The governor of Minnesota has finally lifted prescription restrictions on hydroxychloroquin, the malaria drug that is being used to treat early-stage cases of COVID-19, only to say the reason for doing so is it doesn’t work.
According to the March 27 emergency executive order signed by Gov. Tim Walz, the restrictions were put in place to ensure there was an ample supply of the prescription for those who use it to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Now, almost a half-year later, the restrictions were lifted August 12 because there is no run on the drug, and the reason there is no high demand for the drug, Gov. Walz maintains, is because it doesn’t work so doctors aren’t using it as expected.
Twila Brase, a registered nurse who leads Minnesota-based Citizens' For Health Freedom, sees positives in hydroxychloroquine and is glad that people in her state now have the option.
"Patients are dying,” she warns, “and there is this political fight over a medication that has been considered safe, has been used for 65 years, and certain people have actually attributed to saving them from COVID-19.”
Regarding the governor’s reasoning for now allowing use of the drug, Brase calls that “naivete, or a personal agenda, or a political agenda,” because there are medical studies showing early use has proven effective.
In the United States, the promising role of hydroxychloroquine, along with zinc sulfate and azithromycin, dates back to March when Dr. Vladimir Zenko, a family physician based in New York, reported he had treated numerous patients with all three medications --- and 100 percent survived the virus. Zenko’s first-hand testimony eventually reached President Donald Trump, who called the treatment a “game changer” for fighting virus.
And then what happened next depends on one’s political views.
In an unflattering story about Dr. Zenko, published April 2, The New York Times reported it this way:
What happened next is a modern pandemic parable that illustrates how the coronavirus is colliding with our fragile information ecosystem: a jumble of facts, falsehoods and viral rumors patched together from Twitter threads and shards of online news, amplified by armchair experts and professional partisans and pumped through the warp-speed accelerator of social media.
The story described Dr. Zenko as a “right-wing star” after his medical advice was picked up by Sean Hannity and others, and the Times cited left-wing media watchdog Media Matters for documenting how the drug was touted on Fox News more than 100 times in a three-day span.
Yet the Times story also admits that a French study of 20 patients showed positive results, and so did a study in China that suggests it helps to speed up recovery.
The key to treatment, Zenko and other physicians say, is to administer the medications early before the virus has not sends a person to a hospital bed.
Punished for praising Trump
There is also first-hand testimony from patients, including Michigan lawmaker Rep. Karen Whitsett. Whitsett, a Democrat, reported in April that she originally thought she had been striken with pneumonia and her health was "plummeting" quickly.
"For me, it saved my life," she told Fox News. “I only can go by what it is that I have gone through and what my story is, and I can't speak for anyone else. So that's not what I'm trying to do here. I'm only speaking for myself."
What happened next? Democrat lawmakers censured Rep. Whitsett for attending a meeting at the White House with other COVID-19 survivors, The Detroit Free Press reported.
The resolution complains that Rep. Whitsett "has repeatedly and publicly praised the president's delayed and misguided COVID-19 response efforts in contradiction with the scientifically based and action-oriented response" from Michigan's Democratic leadership, "endangering the health, safety and welfare of her constituents, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan."
The medical debate over HCQ has become a political fight, Brase says, and some doctors risk punishment by a medical board for prescribing it.
"This is going to be one of the lasting legacies of COVID-19,” she predicts, “the fact that this became political when patients' lives were at stake."