Donald Trump began shilling for the use of hydroxychloroquine at the very first of what became his daily White House update on the COVID-19 pandemic. The drug is primarily used as an anti-parasitic, mostly in the treatment of malaria, and there was never any good evidence that it was effective in addressing COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine can lower the number of infection-fighting white blood cells, making it possibly the worst type of medication for anyone trying to fight off an infection.
However, in the earliest days of the pandemic, Trump declared the drug a “game changer” and began stockpiling millions of pills. Under pressure from Trump and TV host Dr. Oz, the FDA authorized emergency use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The drug didn’t work. The U.S. ended up with a mountain of worthless pills. And Trump went right on promoting its use long after the FDA officially warned consumers not to use it.
It’s impossible to know how much Trump’s promise that hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment caused people to disregard the threat of COVID-19 or how much this opened the door to conspiracy theories about vaccines. But a new study in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy puts an estimated number on deaths directly resulting from the use of this drug to treat COVID-19 patients: 16,990.
That hydroxychloroquine was more likely to kill than to cure was known very early. A study released just one month after Trump began promoting the drug showed that patients given Trump’s wonder treatment were more likely to die. The treatment was found to have a strong association with heart issues, and the results were so clear and overwhelming that the trial use of the drug was suspended ahead of schedule.
Those same results have now been confirmed by researchers in France who looked at the use of hydroxychloroquine across six countries. In all cases, the use of the drug with COVID-19 patients increased the rate of deaths. Overall, patients who were administered hydroxychloroquine were 11% more likely to die than those who were not.
Of course, there was one brilliant paper later cited by Trump that concluded treatment with hydroxychloroquine “improves survival by over 100%” even though 78% of the people in the study died. That’s science, people. Science that shockingly never made it into an actual peer-reviewed journal.
Due to the level of promotion hydroxychloroquine received, that 11% increased rate of death extends across millions of patients, both in the U.S. and overseas. In some locations, as many as 84% of patients diagnosed with symptomatic COVID-19 were prescribed hydroxychloroquine.
The result is that an estimated 16,990 people died unnecessarily.
As scientists behind the study conclude, the story of hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 illustrates “the hazard of drug repurposing with low-level evidence.” But it wasn’t the only time Trump declared that something unrelated would provide a cure for COVID-19. Trump also promoted the horse deworming medicine ivermectin, which led to a run on the treatment at farm supply stores. Trump also pushed the use of convalescent plasma before any trials had shown it was effective.
The plasma idea, unlike the use of a malaria drug or horse paste, at least had the benefit of being based on a somewhat reasonable theory. However, it still didn’t work. And, as should go without saying, neither did the dewormer.
Because Donald Trump can never be wrong, plenty of other Republicans were happy to hop on the quack medicine train. That included Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
For his new surgeon general, DeSantis went straight to hydroxychloroquine promoter, anti-masker, and anti-vaccine guy Dr. Joseph Ladapo. That would be this guy:
Lapado was back in the news this week after he appeared on Steve Bannon’s show to tell people to stop getting vaccinated. Because mRNA vaccines are an affront to God.
Thanks to his sage advice and the guiding wisdom of DeSantis, Florida ended up with its own unused stockpile of hydroxychloroquine. DeSantis bought 1 million doses from Israel, so the fact that the number of leftover pills was listed as “thousands” is disturbing. Nearly 87,000 people died of COVID-19 in Florida. How many of them were given ineffective snake oil rather than a vaccine that Ladapo finds spiritually offensive?
Overall, it seems clear that hydroxychloroquine is a killer, not a cure, when it comes to COVID-19. But still, it’s not as big a threat as Trump, DeSantis, and Ladapo.
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