As noted in my last post, the FDA has approved chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19.
There is, at present, also a campaign against these treatments, citing potential side effects, and also the argument that more studies could be done.
Some attacks on the drug, though, are overtly political. Slate, a very ideologically skewed and generally untrustworthy source, relies on a pure ad hominem attack, denouncing one of the researchers behind the hydroxychloroquine treatment as “Trumpian”. (Slate.com is a bad joke of online journalism…but maybe you already knew that.)
Hopefully these arguments will subside now that the FDA has approved the drugs for coronavirus treatment. Chloroquine, after all, is an old drug that has been used to treat malaria since the 1940s.
A word about side effects: Practically everything that a doctor ever gives you has side effects.
My cousin, who is in her 70s, has to endure thrice weekly dialysis treatments. Her kidneys were healthy—until she had heart problems a few years ago. Then her doctors prescribed furosemide (Lasix). This drug eliminates the fluid retention common with congestive heart failure, but it can damage the kidneys. It damaged her kidneys so badly that they went into an immediate decline.
A few years ago I had a problem with a skin fungus that I’d picked up in the locker room. (I know, too much information.) My doctor prescribed an antibiotic.
I researched the antibiotic and read about the potential liver damage issues. I chose not to fill the prescription, and my immune system eventually took care of the skin fungus on its own.
One could literally fill an entire website with data about the harmful side effects of medicines that physicians prescribe every day. (In fact, there is such a website: RxList.com.)
Think about all of the drug commercials you see on television—drugs for everything from irregular heartbeat to depression. The last twenty seconds of every such commercial consists of a long list of the potential side effects of the drug being advertised (while upbeat music plays in the background, of course).
The simple fact of the matter is that our medicine is often not as precise as we would like it to be. This is why research continues. In the meantime, though, the task of doctors (and informed patients) is to balance the risks and benefits.
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine almost certainly do have potential side effects. No one should take these drugs without doctor supervision. No one should take them unless they absolutely have to.
But at the same time, what is happening now does kind of qualify as an emergency, wouldn’t you agree? If we can accept a balancing of risks and benefits when prescribing and taking drugs for depression—which include suicide—maybe we need to also accept that these two COVID-19 drugs are mixed bags.
This isn’t a decision for laypersons like me, of course. This is a decision for medical professionals, and agencies like the FDA.
The problem here is that one can detect the pernicious influence of politics in all of this.
President Trump, perhaps a bit rashly, touted the promise of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as “cures” for COVID-19. Some people began referring to the drugs as the “Trump cure” (which was a bad idea, given our current political environment).
The result is that your opinion of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine may now be shaped by your politics. This unfortunately seems to extend to some doctors—especially those doctors who like to make themselves available to the media.
It is extremely rare—unheard of, really— to find a physician who is a real dummy. All of them are smart. But physicians are as susceptible to the venal influences of greed, ego, and politics as anyone else. Doctors are people, too, after all.
I’m not political about COVID-19. I just want it to go away. If you want to call the winning treatment the “Bernie Sanders treatment”, that’s fine with me. Stamp a photo collage of Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, and Barack Obama on every package, if that makes you happy.
But please, until we do have this pandemic behind us, let’s leave the politics out of the medical discussions. And this goes for medical professionals as much as anyone else.