Trump Derangement Syndrome may be denying people access to a potentially useful drug in the fight against COVID-19. And now, we may never know whether the drug works.
From an opinion piece by editorial page writer Allysia Finely:
The Lancet published a study on May 22 that purported to find a 30% increased risk of death for hospitalized Covid-19 patients treated with HCL or chloroquine, a related treatment. “Study says drug hailed by Trump is harmful,” the Washington Post reported. The World Health Organization suspended its HCL trial. France, Belgium and Italy announced they would prohibit the drug for the treatment of Covid patients.
In an open letter to the Lancet’s editors and the study’s authors, some 120 doctors, statisticians and epidemiologists write that the headlines about the study “have caused considerable concern to participants and patients enrolled in randomized controlled trials” evaluating the drugs. Thus many researchers have scrutinized the data, and the “scrutiny has raised both methodological and data integrity concerns.”
HCL has been found to interfere with the virus’s replication in vitro, though observational studies have produced mixed results. Two studies from France found most patients recovered rapidly and suffered few serious side effects. Another, also from France, found no benefit, though its subjects were older and received higher dosages.
It is possible that HCL may prevent infections or help younger patients with mild cases who aren’t experiencing immune overreactions known as cytokine storms. HCL is among the few drugs being studied as a prophylactic. “There’s so much swirling around it, people won’t want to enter those trials,” David Smith, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California in San Diego, told Nature magazine. “In which case, it will be an open question that won’t get answered.”
Lancet’s decision to publish the study with little apparent scrutiny also suggests politics may be influencing its scientific judgment. An unsigned editorial in May criticized President Trump’s “inconsistent and incoherent national response” to the pandemic and asserted that “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.” The Lancet editors should focus on healing themselves.