Fact Check: NO 'Massive International Study' Shows Countries with Early HCQ Use Had 79% Lower Mortality Rate

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: NO 'Massive International Study' Shows Countries with Early HCQ Use Had 79% Lower Mortality Rate Cherry-picking

Did a "massive international study" show a much lower COVID-19 mortality rate in countries where hydroxychloroquine was prescribed to patients? No, that's not true: The "C19study" is not a massive international study. It is an anonymous collection of words and graphics referring to other scientific papers, but does not itself qualify as a scientific paper or study: No medical expert has taken responsibility by putting their name on the contents; no data source is given for the information conveyed by the graphic chart in the study; the written material in the "C19study" misstates the results of at least two real scientific studies it lists as proof of its claims.

The claim appears in an article published by Gateway Pundit on August 6, 2020, titled "JAIL FAUCI" (archived here) which opened:

Massive International Study Shows Countries with Early HCQ Use Had 79% Lower Mortality Rate -- THIS IS HUGE! We Are Talking Over 100,000 American Lives! THIS IS HUGE! PLEASE PASS THIS ON TO ALL OF YOUR LOVED ONES!

This is what the post looked like on Gateway Pundit at the time of writing:

2020-09-02 (5).png

(Source: Screenshot taken by Lead Stories on Wed Sept 2 12:17 2020 UTC)

The Gateway Pundit item continues:

The latest international testing of hydroxychloroquine treatment of coronavirus shows countries that had early use of the drug had a 79% lower mortality rate than countries that banned the use of the safe malaria drug.

This means that Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, the CDC, the liberal fake news media and the tech giants have been pushing a lie that has had deadly consequences!

America has lost (reportedly) over 150,000 lives. And that could have been lowered by nearly 80% if HCQ use would have been promoted in the US!

Long used as an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine is controversial because after President Donald Trump declared it an excellent anti-COVID-19 drug, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned doctors not to administer it to COVID-19 patients. Early in the pandemic, the FDA had issued permission in the form of an "Emergency Use Authorization" but on June 15, 2020, revoked it, saying early research showed the risks outweighed the benefits. Allies of the president, like Gateway Pundit, have attacked the FDA, saying it took away the drug to hurt the president politically.

'C19study' is not a medical or scientific study

The "C19study" has not been published in a medical journal or publicly reviewed by virologists or infectious disease experts. It only appears on a website and Twitter feed "CovidAnalysis" that provides no information about the website and Twitter feed's owners or its operators.

While the "C19study" is a written item, it does not conform to the international standards of "peer review." That is the process by which new knowledge is validated when scientists submit their findings for public review by fellow professionals. Their examination can range from careful checking of calculations to independent replication of the researcher's methods to see if the same results are derived.

'C19study' mis-states the findings of studies it claims as proof

In addition to casting itself as a scientific paper, the "C19study" misrepresents the findings of peer-reviewed real science journal articles about hydroxychloroquine.

In a Sept. 7, 2020 email to Lead Stories, the author of a study about COVID-19 impacts on patients suffering autoimmune diseases strongly disputes the "c19study" author's declaration the paper can be listed in the "positive" column of a list of papers proving hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness. Clodoveo Ferri of the School of Medicine, University of Modena (Italy), lead author of a paper published online Aug. 27, 2020 in "Clinical Rheumatology," said his group's work does not prove anything about hydroxychloroquine's effect on COVID-19 patients:

The main purpose of this article was the evaluation of the prevalence of Covid-19 in Italian patients suffering from systemic autoimmune diseases. With regards to the ongoing therapies followed by these patients we referred to the whole group of drugs termed 'conventional synthetic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, csDMARD' (see Results paragraph and Table 3), including chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, methotrexate, leflunomide, sulfasalazine, and cyclosporin,not specifically to a single drug such as hydroxychloroquine.

One of the medical researchers misquoted in the "c19study.com" website says "COVIDAnalysis" is a misinformation operation. Prof. David Boulware, M.D., Ph.D. of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in a September 2, 2020, email to Lead Stories that the anonymous "C19study" author misstates the findings of the peer-reviewed paper Boulware co-authored about hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness after patients were exposed to COVID-19:

Their analysis is 100% incorrect to a ridiculous degree. They are free to try to publish their analysis in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. That it is not published, suggests either their objective is not to sway physicians or it keeps getting rejected.

I imagine these are a mix of: Russian internet trolls, conservative operatives, and/or Indian pharmaceutical companies -really wanting the FDA EUA (Emergency Use Authorization), so they can sell Hydroxychloroquine.

Boulware has posted on Twitter, cautioning followers of his feed (mostly medical colleagues and students) about the C19 website's "study."

His tweet was then republished on the "@CovidAnalysis" Twitter feed, which used Boulware's tweet to repeat the claim he de-bunked:

In another instance, the writer of the "C19study" material declares the authors of a scientific paper don't know their findings as well as he or she does, contradicting their published conclusion. The "C19study" in notes about that study concedes the authors of "Effect of hydroxychloroquine with or without azithromycin on the mortality of COVID-19 patients" stated in their conclusion that "HCQ alone is not effective," but the "C19study" writer says he or she knows their project's results better than they do and declares the paper supports the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

Lead Stories has reached out to the authors of other science journal articles cited in the "C19study" writings to ask if their work supports "C19study" declarations that limits on hydroxychloroquine have cost more than 100,000 lives.

This Lead Stories report will be updated, if appropriate, when those British, Italian, Spanish and French authors reply.

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes thegatewaypundit.com as:

A partisan conservative website that regularly publishes hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated claims, including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to NewsGuard the site does not maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability. Read their full assessment here.

NewsGuard also investigated the C19Study website and found:

The COVIDAnalysis network, which includes C19Study.com, C19HCQ.com, and HCQTrial.com, does not disclose its ownership on the sites and would not disclose it to NewsGuard, nor could NewsGuard independently determine who owns the network. Thus, there is no way to know if the sites -- which are not financed by advertising or subscriptions -- are financed by those with a financial or political interest related to the promotion of hydroxychloroquine.

Read NewsGuard's full assessment of the COVIDAnalysis network at this link.

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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 staff writer 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 one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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