Salon: Trump-touted hydroxychloroquine may increase risk of death from COVID-19; “largest study yet finds no benefits but higher deaths,”
The Washington Post wrote, “On Tuesday, a new government study was published suggesting the drug didn’t offer any benefit in fighting covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and worse, that its use was correlated with more deaths.”
To be fair to the Post, at least it said that the study should be be viewed “with caution,” and provided a link to the study, not that most of its readers would actually read it. If they had, they would have realized that the study was wildly over-hyped in the media, and didn’t really “suggest” anything of the sort. Once again, this was another example of the news media playing to the confirmation bias of those who want to see the President be wrong. Are they cheering for the pandemic to do as much damage as possible? I refuse to believe that, but some of them sure manage to sound like they do.
I wasn’t going to discuss this tonight, but a smart, usually fair Facebook friend wrote a false description of the study calculated to appeal to the Trump Deranged. I don’t think he would have done that if he had read it, but he hates Trump too, and he doesn’t think the news media is biased—they agree with him, after all, so they must be fair– so he’ll trust the headlines, or the spin, every time.
Well, read the study. The title gives you a big clue: “Outcomes of hydroxychloroquine usage in United States veterans hospitalized with Covid-19.”
No legitimate study of a drug’s effectiveness would choose such a narrow demographic, and indeed, the study’s researchers were clear about its limitations. It was a small, non-peer-reviewed study of medical records, not a clinical trial. Even the study’s conclusion states, “These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.” That isn’t a “suggestion” that the drug doesn’t work, it’s a statement that nobody yet knows whether it works or not.
There are many things we don’t know about the Wuhan virus, but we do know it has a higher fatality rate with males, that seniors are the most vulnerable to it, and that most who die from it have other health problems. So what do we find when we check the study?
- The patients whose records were analyzed were all male.
- The patients’ ages ranged from 59 to 75, with a median age of 70 for those treated with hydroxychloroquine,
- 68 for those treated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, and
- 69 for those receiving standard treatment alone.
- More than 60% of the patients in the study were African-American.
That means that the study group was overwhelmingly made up of high risk groups showing disproportionate infection and fatality rates.
The Associated Press noted, to its credit and unlike most news media sources, that the difference in fatality between those given hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin “was not considered large enough to rule out other factors that could have affected survival.”
What a great study!
It gets worse: the drug was given primarily to the sickest individuals, prompting the disclaimer that “hydroxychloroquine, with or without azithromycin, was more likely to be prescribed to patients with more severe disease.” We know there is a direct correlation between advanced age and the severity of side effects. If the patients were more likely to be fatal cases regardless of the treatment, perhaps the drugs weren’t administered early enough save them. “The findings should not be viewed as definitive because the analysis doesn’t adjust for patients’ clinical status and showed that hydroxychloroquine alone was provided to VA’s sickest COVID-19 patients, many times as a last resort,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs explained, to put the study in proper perspective.
The anecdotal accounts I had read suggested that the drug has seemed to be effective, if at all, early in treatment, and on younger patients. This study didn’t even include such patients, so it couldn’t possibly reveal anything about how the drug might work with the overall population. In short, the narrow and limited study didn’t warrant headlines, and it didn’t justify any of the media hype, which amounted to disinformation to fan the passions of more Trump hate and distrust.
I have no idea if the stuff is any good or not. I do know that a news media that behaves like this in a pandemic is villainous, and those who enable them are dupes.