WASHINGTON — Five months ahead of the general election, Democrats are escalating their attacks against Republicans over the use of a malaria drug to treat Covid-19, dragging a highly polarized medical debate even further into the political realm.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recent weeks has vocally criticized two GOP incumbents and two challengers for echoing President Trump’s enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine in March and April. Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger, has seized on the president’s remarks, calling his hydroxychloroquine advocacy “totally irresponsible” after the president announced he was taking the drug as a preventive measure.

For his part, Trump has dismissed concerns about a growing body of evidence that the drug is not an effective Covid-19 treatment, and concerns about potential side effects, as politically motivated.

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“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape, they were very old, almost dead. It was a Trump enemy statement,” Trump said of one study.

The debate has effectively served as a dividing line in U.S. politics: In large part, Trump’s supporters and sympathetic media outlets echoed the president’s enthusiasm, while Democrats, with some notable exceptions, generally sided with scientists who insisted there was no reliable science indicating hydroxychloroquine could help treat Covid-19.

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Robyn Patterson, a DCCC spokeswoman, said the group’s messaging aimed to highlight Republicans pushing hydroxychloroquine “like hotcakes” even as other governments have banned its use for Covid-19.

“It’s reckless and irresponsible for Washington Republicans and their candidates to promote a potentially lethal and scientifically-discredited cure because they think it will improve their lot in the President’s eyes,” she said.

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Since Trump first began touting hydroxychloroquine, the debate has turned its attention from promising anecdotes from individual patients and doctors to a growing body of scientific research that shows the drug is not effective. In late April, the Food and Drug Administration, led by a commissioner Trump appointed, warned against using hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital or clinical trial setting. The French government and several others have since banned use of the drug to treat Covid-19.

On the campaign trail, Democrats’ ire has focused in particular on Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the former Iowa director of public health, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack. Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, initially tweeted her support for hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment, but later deleted the post.

She similarly tweeted, then deleted, a call for “herd immunity” — a controversial strategy that would effectively require most Americans to become sick, likely resulting in hundreds of thousands of additional Covid-19 deaths.

In a statement, the DCCC said Miller-Meeks had promoted “dangerous, unproven theories that put Iowans’ lives at risk.”

And in New Jersey, Democrats have attacked Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched his party affiliation to Republican after Trump’s impeachment in December, for promoting hydroxychloroquine based on “anecdotal evidence.” They’ve also blasted his decision to accept a single, $500 contribution from Joe Pizza, an executive for a company that sells hydroxychloroquine sulfate.

Chris Pack, a spokesman for House Republicans’ campaign arm, did not respond to an initial request for comment, and eventually declined to respond beyond accusing STAT of “peddling Democrat talking points.”

The swing-district controversies highlight the dangers of politicians giving voters unsolicited medical advice — and following Trump’s largely unscientific medical recommendations, said Bob Blendon, a Harvard health policy professor.

“My recommendation has been, all the way down the line, that politicians should not play physician,” he said. “It’s very dangerous for politicians to go where the president did here.”

Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic challenger, has similarly seized on Trump’s remarks, calling his hydroxychloroquine advocacy “totally irresponsible” after the president announced he was taking the drug as a preventive measure.

Democrats have also used the hydroxychloroquine controversy as a chance to attack Republicans for accepting campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, which faces record-low popularity after years of attacks from politicians in both parties over high drug prices.

In Arizona, Democrats criticized GOP Rep. David Schweikert for accepting a $1,000 check from Novartis, a company that manufactures hydroxychloroquine and whose CEO called the drug the “biggest hope” for Covid-19 treatment in late March. The company’s generics division donated 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate to the Strategic National Stockpile on March 29.

Patterson, the DCCC spokeswoman, told STAT the campaign group also plans to air new attacks on Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who is challenging Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.).

The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine is not a fully partisan issue. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has been widely praised for his Covid-19 response despite the 30,000 deaths in his state, said in early April there was “anecdotal” reason to be excited about hydroxychloroquine, and worked with the federal government to ship large quantities of the drug there.

Yet in the broader battle over hydroxychloroquine, American voters appear to favor scientists over Trump and other political figures by a wide margin. Just 23% of voters said they supported the use of hydroxychloroquine, a number that has dipped from 29% last month.

And while Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease researcher, has been notably cautious in pushing back on Trump’s misleading guidance, he argued last week that the debate was effectively over, telling CNN: “The scientific data is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy.”

But it’s not clear whether voters will penalize politicians for picking the other side. Whit Ayres, the president of the GOP-aligned polling firm North Star Opinion Research, cautioned that hydroxychloroquine might be “but a distant memory” come Election Day.

“The broader issue about politicians not playing doctor, I’m sure, is widely accepted by voters of both parties already,” Ayres said. “So it would have to be a pretty vivid and memorable case of a politician trying to prescribe drugs or tell people what drug to take. I don’t think you’re going to find many examples of that.”

  • STAT news should refrain from rehashing or even dealing with political hullaballoo while pretending to be knowledgeable about a medical drug. DISGUSTING article – it is irritating to any reader, independent of what side of HCQ one is on. Baaaaaaaad boy, Lev.

  • Let’s have a nonprofessional opinion on appendectomy …when non professionals provide health care opinions .. this is trash ….

    • The precedent initiated with insurance interests requiring medical necessity reviews. Reviews often conducted by non physician allied health professionals. Reviews with an agenda to control costs above professional judgement. After nearly 30 years there is very little objective data to support the policy. During the period healthcare costs have risen at an average rate exceeding inflation.

  • Helen Borel has done the work for us and speaks out forcefully and believably. Thank you Helen. The financial ties of various “experts” to Gilead is key to the adage, “Follow the money”. What’s so disappointing is that there are those who would do that to enrich themselves against the best interests of their fellow citizens’ health with their lives hanging in the balance. I have followed this from the first night it was advocated by some very impressive doctors who’d been using it on the front lines (New York hospitals) as the epidemic was starting to rage. Since then, they’ve been largely ignored and the misguided media reports have come out, with all the flaws associated with their “doomed to fail” study constructs. Shameful. Again, Helen, thank you. And, by the way, no one should take medical advice from a political figure without looking deeper into it. And that’s what I have done. The website “Peak Prosperity” has been very helpful in this regard.

    • Thank you, Terry. I received your message via my website for my psych practice PsychDocNYC.com I’m having a hard time swallowing the loony way American journalists get sucked into horrendously wrong ideas about medical practice (a specific about which they are not educated). This problem of lazy journalism (absent in-depth research, or at least comprehensive research showing ALL sides of an issue) has more than irked me on yet another major health issue which, unfortunately, has gotten BURIED <-(sic and sick) due to this pandemic. It's the issue of 50,000,000 Americans suffering under-treated or untreated pain, having been force-tapered off their well-working opioid prescription analgesics, or cold-turkeyed altogether, many suiciding. Due to this horror, perpetrated by the CDC, the VA, the DOJ and the DEA, I researched and wrote (between April 2019 and October 2019) AMERICAN AGONY: The Opioid War Against Patients in Pain Here is it's 2-minute video https://youtu.be/MW-pmcAb4ZU (AMAZON, B&N, Worldwide wherever books are sold)

  • How about reporting, Mr. Facher, the other and truer side of this “hydrochloroquine (HCQ) story”?
    1. HCQ has been used to treat malaria for 62 years.
    2. HCQ has been treating numerous chronic diseases (the list too long to
    ennumerate here), notably for the lifetimes of these patients -> Rheumatoid
    Arthritis and Lupus Erythematosus. Have such patients dropped dead from it?
    3. ALL DRUGS have potential side effects, e.g., Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin),
    antibiotics, antischizophrenic psychotropics, etc., etc. Those allergic patients are not prescribed their allergens. HOWEVER, we don’t stop using aspirin for the vast majority who benefit from its antiinflammatory, antipyretic, analgesic, anticoagulant effects because some pts are allergic to it. Ditto antibiotics (where we have choices of those when a side effect means a certain antibacterial must be avoided). Similarly with the rare potential cardiac problem some scare-mongers are lying about that MIGHT occur
    in some patients on HCQ. Listen! Doctors can monitor patients via EKGs to check for this rare side effect.
    4. Most important, there are so many studies out there by respected virologists, family physicians, epidemiologists, et al. who report salubrious
    results using HYDROCHLROQUINE E..A..R..L..Y in the course of SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19)…..NOT WHEN THE PATIENT IS AT DEATH’S DOOR in the ICU. Patients so treated, either prophylactically (as should RNs and MDs at such patients’ bedsides) or at the earliest symptoms DO NOT PROGRESS TO CRITICAL RESPIRATORY DISTRESS, HOSPITALIZATION AND DEATH!!!
    5. An imperative related happening that I believe has contributed to the high mortality rate: ANESTHESIOLOGISTS are accustomed to intubating (for oxygenation) NORMAL, HEALTHY TRACHEAE, BRONCHI, LUNGS in the OR where surgeons are operating on other parts of the body. Anesthesiologists have ZERO EXPERIENCE INBUTATING FRIABLE, BLEEDING, COAGULOPATHY-IMPAIRED LUNGS, shoving such a tube down such VIRUS-DAMAGED ORGANS, I’m sure, has killed many of these patients by causing more bleeding, excess clotting…so, how can any oxygen get to where it needs to go? This drastic procedure on these patients, I figure, is one of the reasons for the high death rate.
    6. And the lungs in such a state, by the time the patient is in the Intensive Care Unit, I believe cannot get the help the person’s immune system would normally give them from the immunomodulatory drug, HCQ. This is TOO LATE. HCQ works prophylactically, in early symptoms (and in other diseases, for a lifetime to modulate immune overreaction or cytokine storm<-known to occur in many COVID-19 patients.
    7. Finally, but not least:
    a) Hydrochloroquine has been off patent for a long time, so it's available as
    a very cheap generic drug – 10 cents a pill.
    b) Aha-remdesivir, certain investors promote instead: Did you know that certain of our taxes are paying the salaries of top government officials in
    HHS and its subsidiaries who just happen to have ve$ted interest$ in GILEAD, the Pharmaceutical manufacturer of remdesivir, an antiviral agent. Modest "benefits" of 11 days to recover vs. 15 days and death in other ICU COVID-19 patients. And the cost is $1,000 for such a "treatment". It is UNETHICAL for government bureaucrats to have financial interests in pharmaceuticals they are then earnestly promoting.
    8. Imperative, the medical malpractice notion that you tell a patient with early COVID-19 symptoms to "stay home until you're febrile and in respiratory distress" is downright stupid, dangerous and…well, you see the results. EARLY TREATMENT WITH A KNOWN EFFECTIVE IMMUNE-MODULATING DRUG – HCQ – that swiftly impels the patient's immune system to begin fighting the virulent virus is the most medically correct action physicians should take. (Otherwise, why don't we wait until that appendix bursts, before immediate surgery? Why don't we wait 'til that suicidal patient is actually up there on the roof before we offer help? Why don't we let that bee-stung person in anaphylaxis choke to the brink of death before we administer adrenalin? Why don't we wait to find out that remdesivir is no good for late-stage COVID-19, that we should've given HYDROCHLOROQUINE to begin with at the early symptomatic stage. Helen Borel,RN,PhD

    • My earlier comment in reply to Dr. Borel mentioned a website (of podcasts) that comments on Covid-19 extensively, including the controversy about the science and experience attached to HCQ. It’s worth a look for the take on the now discredited “research” report published in Lancet. In an earlier episode he went even deeper into this, taking it apart point-by-point with obvious frustration concerning how flawed it is. But here is the one (entitled “Is Covid-19 Over”) from Tuesday (June 2) in which he returns to the Lancet study.
      Hope the link works. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1Hw09ncBfE

  • Deb, you are absolutely correct. Hydroxycloroquine is a wonderful prophylactic for Malaria and perfectly safe. Safety is what Phase 1 clinical trials prove. And that clinical trial is well over 50 years ago. Dr. Dan Wallace who has the largest Lupus practice in the U.S. has been dispensing it for over 40 years to thousands of patients and not a single one of his patient’s has ever been hospitalized for an adverse event. Heart problems are extremely rare and anyone who has a heart AE has been while on the medication have been on it for a median of 7 years. We are letting people die for political reasons. I bet the esteemed grim reaper Dr. Fauci has never even written a scrip for HCQ. And you do not perform Phase 3 clinical trials for meds that have already been proven safe and are dispensed off label. That was a straw man argument by Fauci and others for political reasons. Because they are well aware the general public has no idea another Phase 3 trial is not necessary.

  • We expect truthful health/medical information, instead you are promoting political lies. The latest proof that HCQ+zinz+Zpack work comes from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, who treated cov19 patients successfully. 50 studies worldwide proved that too. So tell the truth!

  • Amazing. India and South Korea have been using prophylactically. Their death rates compared to the US? Low single digits, as compared to our 300+

    My husband and son contracted it early when we were in Europe, they were both sick for weeks. I had a sore throat and slight fever for 1 day. However, I’ve been taking 200mg of Plaquenil bid for Lupus for 10+ years.

    This is absolutely political. I’m disgusted that CDC, WHO and FDA will put people’s lives at risk rather than credit our President with good instincts.

    Read about Cytokine Storm and hydroxychloroquine.

  • I believe the doctors who have prescribed hydrocloroquin, (when included with the Zpak and/or zinc) for years. and not the NIH the FDA, NIH.. or the other egg heads..and their so called scientific trials–give it immediately when symptoms occur not when they are putting you on a ventilator (which may pump too much pressure into the lungs-baggng is less lethal). Unfortunately, the afore mentioned are driven by money. Where is their cure for diabetes–it never seems to arrive? What happened to using pancreatic stem cells-like they did in Canada–too mate people making money on diabetes? So no push for a cure?

    • Ari is so ignorant that it is painful! Regrettably the stem cell implant failed but it was serious research and may eventually lead to a cure. As for untested treatments-go for it! The more of Drumpfs acolytes do what his ignoramus in chief suggests, the fewer of them will be around to vote for him in November!

    • Casanova’s comment is not helpful. One wonders why s/he bothers, when the outcome is that he makes a fool of himself. Carry on Ari, we need reasonable voices like yours.

  • STAT is no better than Yahoo News. Carrying the water for the Dems. This article should be labeled, “Warning If You Read This Column Be Aware STAT Is Practicing Journalistic Fraud Here”. Thanks, Your obedient Servant, Scrivener Steve, On My Eternal Quest for Truth Justice and the American Way. LMAO!!! STAT – What a Rag!!!

  • There has been a lot of unscientific suggestions that HCQ can be fatal.

    But there is a notable lack of headlines about actual arrhythmia deaths.

    Are the media covering up the deaths to help Trump?

    If a study of HCQ doesn’t include the two key words (“early” & “zinc”) it’s not worth reading.

    • The many doctors who’ve had success using this THE RIGHT WAY are very believable, have no axe to grind, and will not budge (good for them). And then comes a completely believable scientific paper from Yale Medical School researchers. The fact that it is virtually harmless, VERY affordable, and readily available tells me that the opposition to it is so unfounded in terms of the “science”. It just MUST be a mix of financial, political, ego interests. Can anyone suggest another reason?

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