So many of the so-called “Fact checkers” are politicised apologists for left wing (liberal) causes, targeted at conservatives and often need fact checking themselves. So, it’s no surprise to see an example in the Coronavirus age, but rather new to see it camouflaged as a “fact check”, when basically all it contains is the attack on a comment by the Secretary of the US Veterans Administration study on a Coronavirus drug test.
An essential introduction must be to highlight that the obvious and open battle to condemn a possibly effective therapeutic drug for Coronavirus treatment as ineffective or even “dangerous” needs exposure and it is getting it. Hydroxychloriquine (used in combination with an antibiotic azithromycin) is the drug concerned and whilst it has been promising enough when used in various reported cases around the world, it is a given that more testing is needed. However, there is a persistent campaign against it from more than just the usual leftist media (for which media, President Trump advocating for it was probably all it needed anyway). Further opposition comes from sections of the medical community and on the surface, that is enough reason for investigation to be conducted.
The Veterans Administration Study
The anti-Hydroxychloriquine group got a boost when a sudden announcement in mid-April was made that a Veterans Administration study had shown poor results for Hydroxychloriquine, a Daily Mail review of which can be found here. The media went wild and are still quoting it as a nail in the coffin for Hydroxychloriquine. Of course it always takes a while – these days only a few hours if that- for these studies to be dissected and the facts as well as assumptions analysed and published. So the “more people died with it than without it” seems quite an insufficient description of the test conditions .
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and his comments.
“That’s an observational study. It’s not a clinical study. It was done on a small number of veterans. Sadly, those of whom were in the last stages of life. And the drug was given to them. And I have to also say that the drug — we know the drug has been working on middle-age and younger veterans … working in stopping the progression of the disease.”
The comments of the Fact Check author Hope Yen are stark
“Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is taking advocacy of an unproven drug for the coronavirus even farther than President Donald Trump, claiming without evidence that it’s safe and that it has been effective for young and middle-aged veterans in particular.”
Analysis: “Unproven” is misleading. “FDA approved” for use normally involves
“Double-blind randomised controlled trials (RCT) are the gold standard of clinical research” and whilst Hydroxychloriquine isn’t qualified by the FDA on that lengthy time frame, the fact checker claim could be put into the category of “Misleading” because she doesn’t say anything about the VA study in that context.
“claiming without evidence” is just a modern addition to commentary only since the advent of Trump, many times there being no “evidence” published in much of the media since opinion took over a lot of “fact reporting”.
Wilkie not only had his own evidence from the VA itself (unchallenged in any detail by Hope Yen OR co-author Marilynn Marchione) but he supposedly.
mischaracterized the study’s findings as he delved into an area of speculation by amateurs that his own agency has called “inaccurate and irresponsible.”
Mischaracterised the study’s findings? Speculation by amateurs? Not so in either case. Observational Study? Not a clinical study? Done on a small number of veterans? Those of whom were in the last stages of life? All correct as the study and true reporting shows!
The author herself did not mention that to have participants to whom only Hydroxychloriquine was given surely invalidated the VA results from the beginning. Only with other named drugs was Hydroxychloriquine recommended (or even tested) in other studies. None of these statements are able to be credibly “fact” challenged by Hope Yen. In the report her comment of “(it) was not a rigorous experiment” alone is shown to be close to the mark. The study was not peer reviewed and is not considered valid to determine clinical effect of this drug.
Criticisms of the VA study but which were not mentioned
The greatest attack on the study which Yen and her co-author did not mention was that of the other major advocate for the Hydroxychloriquine combination treatments, French Dr.Didier Raoult. Now this clinic has become famous/ notorious for being one of the first in the world to mention Hydroxychloriquine as a possible therapeutic part-answer to Coronavirus, but his comments on the actual VA test deserve to be looked at closely. His comments on the incidence of Lymphopenia being twice as common in the HCQ groups and that it correlates to fatality is one thing to note. So is the lateness of administering the HCQ treatment (post-intubation), even extremely late or “unreasonable” in fact. Finally, he notes that
“Incomprehensibly, the ‘untreated group’ actually received azithromycin in 30% of cases, without this group being analyzed in any distinct way. Azithromycin is also a proposed treatment for COVID-19 (Gautret 2020) with in-vitro efficacy.”
So there you have it. A Fact Check that raised more issues than it was supposed to solve and none of these issues, I submit, were dealt with appropriately. However, the peculiarities of this severely anti-Hydroxychloriquine campaign, especially when there is a (new) rival Gilead drug in testing, the starkly different media, political and medical bureaucratic treatments of nearly identical trial hiccups stand out. The reasons for that should be studied.