While Media Fearmongering Over Antimalarial Drug, Doctors Use It To Treat Thousands of New Yorkers


Here’s a project to take your mind off the existential dread many of us are feeling right now: Go to your favorite mainstream media outfit and type in the search term “hydroxychloroquine.”

For those of you tuning out all things coronavirus, this is an anti-malarial drug that President Donald Trump is under fire for promoting during his daily news briefings on the crisis. The establishment media are not a fan of these news briefings or hydroxychloroquine, as that search will quickly prove.

Sample headlines: “Hydroxychloroquine: The unproven ‘corona drug’ Trump is threatening India for” (BBC), “‘What do you have to lose?’: Inside Trump’s embrace of a risky drug against coronavirus” (The Washington Post), “Ignoring Expert Opinion, Trump Again Promotes Use of Hydroxychloroquine” (The New York Times), “Touting untested medicinal treatment, Trump adds, ‘What do I know?'” (MSNBC).

Well, what do doctors know? Probably a bit more than Trump in this department, I think we’d all concede — and in New York state, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, they’re using it to treat thousands of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

According to Fox News, an official with the state Department of Health confirmed it has shipped enough hydroxychloroquine “to treat 4,000 patients to date” to 56 hospitals in the state.

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The University of Albany’s School of Public Health is looking at how patients respond, and it could have results in just a matter of weeks.

“Time is of the essence,’’ Albany Public Health Dean David Holtgrave said.

Meanwhile, the NYU Langone Medical School is studying whether hydroxychloroquine can be used to prevent infection, courtesy of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Currently, there is no proven way to prevent COVID-19 after being exposed,” Anna Bershteyn, assistant professor with the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and co-principal investigator for the study, told Fox News.

Do you think hydroxychloroquine should be available to coronavirus patients?

“If hydroxychloroquine provides protection, then it could be an essential tool for fighting this pandemic. If it doesn’t, then people should avoid unnecessary risks from taking the drug.”

In that study, 2,000 adult volunteers who don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 but were in close contact with others who have been diagnosed with the disease (or have a pending diagnosis) are being recruited. The participants will receive either a vitamin C placebo or hydroxychloroquine.

In a news release, NYU Langone said it would provide answers as to whether this strategy was effective by summer.

“If so, the strategy could give health officials a much-needed boost in slowing person-to-person transmission,” the school said.

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown considerable tepidity toward the drug, he approved a study last month where what Fox News described as “last-ditch” COVID-19 cases would receive hydroxychloroquine in combination with antibiotic azithromycin.

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Some studies have shown hydroxychloroquine has benefits, some haven’t. All of these studies are small and haven’t had a control group, both of which are problematic.

As for how the drugs might work, the theory is that the virus enters host cells through an acidic compartment. Hydroxychloroquine alters the acidity of this compartment. This potentially makes it more difficult for the virus to enter host cells, where it replicates.

The key word is “theory.” There has been no time to conduct large-scale tests on the drug for coronavirus.

While generally safe, the drug has several side effects that could be risky, including an irregular heartbeat and vision problems. Other side effects could include vomiting, tinnitus and hair loss.

Hydroxychloroquine is still considered the best, most practical potential pharmaceutical treatment we have for COVID-19 at the moment, however, with a poll of over 6,000 doctors across the world rating the anti-malarial drug as the most effective treatment against the infection, according to The Washington Times.

Doctors warn hydroxychloroquine isn’t a magic bullet against the disease, but it seems to be the best thing we have right now. Which raises the question, why are the media and the left up in arms over this?

If the drug doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If it has some meliorative benefit, even if a small one, hydroxychloroquine could make a major difference in the fight against coronavirus, either as a treatment or a prophylactic.

Doctors in New York state certainly think highly enough of it to give it a shot.

Yes, Trump might have played up the drug during his news conferences, but he made it clear that it might work or not work. “What do you have to lose?” is his constant refrain, even if he’s referred to the treatment as “a very special thing.” He’s also said that individuals who have coronavirus should have the right to try the drug after consultation with their doctor.

For this, apparently, we’re going to put the president in the pillory again and throw rotten fruit at him.

Again, these attacks on the drug’s efficacy have little to do with its pharmaceutical potential and everything to do with the guy promoting it.

To be fair, the media attack Trump plenty, but it’s curious to see one article in which the drug is portrayed as dangerous and potentially deadly only to see another that laments that the numerous people who use it for conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are facing shortages because of the coronavirus.

Nobody at the editorial desk seemed to realize the stories about the numerous people who had been taking the drug safely for years undermined the idea that this was some medical crapshoot that could end up costing lives. (The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, it must be noted, describes hydroxychloroquine as a “relatively safe and well-tolerated agent for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.)

Hydroxychloroquine isn’t going to be a miracle drug, but there’s science behind it. As for it being unproven, every drug used against coronavirus right now is unproven. Let the studies run their course and then we can make a decision.

Until that time, we shouldn’t savage a treatment option merely because of its most enthusiastic promoter.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture