Critics of Trump over chloroquine should remember AIDS drug wars

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After President Trump noted in March that an antimalarial drug had shown some success in the treatment of COVID-19, according to reports from clinicians, his opponents criticized him for playing the doctor and for demonstrating “The audacity of a false hope”, in the words of CNN. Stephen Collinson.

How quickly they forget the lessons of the AIDS crisis of the 80s.

Rachel Maddow demanded that the media stop broadcasting Trump’s briefings because “this is misinformation.” The New Yorker called Trump’s interest in the drug’s effectiveness, known as chloroquine, “quackery,” “quirky,” “a reminder, if need be, of his disregard for rigorous science. . “

USA Today, Vox, The Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and NBC News have all joined together. The governors of Nevada and Michigan have issued decrees limiting the discretion of doctors to prescribe the drug; two former heads of the Food and Drug Administration are furious that chloroquine has obtained an “emergency use authorization”, bypassing the FDA protocol.

Chloroquine is a venerable drug on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. Doctors prescribe it millions of times a year for malaria, as well as for other “off-label” uses.

As Trump’s critics have been quick to point out, the drug has serious side effects – usually after being taken for years – but it’s no surprise. “The poison is the dose” is an old maxim in medicine; all powerful and useful drugs must be administered with care, and they usually have significant side effects.

It is true that chloroquine is not tested as a therapy for COVID-19 and that its possible successes are “anecdotal”. But how could it be otherwise? The virus and the disease are brand new. There are no proven and proven therapies for this.

The strange thing is that opponents seem to have forgotten about the big drug approval battles over AIDS treatments, a turning point in the history of American homosexuals. Before the advent of the miraculous antiretroviral drugs that saved millions of lives, HIV was a death sentence. Like the new coronavirus, it was a killer who came from nowhere, and nobody knew how to treat it because it ravaged the immune system of its victims.

Groups like ACT UP have accused the FDA under President Ronald Reagan of dragging their feet, with its insistence on long and rigorous clinical tests for AZT, ribavirin, T-peptide and other drugs that appeared to have positive – albeit “anecdotal” – effects on AIDS patients.

Comparing AIDS to the Holocaust, with Reagan in the role of Hitler, the founder of ACT UP, Larry Kramer and other activists compared the same Dr. Anthony Fauci to Adolf Eichmann – the Nazi official who organized the trains for Auschwitz – because he was too careful about speeding up the approval of drugs.

Reagan’s responsibility for AIDS deaths is still a cherished myth on the left. When Hillary Clinton congratulated Nancy Reagan at her 2016 funeral, she was forced to apologize by the Human Rights Campaign, which considered revoking her approval of her candidacy.

2013 award-winning hit film “Dallas Buyers Club” tells the story of a group of HIV-positive activists who, frustrated by the intractability of the FDA, smuggled unapproved drugs from Mexico and sued the government to allow them to use them. Their desperation and willingness to try untested medical protocols to save lives has proven heroic and not irresponsible.

Trump’s interest in the malaria drug as a treatment for coronaviruses did not come to him in a feverish dream. Doctors in France, Malaysia and China have reported positive results, and anecdotal reports from clinicians in New York and other regions have suggested the drug has a beneficial effect.

The New York State Department of Health, with the full support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is currently giving chloroquine to thousands of people with COVID-19. And there are reports – in fact, anecdotal – that it can work.

The same people on the left who claim to “love science” do not understand how it works. Science is an iterative and experiential practice of trial and error. Doctors make observations, try something, adjust, change doses – and try again. This is how every advance in medicine has always happened.

And remember, it was the same FDA bias to follow its own rules that led it to refuse to approve “unproven” coronavirus tests, delaying our responsiveness and costing precious time.

To say that there is “no evidence” that chloroquine works is to play on puns. The people responsible take it seriously and there seems to be some positive reports about it. Trump’s reflective haters should drop him.

Seth Barron is associate editor of the City Journal. Twitter: @SethBarronNYC

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