The Facts: Dr. Harvey Risch, MD, Ph.D., Yale Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health provides evidence-based testimony at a US Senate hearing on early outpatient HCQ treatment for high-risk Covid-19 patients.
Reflect On: Why have such treatments been ridiculed when so many papers, doctors, and experts stand behind them? Why have low-cost treatments that show more effectiveness than the vaccine, according to Risch, never seen the light of day?
We are living in a day in age where social media “fact-checkers” are patrolling the internet calling into question information, science, opinion and testimony from countless amounts of doctors and scientists, as well as independent media outlets who source this information, simply because it opposes the information that we are getting from the World Health Organization (WHO) for example, or other government health authorities. One great example to illustrate this point is Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a drug, according to many, that can help treat COVID-19 patients.
This idea has been a common theme throughout the pandemic, which begs the question, if it’s true, why wasn’t the drug administered and made available for doctors to use and treat COVID patients during this pandemic? Why was it ridiculed by mainstream media and why did Facebook fact-checkers claim that Hydroxychloroquine was not useful, and possibly dangerous? Facebook fact checker Health Feedback, for example, states that there is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine can cure or prevent COVID-19.
Testimony from Dr. Harvey Risch, MD, PhD, Yale Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health is one of many, who in my opinion seem to represent a large majority, says otherwise.
He provided an evidence based presentation for safe early outpatient HCQ treatment for high-risk Covid-19 patients to reduce hospitalizations and mortality.
Risch’s thoughts and publications about this have, been subjected to criticism. For example, a paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, where Risch is on the editorial board, does just that. It also outlines how many papers have agreed with Risch.
His recent testimony to the Senate can be found below.
Senators and colleagues: thank you for convening this hearing. We all understand the endemic disease that we are facing, that we have to face it head-on and not hide from it hoping that it will go away. I want to give you my perspective.
In May of this year I observed that results of studies of a drug suggested to treat Covid, hydroxychloroquine, were being misrepresented by what I thought at the time was sloppy reporting.
We have heard from Dr. McCullough how Covid disease progresses in phases, from viral replication, to florid pneumonia to multi-organ attack. Viral replication is an outpatient condition, but the pneumonia that fills the lungs with immune-system debris is hospitalizable and potentially life-threatening. We have also heard how each phase, each pathologic aspect of the disease, has to have its own specific treatments that apply to its own biologic mechanisms.
Thus, I was frankly astounded that studies of hospital treatments were being represented as applying to outpatients, in violation of what I learned in medical school about how to treat patients.
We are now finally coming to address why over the last six months, our government research institutions have invested billions of dollars in expensive patent medication and vaccine development but almost nothing in early outpatient treatment, the first line of response to managing the pandemic. It is not that we lacked candidate medications to study, we have had a number of promising agents.
But I believe that the early-on conflation of hospital with outpatient disease served to imply that treatment of outpatient disease had been studied and found ineffective. This illogical premise motivated me to look at the evidence for outpatient treatment.
I reiterate: we are considering the evidence for early treatment of high-risk outpatients to prevent hospitalization and mortality. That is it. Treatment starting in the first five days or so after the onset of symptoms. Treatment of older patients or patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, immune-system diseases, survivors of cancer etc.
These are the people most likely to die from Covid, and they are the people most needing protection. I have sought to obtain reports of every study of every medication pertaining to early treatment of high-risk outpatients. I monitor the literature daily. And what I have found is actually quite remarkable.
What I have observed is that while there have been positive reports about a number of drugs, every study of outpatient use of one drug, hydroxychloroquine, with or without accompanying agents, has shown substantial benefit in reducing risks of hospitalization and mortality.
These studies break down into two major types. The first is double-blinded, randomized controlled trials, and the second is non-randomized but still controlled trials. You have heard from various government and scientific personalities that randomized controlled trials provide the strongest form of evidence. Many of these people have also claimed that randomized trials provide the only trustworthy form of evidence.
There is some truth in these assertions, but there is also lots of falsehood. We know for example that the great majority of drugs used to treat heart diseases were established with non-randomized trials. Cholesterol-lowering drugs were in widespread use before randomized trials were ever done. Azithromycin, the most commonly used antibiotic in children, was not established by randomized trials.
The idea that only randomized trials provide trustworthy evidence is a simplistic notion that may sound good in theory, but the comparison between randomized and non-randomized trials is something that has actually been extensively studied in the medical literature.
I am an epidemiologist because even though I love biological theories, I develop them all the time to study how nature works, but it is from the human empirical data that we learn how indeed nature works.
And we have huge amounts of empirical data to show that randomized trials and their corresponding non-randomized trials give the same answers.
Dr. Tom Frieden, previously Director of the CDC, in 2017 wrote an extensive essay in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that non-randomized trials can provide fully compelling evidence, especially when they are done carefully to account for reasons why patients received the drugs, and importantly, when circumstances are such that the cost of waiting for randomized trials involves major sickness and mortality as we have been experiencing this year.
But Dr. Frieden’s essay, as authoritative as it is, provides only snapshots of the empirical evidence for his observations. The real evidence comes from a meta-analysis of meta-analyses done by the Cochrane Library Consortium, a British international organization formed to organize medical research findings to facilitate evidence-based choices about health interventions.
The Cochrane investigators examined what involve tens of thousands of comparisons between randomized trials and their non-randomized counterparts and found that the two types of studies arrived at virtually identical conclusions. This is the real evidence about why good non-randomized trials comprise evidence every bit as important as randomized trials.
Large amounts of consistent empirical data are the evidence, not plausible but simplistic assumptions, no matter who says them
So what did I find about hydroxychloroquine in early use among high-risk outpatients?
The first thing is that hydroxychloroquine is exceedingly safe.
Common sense tells us this, that a medication safely used for 65 years by hundreds of millions of people in tens of billions of doses worldwide, prescribed without routine screening EKGs, given to adults, children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, must be safe when used in the initial viral-replication phase of an illness that is similar at that point to colds or flu.
In fact, a study by researchers at the University of Oxford showed that in 14 large international medical-records databases of older rheumatoid arthritis patients, no significant differences were seen in all-cause mortality for patients who did or did not use hydroxychloroquine.
The Oxford investigators also looked at cardiac arrhythmias and found no increase for hydroxychloroquine users. This was in more than 900,000 hydroxychloroquine users. This is examined at length in my paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology in May.
Now, the FDA posted a warning on July 1 on its website about hydroxychloroquine used in outpatients, but we can discuss this later; the FDA has had no systematic evidence in outpatients and erroneously extrapolated from hospital inpatients to outpatients, what I said earlier was invalid.
About studies of hydroxychloroquine early use in high-risk outpatients, every one of them, and there are now seven studies, has shown significant benefit: 636 outpatients in São Paulo, Brazil; 199 clinic patients in Marseille, France; 717 patients across a large HMO network in Brazil; 226 nursing-home patients in Marseille; 1,247 outpatients in New Jersey; 100 long-term care institution patients in Andorra (between France and Spain); and 7,892 patients across Saudi Arabia.
All these studies pertain to the early treatment of high-risk outpatients—and all showed about 50 percent or greater reductions in hospitalization or death. The Saudi study was a national study and showed 5-fold reduction in mortality for hydroxychloroquine plus zinc vs zinc alone.
Not a single fatal cardiac arrhythmia was reported among these thousands of patients attributable to the hydroxychloroquine. These are the non-randomized but controlled trials that have been published.
Now we also know that all of the outpatient randomized controlled trials this year also together show statistically significant benefit. These six studies comprised generally much younger patients, only a fraction of whom were at high risk, so they individually had too few hospitalizations or deaths to be statistically significant. But they all suggested lower risks with hydroxychloroquine use, and when they were analyzed together in meta-analysis as my colleagues and I found, this lower risk was statistically significant across the studies.
We have spent the last six months with formal government policies and warnings against early outpatient treatment, with large government investments in vaccines and expensive new treatments yet to be proven and almost no support of inexpensive but useful medications, and a quarter of a million Americans have died from this mismanaged approach.
Even with newly promising vaccines, we have almost no information about how they will perform in older and high-risk patients, in whom respiratory virus vaccines are known to have weak efficacy; it will be a number of months before they become widely available; and we don’t know how long vaccine immunity will last, or even if the vaccines will work for the newly increasing mutant strains of the virus.
As I have said on many occasions, the evidence for benefit of hydroxychloroquine used early in high-risk outpatients is extremely strong, and the evidence against harm is also equally strong.
This body of evidence dramatically outweighs the risk/benefit evidence for remdesivir, monoclonal antibodies or the difficult to use bamlanivimab that the FDA has approved for emergency use authorizations while denying the emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine. This egregious double standard for hydroxychloroquine needs to be overturned immediately and its emergency use authorization application approved.
This is how we will get on the road to early outpatient treatment and the major curtailment of mortality. Thank you.
Why This Is Important: The thoughts shared above have been a common theme throughout this pandemic. For example, Dr. Anthony Cardillo, an ER specialist and the CEO of Mend Urgent Care, has been prescribing the zinc and hydroxychloroquine combination on patients experiencing severe symptoms associated with COVID-19. In an interview with KABC-TV, Cardillo stated:
Every patients I’ve prescribed it to has been very, very ill and within 8 to 12 hours, they were basically symptom-free…So, clinically I am seeing a resolution…We have to be cautious and mindful that we don’t prescribe it for patients who have COVID who are well, he said. “It should be reserved for people who are really sick, in hospital or at home very sick, who need that medication. Otherwise we’re going to blow through our supply for patients that take it regularly for other disease processes.”
According to Cardillo, it’s the combination of zinc and hydroxychloroquine that does the job. “[Hydroxychloroquine] opens the zinc channel” allowing the zinc to enter the cell, which then “blocks the replication of cellular machinery.”
This was also hinted to by the testimony from the Yale professor.
Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a board-certified family practitioner in New York, said in a video interview that a cocktail of Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc Sulfate and Azithromycin are showing phenomenal results with 900 coronavirus patients treated.(source)
These are just a few examples out of many. The issue is that these opinions and this type of evidence and testimony was blocked and censored by various social media outlets, and deemed “fake news.”
Over the last few months, I have seen academic articles and op-eds by professors retracted or labeled “fake news” by social media platforms. Often, no explanation is provided. I am concerned about this heavy-handedness and, at times, outright censorship. – Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH
This has also recently been emphasized by Dr. Kamran Abbasi, executive editor of the prestigious British Medical Journal, editor of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, and a consultant editor for PLOS Medicine. He is editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and JRSM Open. He recently published a piece in the BMJ, titled “Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science.”
Science is being suppressed for political and financial gain.
Covid-19 has unleashed state corruption on a grand scale, and it is harmful to public health. Politicians and industry are responsible for this opportunistic embezzlement. So too are scientists and health experts. The pandemic has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency—a time when it is even more important to safeguard science.
The UK’s pandemic response relies too heavily on scientists and other government appointees with worrying competing interests, including shareholdings in companies that manufacture covid-19 diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines. Government appointees are able to ignore or cherry pick science—another form of misuse—and indulge in anti-competitive practices that favour their own products and those of friends and associates.
The stakes are high for politicians, scientific advisers, and government appointees. Their careers and bank balances may hinge on the decisions that they make. But they have a higher responsibility and duty to the public. Science is a public good. It doesn’t need to be followed blindly, but it does need to be fairly considered. Importantly, suppressing science, whether by delaying publication, cherry picking favourable research, or gagging scientists, is a danger to public health, causing deaths by exposing people to unsafe or ineffective interventions and preventing them from benefiting from better ones. When entangled with commercial decisions it is also maladministration of taxpayers’ money.
Politicisation of science was enthusiastically deployed by some of history’s worst autocrats and dictators, and it is now regrettably commonplace in democracies. The medical-political complex tends towards suppression of science to aggrandise and enrich those in power. And, as the powerful become more successful, richer, and further intoxicated with power, the inconvenient truths of science are suppressed. When good science is suppressed, people die.
We are at a point in time where decisions made by the government, which are supposedly done in our best interests, are completely influenced by powerful corporations that seem to dictate government policy in some sort of way. This has been a problem for quite some time, and combined with big tech this ‘medical industrial complex’ is able to influence the thoughts, minds, perception and overall consciousness of the masses when it comes to COVID and various other topics.
Do governments really execute the will of the people? When will we draw the line? Is it really justifiable for people who don’t get vaccinated to lose their rights and freedoms they were accustomed to prior to the pandemic? Why are so many doctors and scientists who oppose these measures being censored and unacknowledged?
COVID-19, just like 9/11, is forcing more people to ask questions about how our world really operates and whether or not governments actually execute the will of the people.
At the end of the day we have to ask, why are controversial topics so poorly covered and ridiculed by mainstream media? Why do so many of us have so much trouble looking at new information, especially information that contradicts what we believe and have been made to believe? Why do polarizing sides trigger us so deeply? Why do we accept the invitation to fight? Will our sense-making be much easier and effective if we are calm, centered within self, clearer of our own bias’ and more open to communicating with empathy? Perhaps it’s time we do that?