Top Scientist Left Stunned by 'Very Odd' Hydroxychloroquine Senate Hearing

A top physician has been left "stunned" after attending a Senate hearing during which experts discussed the use of the controversial anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a COVID-19 therapy for more than two hours.

Ashish K. Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, was one of four expert witnesses at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing focused on the early treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Jha said in a Twitter thread that the other three witnesses "strongly supported" hydroxychloroquine — a drug that was touted by President Donald Trump earlier in the pandemic. Since then a consensus has emerged in the scientific community that the drug, which is widely used to treat malaria, is not an effective therapy against COVID-19.

"Today was a very, very odd day. They held a hearing on hydroxychloroquine. Yup, HCQ. In the middle of the worst surge of pandemic. [The other witnesses] believed thousands of Americans were dying from lack of HCQ. And then, there was me. This split was not a reflection of evidence or the consensus in medicine. It reflected ability of the majority to seat more witnesses," Jha said.

"The hearing was a testament to how politicized science has become. I shared evidence of studies that have failed to find benefit of HCQ. [The other witnesses] suggested my testimony was reckless because it would deny people access to lifesaving HCQ."

Jha said the "most shocking" part of the hearing was that other witnesses appeared to argue there was a "coordinated effort" by American doctors to deny patients HCQ, because they were "in bed" with Big Pharma.

"I tried to explain that doctors don't want to kill their patients by withhold therapy. But evidence matters," he said.

Jha questioned why a hearing was being held on the drug in the worst surge of the pandemic in the United States, with the country's death toll exceeding 250,000.

"Why talk Hydroxy when so many Americans are dying? Because it was meant to push a narrative. That masks and distancing don't matter. If you get infected—no big deal—take some HCQ. It's stunning," he said. "Is it time to revisit hydroxychloroquine? My short answer: I just don't see the evidence for it."

Several large studies, including those commissioned by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, have found no evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine, when used with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, helps to fight the virus in hospitalized patients.

In addition, public health organizations, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, say the drug could increase the risks of adverse effects, such as cardiac arrhythmia.

Some scientists say that the drug may still prove to be beneficial in preventing COVID-19 or treating the disease in its earlier stages, before patients are hospitalized—although there is not as much data on this issue compared to data in hospitalized patients.

One of the expert witnesses at the Senate hearing, Dr. Peter McCullough from Baylor University Medical Center, said that the use of hydroxychloroquine earlier in the pandemic to treat outpatients with early symptoms helped to mitigate the severity of the outbreak.

"Hydroxychloroquine was widely used early on, that's what kept the March-April-May curve down, OK?" McCullough said, Courthouse News Service reported.

Meanwhile, Harvey Risch, another of the expert witnesses from Yale University, said in his testimony that he found hydroxychloroquine in early use among high risk outpatients to be "exceedingly safe."

"Common sense tells us this, that a medication safely used for 65 years by hundreds of millions of people in tens of billions of doses worldwide, given to adults, children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, must be safe when used in the initial viral-replication phase of an illness that is similar at that point to colds or flu," he said.

Risch also said that in all seven studies examining the early use of the drug in high-risk outpatients have shown a "significant benefit."

These studies were observational in nature, which Jha argued meant they were not of high-quality, and thus the results should be treated with caution.

"Today, the consensus in the scientific community, based on overwhelming evidence, is that hydroxychloroquine provides no benefits in treating COVID-19, and may produce significant harms," Jha said in his testimony.

"Similar to initial observations suggesting hydroxychloroquine would be effective against COVID-19 throughout the course of illness, some now suggest that there is a benefit to using the drug very early on, in the first 5-10 days after symptom onset. However, there is no evidence to support this contention and better data are clearly needed."

Jha said that not only has the drug demonstrated "minimal to no benefit in treating COVID-19" but it also poses "substantial risks" to patients.

"Hydroxychloroquine has a very narrow therapeutic range. Only a small range of doses can be tolerated without leading to toxicity. While hydroxychloroquine toxicity is not very common, its use for COVID-19 requires a higher dosage than normally employed, and therefore, raises concern of greater side-effects and toxicity."

Hydroxychloroquine
A bottle and pills of hydroxychloroquine sit on a counter at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20.GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images