Friday, November 20, 2020

Senate hears experts decry demonization of livesaving 'Trump drug'


President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, delivers remarks at a coronavirus (COVID-19) press briefing Friday, March 20, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

With governors imposing a second wave of lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic, physicians who decry the politicization of a drug they have found to be an effective treatment for COVID-19 testified to the Senate's Homeland Security Committee on Thursday.

The panel's chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., noted the drug hydroxychloroquine was used as a "weapon" in the presidential election after it was promoted by President Trump.

"The doctors who have had the courage to follow the Hippocratic oath and use their off-label prescription rights to treat patients using hydroxychloroquine have been scorned and state medical boards have threatened to withdraw their licenses," the senator said.

Johnson said he has publicly advocated for "allowing doctors to be doctors, to practice medicine, explore different therapies and share their knowledge within the medical community and with the public."

He said international, federal and state "closed-minded bureaucrats" have let down the public, driven by conflicting interests.

"Tragically, media and social media have failed to ask the right questions and censored what they do not understand," he said.

Noting a vaccine won't be available for months, Johnson said he hoped the hearing would help correct "a glaring blunder that has cost far too many lives."

The ranking member, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., accused the Trump administration of promoting "unproven treatments, further putting Americans at risk."

However, Dr. Peter McCullough, the vice chairman of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center, contended the widespread use of hydroxychloroquine in March, April and May was what kept "the curve" down.

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Dr. Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University, emphasized the drug is "exceedingly safe," having been prescribed for more than 65 years to "hundreds of millions of people" in "10s of billions of doses."

Risch said that in May, when he saw studies on hydroxychloroquine being misrepresented, he thought it simply was "sloppy reporting."

He said he was "astounded" that studies on hospitalized patients were being represented as applying to outpatients, in violation of what he was taught in medical school.

Over the past six months, he said government research institutions have invested billions of dollars in expensive inpatient treatments but almost nothing for early outpatient treatments, "the first line of response to this pandemic."

He said there are seven studies on use of hydroxychloroquine in high-risk patients, and every one has shown reductions of 50% or more in the risk of hospitalization and mortality, he said.

Risch said the FDA's withdrawal of emergency use authorization for treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine should be immediately withdrawn, arguing the risk associated with the drug is much less than others the agency has approved, such as remdesivir.

He said that even if a vaccine is effective, people will still get sick and die, and effective early treatment is essential.

Risch was challenged by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, who insisted that every quality study of the drug's efficacy for COVID-19 has found no benefit, declaring there is a "clear consensus" on the scientific and medical community.

He pointed to a large randomized control trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found higher rates of death among hospitalized patients on hydroxychloroquine.

And he argued that the Food and Drug Administration withdrew its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine.

"For hydroxychloroquine there was no sufficient evidence and the evidence that was there certainly did not suggest the benefits would outweigh the risks," Jha said.

But Risch reiterated his argument that many studies focused on hospitalized patients who were very sick and pointed to the studies showing its efficacy within first few days of infection.

A fourth physician who testified was Dr. George Fareed, medical director at Pioneers Health Center in the Imperial Valley in California, which was the epicenter for the virus in the state in June and July.

He said he treated successfully more than 1,000 high-risk patients with a cocktail of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc, which was developed by Dr. Zev Zelenko, who told WND in April of his 100% success treating 350 coronavirus patients.

Fareed emphasized that healthy people, with no underlying conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, don't need treatment.

He said his experience is in line with all of the studies that Dr. Risch mentioned, with very few hospitalizations and not a single cardiac event.

'Wreckless and dangerous' testimony

Jha charged that hydroxychloroquine is actually dangerous, stating that in April there was "a 93% increase in related calls to the U.S poison control centers."

"These things can hurt," he said.

"Given the dismal failure of hydroxychloroquine to date, there is little scientific basis to think it will be effective for anybody," he said.

Johnson, noting the "huge disconnect between experts, Harvard and Yale educated," asked McCullough to respond to the poison-report issue and his own experience with being treated himself for COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine.

"Senator, I want my testimony to be clear on the record that I think Dr. Jha's testimony is wreckless and dangerous for the nation," he said.

McCullough said the poison report is exactly what Sen. Peters is interested in.

"You're interested in misinformation regarding COVID," he said.

The widespread use of hydroxychloroquine in the spring, he said, kept the first wave of the coronavirus "from skyrocketing."

The physician said the poison control center received 77 additional calls in April. When the reviewer looked at them, two-thirds had taken an extra dose.

"So, it boiled down to 17 cases out of over 500,000 administrations, and yet Dr. Jha holds that up to the American public as a scare point, to scare the American public away from an effective therapy for COVID-19," McCullough said.

Fareed, toward the end of the hearing, said he wondered "whether Dr. Jha actually treats patients, the way he talks."

Johnson asked Jha if he wanted to respond.

Jha said he's treated patients for the Veterans Administration for 20 years.

"As a practicing physician, I think a lot about the evidence," he said. "My patients want me to give them science-based treatments."

Johnson asked: "Have you treated any COVID patient?"

"I have not, sir," Jha replied.

See the hearing:

'A political drug'

An outspoken proponent of hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Steven Smith of East Orange, New Jersey, expressed in an interview with WND in May his frustration with the politicization of hydroxychloroquine.

He noted the FDA on its website "cautions against use of hydroxychloroquine" for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems."

But he pointed out that in the 400 clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine the FDA has approved, not one requires EKG monitoring.

"People have doubled down on the toxicity of a drug that is not toxic," he said. "They've gone around and told everybody it's killing people. It's not."

Risch, in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham in July, said hydroxychloroquine is "a political drug now, not a medical drug."

He said establishment media and politicians are "basically fighting a propaganda war against the medical facts" that is shaping not only how the population views the drug, but doctors as well."

Risch said he's received "hostile remarks" from doctors who say that "all the evidence is bad for it."

"And in fact, that's not true at all. And it's easy to show that the evidence – all the evidence is actually good for it when it's used in outpatient uses," he said. "Nevertheless, the only people who actually see that are a whole pile of doctors who are actually on the frontlines treating those patients across the country. And they are the ones who are at risk of being forced not to do it."

In a guest column for Newsweek, Risch, who has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed publications and currently hold senior positions on the editorial boards of several leading journals, argued hydroxychloroquine is the key to containing the virus.

In May, he published an article in the the world's leading epidemiology journal, the American Journal of Epidemiology, that analyzed five studies "demonstrating clear-cut and significant benefits" to treating patients with hydroxychloroquine along with other very large studies that demonstrated its safety.

"Physicians who have been using these medications in the face of widespread skepticism have been truly heroic," he wrote in the Newsweek column. "They have done what the science shows is best for their patients, often at great personal risk. I myself know of two doctors who have saved the lives of hundreds of patients with these medications, but are now fighting state medical boards to save their licenses and reputations. The cases against them are completely without scientific merit."

Smith, who briefed President Trump in April on the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, pointed out the World Health Organization temporarily halted studying hydroxychloroquine in response to a widely reported observational study published in the medical journal The Lancet that concluded seriously ill COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die.

But in an embarrassing turn, the premiere journal was forced to withdraw the study after three of the four authors issued an apology, citing concerns about the quality and veracity of the data.

The Lancet study's fatal flaws were immediately apparent to Smith when the study was released in May. Dr. Marc Siegel, associate professor of medicine at the New York University Langone Medical Center, called The Lancet study a "political hit job."


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