During the coronavirus pandemic, medical experts who are often featured on cable news have become even more prominent — and one of them is Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who serves as chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and is known for his frequent MSNBC appearances. This week in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Emanuel and hematologist/oncologist Dr. Vinay Prasad (an associate professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University) analyze some of the medical analysis that President Donald Trump has been offering during the pandemic. And quite often, the physicians lament, Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Trump has been very bullish on the anti-malaria drug chloroquine as a possible way to combat COVID-19 — in the view of Emanuel and Prasad, too bullish.
“President Trump has been promoting chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, as ‘a game changer’ in combating the coronavirus — perhaps in combination with the antibiotic Azithromycin,” explain Emanuel (a member of former Vice President Joe Biden’s public health advisory committee) and Prasad. “As the expression goes, ‘What do we have to lose?,’ Trump asked during Saturday’s media briefing. The answer is: a lot. Experience teaches that promoting untested drugs in this way is irresponsible patient care, sloppy science and dangerous public policy.”
— Washington Post Opinions (@PostOpinions) March 23, 2020
Trump, according to Emanuel and Prasad, fails to realize that “anecdotal treatment of individuals” is “notoriously unreliable at judging what truly saves lives.” The doctors point out that the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, has discovered that although combining the drugs lopinavir and ritonavir “worked against SARS,” that combination “does not help treat, much less cure” COVID-19.
“For patients infected with the coronavirus, particularly those whose condition is worsening, it is a natural human reaction to try something, anything,” Emanuel and Prasad write. “Unfortunately, this impulse is misguided. Indeed, these ‘what do we have to lose?’ treatments can be very dangerous to individuals and the public health, showing that we do have something to lose.”
COVID-19, Emanuel and Prasad observe, is “the youngest disease on Earth” — and medical experts still have much to learn about what works against it and what doesn’t.
“When it comes to fearsome, fatal conditions,” Emanuel and Prasad assert, “it is human nature to try something because it should help, because it might help, because it must help, or because it couldn’t hurt. But often, it does harm people and our quest for a real cure. The best thing we can do in any plague is to make sure what we think works actually does — and if not, to use those resources towards finding a treatment that does work.”