Fact Check: NO Evidence That Countries Using Hydroxychloroquine Have Far Fewer COVID-19 Deaths

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: NO Evidence That Countries Using Hydroxychloroquine Have Far Fewer COVID-19 Deaths Straw Villain

Have multiple studies shown that countries treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine suffer fewer deaths than those like the U.S. where its use is restricted? No, that's not true: The claim was made without citing any such studies. Lead Stories has not found peer-reviewed clinical studies that declare hydroxychloroquine is a cure, and the World Health Organization has declared the opposite putting a stop to a multi-national test of the drug when French and British researchers found it does not cut the mortality rate of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and may contribute to heart problems.

The claim appeared in a video posted to YouTube on August 1, 2020, titled, "Studies show countries using hydroxychloroquine have far fewer COVID-19 deaths" (archived here), which opened:

While the media continues to slam the use of hydroxychloroquine, numerous studies have revealed countries that used the drug are doing much better than those that haven't. One America's Pearson Sharp has the details.

Click below to watch the video on YouTube:

This One America News video makes several claims that either cannot be substantiated or have been rejected by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control.

'Numerous studies' claimed -- but no citations or titles provided

The video refers to "numerous studies," but does not provide the author nor title of any specific study.

Although Dr. David Nazarian of Los Angeles, California, is not interviewed on camera and the time and place of his comments is not provided by the narrator, the One America News video says (at time code 1:00) that Nazarian says patients taking hydroxychloroquine are doing better than those who aren't.

Board certified in internal medicine, Nazarian operates My Concierge MD, Executive Health in Los Angeles, California. On his website, he says he has worked as an emergency room doctor, as a doctor providing medical service on movie production sites and as a hospitalist. As a medical student, his website says, he served a one-month rotation in 2008 in epidemiology, the study of how diseases spread. He lists one scholarly publication, a 2004 journal article about stroke medication. Lead Stories reached out to Nazarian by phone and email on August 3, 2020, to check the research and statements attributed to him. This story will be updated, if appropriate, when Nazarian replies.

Describing Nazarian as having conducted a study, the One America News narrator says:

He points to countries in Africa where hydroxychloroquine is taken widely and prophylactically to protect against diseases like malaria. Incidentally, these countries have some of the lowest levels of coronavirus infections and deaths anywhere in the world.

Here's the video segment containing the reference to Nazarian's research and analysis:

Later in the video, the One America News narrator says "doctors say" hydroxychloroquine could cure between 70% to 90% of the patients diagnosed with the disease and that a Yale University School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, Dr. Harvey Risch, agrees that it could easily save 100,000 Americans.

Risch, who also holds a Ph.D., specializes in cancer research and has, according to Yale's website, published hundreds of scholarly articles, told Lead Stories in an August 3, 2020, email exchange that One America's video "is somewhat approximate of what I said, at the end of a Laura Ingraham episode." He appeared on the July 21 episode of "The Ingraham Angle," on which he said the preventive use of hydroxychloroquine for outpatients could save thousands of lives. He told Lead Stories:

What I did say is that if HCQ became immediately available and into use, some 50,000-100,000 lives could be saved.

Though the One America News report does not refer to it, Risch told Lead Stories he has recently written a letter accepted for publication in the American Journal of Epidemiology taking issue with research into hydroxychloroquine. In it, he criticizes the study by which hydroxychloroquine was ruled out as a treatment for COVID-19 and calls attention to other clinical studies that say hydroxychloroquine will save COVID-19 patients. He discloses in his letter that he has done consulting work for two of the 50 manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and doxycycline, but not on those drugs and not in the last two years and that he has not planned future work with those pharmaceutical companies. Such disclosures are not unusual in medical journals, as much research is underwritten by corporate sponsors.

The basis for claims that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19

Contradicting current findings of the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, Risch told Lead Stories "it is also completely possible that the medication cuts the mortality by two-thirds" although he concedes a claim like his, based on a review of someone else's clinical studies, is hard to assess.

In 150 days there would be 100,000 lives saved in this scenario. That's 5 months. There are some assumptions in this of course, but all within reasonableness. The one-half-to-two-thirds is in the range of the various studies showing positive benefit in risk reduction for hospitalization or mortality of high-risk outpatients, the people most likely to die if they are not treated.

Risch told Lead Stories he does not treat patients with COVID-19, but bases his estimates on clinical studies he has reviewed, plus his contention that the World Health Organization and FDA decisions were based on weak evidence. "The whole system was wrong, to allow fraudulent papers to be uncritically peer-reviewed and vetted by the journal editors-in-chief." Risch is Editor of the American Journal of Cancer.

FDA and WHO findings about hydroxychloroquine

In declaring hydroxychloroquine a life-saving COVID-19 drug, the One America News video narrator adds, at 2:38 on the timecode: "That means that radical leftist governors and politicians in Washington have allowed nearly 140,000 Americans to die just to prove President Trump wrong."

But, Washington-based agencies originally agreed with President Trump's position, clearing hydroxychloroquine for a rapid clinical trial to learn if it would save COVID-19 patients.

The Food and Drug Administration announced an Emergency Use Authorization on March 28, 2020, for doctors to test hydroxychloroquine from the national strategic stockpile to treat COVID-19. Based on early results of studies from multiple locations, the Food & Drug Administration on June 15 revoked that permission, saying:

...in light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of CQ and HCQ no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorized use.

The World Health Organization (WHO) led the multi-nation test. In an August 3, 2020, email exchange with Lead Stories, World Health Organization Communications Officer Carla Drysdale said WHO is confident in its findings that hydroxychloroquine does not improve survival rates for COVID-19 patients. She wrote:

Hydroxychloroquine was found to have no impact on reducing deaths in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in large, international randomized control trials including the WHO Solidarity Trial. These trials did not study the impact of hydroxychloroquine in mild patients or in preventing COVID-19. Their focus was on its impact on mortality in COVID-19 patients.

Drysdale said WHO warns patients hydroxychloroquine can have side-effects and if used for COVID-19, should only be done so with medical supervision. She said it is accepted as generally safe for patients with malaria, for which the drug was originally created.

Video recycles disproven claims about COVID-19 death tally

In addition to claiming 140,000 Americans were allowed to die preventable deaths, the video makes a somewhat contradictory claim, at 2:00 on the timecode, without offering specific states, names or numbers, that "credible evidence has proven a significant number of those deaths are due to totally unrelated causes like car accidents and have nothing to do with the virus itself."

Lead Stories has previously debunked similar false claims, including:

Lead Stories reached out via email to the One America News narrator identified as Pearson Sharp for citations, details and dates for the claims in the video. This report will be updated, as appropriate, when Sharp responds.

Lead Stories has also written several articles on various claims involving hydroxychloroquine, including:

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Dean Miller

Lead Stories Managing Editor Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy for six years, then as Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. Most recently, he wrote the twice-weekly "Save the Free Press" column for The Seattle Times. 

Read more about or contact Dean Miller

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