No A Study Did Not Prove That Trump’s “Touted” Drug Didn’t Work. Not Exactly Fake News, But Close Enough.

Salon: Trump-touted hydroxychloroquine may increase risk of death from COVID-19; “largest study yet finds no benefits but higher deaths,”

CNN: Study finds no benefit, higher death rate in patients taking hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.

Fox News: COVID-19 treatment hydroxychloroquine showed no benefit, more deaths in VA virus study

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.

12 thoughts on “No A Study Did Not Prove That Trump’s “Touted” Drug Didn’t Work. Not Exactly Fake News, But Close Enough.

  1. Correlation without proof of causation is garbage.

    Every study can find correlation with something if they are measuring particular data.

    I’ll give a ridiculous example: As American steel production rises study shows American strawberry production falters. And even if this correlation turns out to be historically true, the fact would be there is no causation.

    More practically, how many deaths of HIV patients were correlated with certain drug trials in an attempt to find effective treatment, but the patients died anyway. Are the deaths to be blamed on the drug being trialed or the underlying infirmity?

    The study you have highlighted is being used to generate anti-Trump fake news.

  2. You can read the letter Dr. Didier Raoult wrote in response to this:
    Outcomes of hydroxychloroquine usage in United States veterans hospitalized with Covid-19
    Joseph Magagnoli, Siddharth Narendran, Felipe Pereira, Tammy Cummings, James W Hardin, S Scott Sutton, Jayakrishna Ambati


    This article is a preprint and has not been certified by peer review [what does this mean?]. It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.

    From his letter he states:

    “In the current period, it seems that passion dominates rigorous and balanced scientific analysis and may lead to scientific misconduct. The article by Magagnoli et al. (Magagnoli, 2020) is an absolutely spectacular example of this,” Raoult wrote.

    “Indeed, in this work, it is concluded, in the end, that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) would double the mortality in patients with COVID with a fatality rate of 28% (versus 11% in the NoHCQ group), which is extraordinarily hard to believe.”

    Raoult cited three notable biases, including the fact that “the ‘untreated’ group actually received azithromycin in 30% of cases, without this group being analyzed in any distinct way. Azithromycin is also a proposed treatment for COVID (Gautret, 2020) with in vitro efficacy (Andreani, 2020), and to mix it with patients who are supposedly untreated is something that is closer to scientific fraud than reasonable analysis.”

    “Altogether these 3 voluntary biases are all pushing to the idea of dangerosity of hydroxychloroquine safest drug as reported on nearly 1 million people (Lane, 2020),” his letter concluded. “All in all, this is a work that shows that, in this period, it is possible to propose things that do not stand up to any methodological analysis to try to demonstrate that one is right.”


    My suggestion is that if the left does not want to use a promising therapy, then don’t. But don’t omit relevant exculpatory information to make your case. That’s the FBI’s job.

  3. I’m going to go with:

    Michigan Democratic state Rep. Karen Whitsett credited hydroxychloroquine and President Trump for her speedy recovery from COVID-19, according to the Detroit Free Press.

  4. Two weeks ago I visited my primary care doc for a three-month diabetic checkup. I asked her about hydroxychloroquine, and she was familiar with the drug, having prescribed it to successfully treat Lupus and RA patients. She told me that if I were to text positive for COVID-19, in the absence of any known superior treatment she would start me on the drug immediately.
    To date my county of 110,000 has had 38 cases and one death from COVID-19. The single fatality was over 70 and had multiple additional risk factors.
    As a younger person I took excellent health for granted, and while I now have health issues not uncommon to aging they are well managed and, compared to what many folks face every day, I am still very fortunate. (Spending thirteen months in a wheelchair changed my perspective about a number of things.)
    As my generation ages further, and the number of people living into their 80s and beyond continues to swell, I am reminded that while medical technology and pharmaceutical science help us to live longer, our health is often still betrayed by our age, and that nobody here gets out alive.
    As evidence grows that our precautionary restrictions were an overreaction to the actual threat, I still hope that there will be some residual preventive effects that will stay with the population at large, like frequent hand-washing, real sanitizing of touched surfaces in public places, and contagiously sick people staying away from healthy people. That would be a bit of silver lining to the pandemic cloud.

    • Amen. Don’t people realize how modern medicine has unnaturally prolonged our lives? I’m beginning to think the seventy and over demographic is now leading the league in entitlement. “Shut down the entire economy! I’m 85 and have smoked my entire life and am obese based on BMI standards and I’ve never exercised in my entire life! I take blood pressure medicine every day. Get away from me! You might infect me with this thing Trump didn’t do enough to keep out of the country! The constitution says the government has to make sure I have life! Forever! It’s their job! Life, Liberty and Happiness! Where’s my social security check? And my meals on wheels?”

  5. Here’s another example of CNBC special coverage:

    Headline: “FDA issues warnings on chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after ‘serious poisoning and death’ reported”

    The actual story in the article – including the missing information: “The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers Friday against taking malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital or formal clinical trial setting after “serious” poisoning and deaths were reported.”

    I’m sure that they would have included that additional information had there been more space available for the headline. Not.

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