Why Are We Still Talking About Hydroxychloroquine?

Allan M. Block, MD

August 03, 2020

This is getting pretty ridiculous. The number of well-done, evidence-based trials of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 showing minimal-to-no benefit is increasing. There are still studies that show benefit in certain cases, but many of them are small-scale or even anecdotal.

How long is this going to go on? If the evidence supporting its use were to be put through the standard Food and Drug Administration approval panels it wouldn't have a chance.

Yet, because it's become a political football (like masks), science and rational research are tossed out the window. At the end of July we were all treated to videos of Dr. Stella Immanuel claiming the drug is a cure. Dr. Immanuel may have medical credentials, but she also supports beliefs that space aliens and the Illuminati are involved in running governments, and that multiple gynecologic disorders are caused by sexual relations with demons and witches during dreams.

Even so, her hydroxychloroquine statements were given heavy play during a news cycle, then endorsed by the president and his supporters, all with very little immediate background provided for other claims she's made in the past.

Medicine is a science. Politics shouldn't be. While hydroxychloroquine may have its uses for other disorders, at this point COVID-19 doesn't appear to be one of them. Continuing to give it to sick people, despite the growing evidence against it, violates the "do-no-harm" tenet of our field.

There was no shame in trying it and failing. This is the process through which all treatments are tested. If they work (such as with penicillin, for example) that's wonderful. If they fail (such as with countless Alzheimer's trials) we learn what doesn't work and move on.

But to keep claiming success where there isn't any moves beyond science and into things that whiff of a hoax, such as 1989's cold fusion or recurrent claims of capturing Bigfoot.

With an implacable enemy such as COVID-19 at the door, money and effort need to be focused on finding what works, not on putting stale milk back in the refrigerator and hoping it comes out fresh.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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