BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
If you watched President Donald J. Trump’s wonderful press conference recently you’d have heard him extolling the virtues of a decades-old anti-malaria drug, Chloroquine, as a potential medication to be used to combat the novel coronavirus that emanated from Wuhan, China. During the press conference, the president made clear that Chloroquine was not a tried-and-true method. But, given the president’s overall desire to allow people the right to try any and all medications to survive in a medical crisis, such as the coronavirus outbreak, it stands to reason that he was not wrong to advocate for its use.
Of course, the Western journalists who automatically oppose President Trump for anything immediately jumped down the president’s throat.
You see, during his freewheeling press conference, Trump indicated that Chloroquine had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on people afflicted with COVID-19. That is not accurate. It has not been approved. In fact, Chloroquine has not been approved for use against COVID-19 anywhere–although studies are underway presently to determine if it would be an effective solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization, which has proven to be a conduit for Chinese influence, has also challenged the president’s assertions on the matter of Chloroquine as a way to fight COVID-19. But this is the same organization that stood by for weeks refusing to declare the coronavirus outbreak in China and Asia a pandemic. This is probably because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had threatened the WHO with some form of retaliation if they had declared COVID-19 a pandemic back in January.
Perhaps Beijing threatened to cut off essential medical supplies to the rest of the world if the WHO had declared what was obviously a pandemic as such at the end of January rather than waiting a whole month to do so, after much of the rest of the world had been infected. Who knows? What we do know is that the WHO director went to Beijing where everyone assumed his meeting with Chinese President-for-Life Xi Jinping would end with a declaration of a pandemic. Instead, that meeting ended with a public praising by the WHO director-general of the Chinese Communist Party’s response to the outbreak (which was anything but praise-worthy).
Even the highly-respected Centers for Disease Control (CDC) infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, “threw cold water” on President Trump’s enthusiasm for Chloroquine as an effective anti-COVID-19 drug at the press conference. Coldly telling reporters that data on Chloroquine’s efficacy against coronavirus was “anecdotal” even after the president had just defined the drug as a “game changer” which could be made available en masse to the public within weeks (since it has been in existence since 1944 and is cheap and easy to mass produce).
It seems strange to me that Chloroquine would not be in the repertoire of drugs used to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. After all, as Live Science recently reported, there was a 2005 study done in which primate cells infected with SARS (which COVID-19 is related to) responded favorably to the introduction of Chloroquine.
According to Live Science:
Chloroquine interferes with the virus’s ability to replicate in two ways. First, the drug enters compartments called endosomes within the cell membrane. Endosomes tend to be slightly acidic, but the chemical structure of the drug boosts their pH, making the compartments more basic. Many viruses, including SARS-CoV, acidify endosomes in order to breach the cell membrane, release their genetic material and begin replication; chloroquine blocks this critical step.
The drug also prevents SARS-CoV from plugging into a receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, on primate cells, according to the 2005 report. When the virus inserts its spike protein into the ACE2 receptor, it sets off a chemical process that alters the structure of the receptor and allows the virus to infect. An adequate dose of chloroquine appears to undermine this process, and in turn, viral replication in general, the authors noted.
Chloroquine has been used in limited cases in China, France, and South Korea against the COVID-19 strain and preliminary results are quite positive, according to the scientists that conducted the initial tests. Even if this isn’t the cure we’ve all been looking for, preliminary results indicate that the drug can mitigate the worst symptoms of the COVID-19 strain.
According to The New York Times, doctors have already begun administering Chloroquine and its cousin drug, hydroxchloroquine, to select patients in New York City hospitals (recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been given control of disaster response to this outbreak, has labeled New York City as the “epicenter” of the COVID-19 outbreak).
Why is Dr. Fauci and his colleagues in Washington, D.C. so skeptical about using the widely available, much cheaper, better understood chloroquine and hydroxchloroquine to combat the COVID-19 outbreak?
Now is not the time to play-it-safe.
Most Americans believe that our FDA, while well-intentioned, often blocks the treatment of Americans afflicted with severe illnesses because the potential cures and treatments to those diseases are too experimental. This is why President Trump signed the Right-to-Try bill in 2017, wherein he allowed for Americans with terminal medical prognoses to cut through the laborious FDA approval process to gain access to experimental medicines and treatments to try to survive. Doctors have historically been allowed “compassionate use” for medicines at their disposal, which means they can prescribe medications for certain extreme cases to treat diseases those medications were not intended to treat.
We have been told since February that the COVID-19 outbreak is a national emergency. We have all seen the damage this novel virus has done to the country where it originated from, China, as well as to much of the rest of the world–notably Italy. The disease is propagating now throughout much of Europe; it is eviscerating Seattle and much of California.
And, as mentioned above, New York City is considered the “epicenter” of the novel disease in the United States today. The longer this outbreak goes on, with no viable management protocol or vaccine on-hand, the more economic damage done to the American people.
After all, while this pandemic is a “Spanish Flu”-like event, more Americans are likely to go bankrupt from the resulting quasi-national lockdown (which may yet become permanent and government enforced, as I believe it will) that we’re all enduring than they are to die from the COVID-19. Social distancing is important to slowing the spread and “flattening the curve,” in order to prevent the total breakdown of our already overburdened medical system. But, as one University of Minnesota medical official told me a few weeks ago, 70-80 percent of the population will have been exposed to the illness within a year (Dr. Francis Collins of the NIH has said as much publicly as well).
In fact, while we should be cautious, it might do the immune systems of most Americans good to receive some exposure to the COVID-19 strain, since it will be among us for the rest of time. Even with social distancing, people will catch this virus.
Thus, it stands to reason that we should have effective treatments at the ready for the Americans who do come down with coronavirus. We can all strangle the economy while we wait–and hope–that the world’s pharmaceutical companies can concoct a novel vaccine for the novel coronavirus. And the president should support these endeavors. Yet, if we can ameliorate the worst effects of this outbreak while also allowing Americans to revitalize the economy yet again as quickly as possible by embracing drugs that are already in existence, we should do that also.
It’s very strange that Dr. Fauci and the rest of the professional medical establishment has so quickly pooh-poohed the use of chloroquine as a weapon to fight COVID-19. Instead, clearly, they’d prefer everyone to remain exposed to the disease–with no viable defense for at least 18 months–while the economy dies and the country shuts down.
So what if chloroquine has not run the gamut of clinical trials?
We know the downside risks already involved with this drug. Any new drug created specifically to combat COVID-19 will have many more downside risks that are totally unknown to medical practitioners and coronavirus sufferers alike. It would be years before we ever discovered the downsides to the vaccine as well.
Again, we must develop a vaccine specifically for this illness. But there’s no harm in using existing drugs, like chloroquine, to better manage the impacts of the disease on patients. It’s also likely to be far cheaper (which, I suspect might be why many in the medical community–notably the pharmaceutical industry–are so opposed to using chloroquine against the illness).
We will see if the president’s desire to use chloroquine against COVID-19 becomes reality. It seems that the medical team around Trump has fairly squelched this novel innovation. But as the number of infected ramps up by mid-April and the economy completely collapses due to the lockdown, having an effective management protocol on-hand while a true vaccine is created, tested, and scaled up over the next 18 months might prove decisive both in preventing mass casualties and mitigating long-term disruptions to our economy and social life.