A leading scientist blasted the promotion of the “quack cure” hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 during an appearance on Fox News Monday.
Dr. William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and researcher, made the remarks to host Dana Perino on the Monday edition of The Daily Briefing. The anti-malaria drug has been heavily promoted by President Donald Trump despite a lack of enthusiasm from many medical experts. Perino asked Haseltine whether anecdotes about people experiencing Lazarus-like recoveries after taking the drug might indicate that it could be a useful treatment.
“That is nonsense, complete and utter nonsense,” Haseltine said. “In any situation there are always going to be people who promote one kind of quack cure or another and there are ‘Lazarus effects.’ In every epidemic I’ve looked at, that’s always the case.”
Experts have long warned against interpreting anecdotes about treatments as evidence of effectiveness, noting that a number of critically ill patients recover from illnesses regardless of the treatment and may falsely attribute a recovery to an ineffective treatment. Properly conducted studies provide reliable evidence, and Haseltine insisted that studies about hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness against the virus have been less than encouraging.
“We know that at very best, this drug will have a very mild effect on changing the course of the disease, if it has any effect at all,” said Haseltine. “That is what the data has shown so far, and I am convinced that that’s what further studies will show.”
“That drug has been used for years against many other viruses to no effect,” he added.
Although hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat other conditions for many years, Haseltine said that it was “irresponsible” to promote the drug for COVID-19, arguing that it is not harmless and can carry serious side effects.
“The thing that makes me sad about that story is some people may take it who are on other medications or have other underlying conditions and may have very serious, even life-threatening consequences,” Haseltine said. “It is not something to take unless a doctor prescribes it.”
Haseltine concluded that a more plausible short-term method of combating the virus could be using therapies developed from antibodies present in the blood of people who have already recovered, some of which are currently being developed and used experimentally.
Trump has continued to promote the drug despite differing opinions from health experts leading the U.S. pandemic response effort, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci. The president said during a press briefing on Sunday that the U.S. had stockpiled 29 million doses of the drug, while suggesting that his “common sense” was driving his enthusiasm for the unproven treatment.
“They’re not expensive. What do you have to lose?” Trump said. “What do I know, I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.”
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.