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Michael Hiltzik: Chloroquine again? Trump touts a new flawed study of useless coronavirus 'miracle' drug

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Like a child capable of keeping only one idea in its head at a time, President Trump has continued his obsession with the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus despite an ever-growing body of work that it's useless for the purpose.

This week, he was at it again.

Trump on July 6 tweet-touted a study from the "highly respected" Henry Ford Health System of Detroit, purporting to show that the drug "cut the death rate in certain sick patients very significantly."

Since everything in Trump's world is about him, he asserted further that Democrats "disparaged" the study "for political reasons (me!.)" He also placed pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to approve the "miracle" drug.

This tweet would deserve a plaque on the Trump Ignorance Hall of Fame, if there were any wall space left in the hall. So let's take a close look at the Henry Ford study. We should also put it in perspective by noting how Trump's obsession with the antimalarial drug has interfered with the legitimate search for COVID-19 treatments.

It might be useful to begin with a quick gallop through the dismal history of the craze for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, courtesy of veteran pseudoscience debunker David Gorski. The drug, it will be recalled, has been widely used to stave off malaria as well as an anti-inflammatory for chronic autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Claims about its effectiveness against COVID-19 began with the French scientist Didier Raoult. Although his methodology and conclusions were widely disparaged, even ridiculed, by medical experts, they were promoted by Trump and Dr. Mehmet Oz, among others.

This high-level attention prompted researchers to waste considerable time and energy designing and conducting medical trials of the drug, which have overwhelmingly found it to be of no use against the virus, and for some patients even medically hazardous. Meanwhile, stockpiling of the drug created shortages with life-threatening implications for patients who needed it for legitimate uses.

Trump's obsession undermined the credibility of the FDA, which issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine that gave laypersons the impression that the treatment had FDA approval. The agency eventually had to backtrack, issuing an advisory on June 15 cautioning against the use of the drug or the related drug chloroquine for COVID-19. By then, many major medical centers had ceased to prescribe the drug for their COVID patients.

Just as hydroxychloroquine finally seemed to have dropped off the radar as a COVID treatment, the Henry Ford study appeared. So what about that?

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