is contrarian."

- Sten H. Vermund, MD, PhD
Dean and Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health; Professor of Pediatrics, Yale School of Medicine

https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/26290/

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