Doctors Tell Senate Pandemic Deaths Preventable With Early Treatments
WASHINGTON — Medical experts told a Senate committee Thursday that misguided information about early treatment contributed to giving the United States the world’s highest death rate from coronavirus.
Some of them blamed the Food and Drug Administration for halting a treatment they say could have reduced the death toll far below the current rate that topped a quarter million this week.
“It’s grossly overlooked,” said Peter A. McCullough, vice chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center.
He recommended treating COVID-19 patients as soon as they show symptoms with a cocktail of cortical steroids, blood thinners and a controversial drug called Hydroxychloroquine.
“This cocktail of drugs works for sure,” said McCullough, who was infected with COVID-19 but recovered after taking Hydroxychloroquine.
He warned that waiting for vaccines that will become commonly available sometime in mid-2021 could be disastrous.
“In a matter of weeks to months, Americans are going to be horrified by what they see on the news,” McCullough told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Some medical forecasts show another 100,000 Americans could die from the disease by January. More than 11.5 million Americans have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Much of the controversy during the Senate hearing focused on the quality of scientific studies that either show Hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment or potentially dangerous. Three medical experts said the studies show it is worthwhile while one said different data demonstrated it provided no benefit to patients.
President Donald Trump last Spring recommended Hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment for COVID-19. He said he was taking it himself as a preventive measure.
However, in July the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that Hydroxychloroquine was a waste of time for COVID-19. The warning added that the inexpensive, readily-available drug could cause heart attacks with prolonged use.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., blamed politics rather than medical science as the barrier to early treatment with Hydroxychloroquine and other medicines. He called the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the treatments “this glaring blunder that has cost far too many lives.”
“There’s something wrong here,” Johnson said as he pledged to investigate further. He chairs the Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Johnson suggested the Food and Drug Administration might have issued its warning about Hydroxychloroquine partly because of opposition to Trump’s policies.
He also asked whether the relatively small cost of the drug at about $20 per dose might have created political pressure to suppress it. Other drugs produced by American pharmaceutical companies that are used to treat COVID-19 can cost as much as $3,000 per treatment, he said.
The strongest opposition to treatment with Hydroxychloroquine or anything other than the currently approved therapies came from Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“Hydroxychloroquine provides no benefit in treating COVID-19,” Jha said.
Unscientific studies led to “conspiracy” theories that misled some doctors about the effectiveness of the drug, he said.
Until vaccines scheduled for widespread distribution next year become available, he suggested standard prevention methods. They include wearing masks, social distancing, opening windows for fresh air and cleanliness.
He tried to debunk disputes over Hydroxychloroquine by saying they were driven by political disagreement rather than confusion over scientific studies reviewed by thousands of doctors.
“Pulling off a conspiracy like that would be extremely difficult,” Jha said.
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