Last week, two scientific organizations released two apparently contradictory statements about hydroxychloroquine, a controversial anti-malarial drug that has been repeatedly touted by President Donald Trump and Fox News as a potential "game-changer" in fighting the coronavirus.
Detroit's Henry Ford Health System, which was helming one of the first large-scale studies of the drug and COVID-19, found that it lowered the death rate in patients. The study analyzed 2,541 COVID-19 patients and found 13% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died, while 26% of those who did not receive the drug died. Officials released the results
on Wednesday in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases
But on Saturday, officials at the The World Health Organization (WHO) announced they had halted all hydroxychloroquine trials
after results showed the drug did not reduce mortality rates. (Earlier studies by others were even halted after patients were found to be more likely to suffer cardiac side effects on the drug, and the FDA revoked its emergency use authorization
of it in June.)
So, which study is correct? Trump went with Henry Ford, tweeting on Monday that "The Dems disparaged [the drug] for political reasons (me!)." Other Trump followers wrote on Twitter that this was proof that "hydroxychloroquine worked this whole time,"
and that officials and the mainstream media were "silent"
on the news and had "blood on their hands."
But there are a few things to consider about the Henry Ford Health System study. For one, it's not the same
as the health system's much-publicized controlled clinical study of the drug.
That study, which is expected to wrap up later in July, was looking into hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis, or a preventive measure, for COVID-19 in frontline worker volunteers. Most importantly, it is randomized and double-blind — the "gold standard" of scientific studies — meaning that neither the person taking the medication nor the doctors administering the medication know if they're taking hydroxychloroquine or a placebo.
But the study that Henry Ford publicized last week (and that Trump was so fond of) was not
randomized and double-blind, meaning that Henry Ford's doctors carefully selected who they gave the drugs to, causing some scientists to warn that it could have skewed the results.
Some of the patients in the study were also treated with a steroid called dexamethasone, which could have additionally impacted the findings. And Henry Ford excluded patients who had not yet been discharged from the hospital from its report — 10% of the study's subjects — which could have skewed the results further.
"There's a little bit of loosey-goosiness here in all this," Eli Rosenberg, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University at Albany School of Public Health, told CNN
of the Henry Ford study.
Henry Ford CEO Steven Kalkanis admitted the matter was far from settled in a press conference.
"It's important to note that in the right settings, this potentially could be a lifesaver for patients," he said. "Much more work needs to be done to elucidate what the final treatment plan should be for COVID-19."
Can someone please explain this to Trump?
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