Fauci: Don't get your hopes up for hydroxychloroquine just yet

I didn’t see all of today’s presser but apparently Trump’s irresistible urge towards hype collided with Fauci’s professional duty to provide accurate scientific information to produce this extremely Trumpy line:


In hindsight I think it was a well-meaning mistake for Tucker Carlson to tout the limited data out of France on hydroxychloroquine on Wednesday night. He’s been a voice of reason at Fox on the threat from the virus; no one faults him for grasping at hope in such a bleak moment. I’ve done it myself and will do it again in this very post. The problem is that Tucker has one very special viewer and that viewer (a) has enormous influence over what many millions of people believe and (b) is prone to putting the happiest possible spin on everything he’s involved with. Telling Trump that chloroquine holds promise is practically begging him to hype it as a potential miracle cure.

Here’s Fauci trying to manage MAGA Nation’s expectations today. Watch, then read on.

At bottom, Fauci’s making a point with which we’re all already familiar from political polling: Outliers exist. Sometimes you get a bad sample. The polling average is always better than any individual poll because results that are replicated in multiple surveys are more likely to be correct than some one-off survey that may have used bad methodology. Same here with the promising French study on hydroxychloroquine. Maybe it really is 100 percent effective in tandem with an antibiotic in curing COVID-19. Or maybe, for whatever quirky reason, the French patients who recovered were outliers. That’s what clinical trials are for: The more “polls” we take of hydroxychloroquine, the more confident we can be in its approval rating, so to speak.

Those clinical trials are already being organized:

The University of Minnesota is asking 1,500 people to sign up to a clinical trial to determine if hydroxychloroquine, a malaria medication, is effective in treating coronavirus.

The trial is being led by Dr. David Boulware. He is asking for 1,500 people who have been recently exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 to come forward to take part.

Ideally, they want to treat healthcare workers to hopefully provide a prevention from then catching the virus.

The French study suggests that chloroquine is effective in reducing illness among people who are already sick. Boulware is interested in the drug as a prophylaxis: If you give it to front-line medical personnel before they make contact with coronavirus patients, will it keep them from getting sick? A sort of makeshift vaccine, in other words? Meanwhile, two pharmaceutical companies, Mylan and Teva, are ramping up production of hydroxychloroquine, with Teva planning to donate six million doses to wholesalers due to “urgent” demand by the end of the month. We’re going to have battlefield data soon on whether this drug works or not. Although since it hasn’t been approved by the FDA yet for general use as a COVID-19 treatment, it’s only the most dire nothing-left-to-lose patients who’ll get it initially, I presume.

That’s not the only magic bullet doctors are focused on. There’s more anecdotal good news today about remdesivir, Gilead’s experimental antiviral drug:

On Tuesday evening, the President of Italy’s Liguria region Giovanni Toti said the area had seen ‘the first real case of coronavirus cured’, a 79-year-old man who was treated with remdesivir. He is due to return to his home in Lombardy soon.

Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said last month: “There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy. And that’s remdesivir.”

Drug maker Gilead, which distributed the drug on a compassionate use basis to several hundred patients globally, expects to start its own late-stage trials this month.

Fauci’s cautions about clinical trials and proper scientific method are well taken, but given that hospitals in New York are about to be overrun, it’s impossible to imagine doctors not using remdesivir aggressively on far-gone “compassionate use” patients if they get good results early. Imagine the FDA trying to hold back supply if, say, 80 percent of the first 50 patients given this drug who were expected to die experience a turnaround and recover. Republicans don’t normally support having the feds cut thousand-dollar checks to every adult in the country, but these aren’t normal times. Similarly, scientists and bureaucrats don’t normally condone expanding use of a drug on humans before it’s been clinically tested — but these aren’t normal times.

Especially when those same bureaucrats are under intense fire for having moved too slowly already in this crisis by not expanding testing when it might have made a difference.

Another remdesivir success story:

Chris Kane, 55, was diagnosed with the coronavirus and hospitalized at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, this month.

“He was really sick,” his wife, Susan Kane, told NBC News. “They put him on oxygen right away.”…

Susan Kane said remdesivir appeared to work quickly for her husband, too.

“On the very next day, he said: ‘You know, I think it’s lifting. I think I’m starting to feel better,'” she recalled.

While treatments are being tested, there’s also a global race to develop the first vaccine. China claims to have 1,000 scientists working on it and is already recruiting, uh, “volunteers” for a clinical trial. They’d love to win this moon race for propaganda reasons, to prove the alleged superiority of their system to the west’s. Will they share the vaccine if they get there first? Quote: “Any new vaccine that proves potent against the coronavirus — clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe already — is sure to be in short supply as governments try to ensure that their own people are the first in line.”

In lieu of an exit question, here’s another moment from today’s briefing: Trump weirdly snapping at a reporter for asking a softball question about people being scared.