The rapidity with which normal life has ground to a halt as a result of coronavirus-related edicts has stunned citizens around the world, generating massive social and economic upheaval. Meanwhile, media coverage of COVID-19 has whipped up unprecedented levels of public anxiety and fear, laying the psychological groundwork for people to eagerly embrace “magic bullet” medical solutions, no matter how experimental. In the U.S., the World Health Organization (WHO) is now compounding the domestic panic, warning that America could become the new coronavirus “epicenter.”
Across the country, a debate is raging about the nation’s medical response and how best to apportion available resources. Many argue, quite reasonably, for the importance of identifying safe, effective and affordable therapies that can provide immediate help to those who are sick. On March 22, The New York Times reported that there are at least 69 existing drugs or compounds that might be effective in treating the coronavirus. In China, researchers are studying intravenous vitamin C as a potential nontoxic treatment, while a paper published by French researchers on March 20 described promising COVID-19 results from the off-label use of hydroxychloroquine (an antimalarial) and azithromycin (an antibiotic).
The head of the French team, Didier Raoult, MD, PhD, is one of the world’s top infectious disease and virology experts, with roughly 2,000 peer-reviewed publications and multiple awards to his name. Raoult and coauthors point out that a major advantage of “repositioning” older drugs for this coronavirus is that their safety profile, side effects, dosing and drug interactions are already well documented. However, Ian Lipkin, MD, of Columbia University recently told MSNBC, with a grin, that investments tend to go toward treatments that are “sexy and new and patentable” rather than to “tried-and-true, classical sort of methods repurposing drugs and strategies that have already been shown to work.”
Fauci’s tired rhetoric
For biopharma companies that are poised to profit from COVID-19-related misfortune, older drugs that have outlived their patent terms are not terribly helpful for the bottom line. Could this be why leading White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, long-time head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), recently pooh-poohed the published chloroquine evidence as merely “anecdotal”? Fauci is a stalwart enthusiast of “patentable” vaccines, skilled in attracting massive government funding for vaccines that either never materialize or are spectacularly ineffective or unsafe.
For example, Fauci once shilled for the fast-tracked H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”) vaccine on YouTube, reassuring viewers in 2009 that serious adverse events were “very, very, very rare.” Shortly thereafter, the vaccine went on to wreak havoc in multiple countries, increasing miscarriage risks in pregnant women in the U.S., provoking a spike in adolescent narcolepsy in Scandinavia and causing febrile convulsions in one in every 110 vaccinated children in Australia—prompting the latter to suspend its influenza vaccination program in under-fives.
In 2010, then-Senator and physician Tom Coburn, MD, called out Fauci for misleadingly touting “significant progress in HIV vaccine research.” Coburn stated , “The study [Fauci] referred to was a clinical trial in Thailand finding a vaccine to be 31% effective at preventing HIV infection. Unfortunately, the results of this study have been found to be statistically insignificant and the findings of the study have received much skepticism. [. . .] Most scientists involved in AIDS research believe that an HIV vaccine is further away than ever . . . and may never be possible. . . .” Senator Coburn also noted that Fauci’s agency had spent over $5.2 million over a four-year period on lavish “HIV vaccine awareness” events.
Without the least hint of embarrassment, however, Fauci reappeared on YouTube in 2016 to once again push his HIV vaccine agenda, even citing the unimpressive Thailand trial. Fauci’s mobilization of billions for a never-completed Zika vaccine followed a similar playbook. And now, Fauci is predictably shining a spotlight on risky and uncertain coronavirus vaccines that may not be available for two years, rather than prioritizing the short-term therapies that patients need right now….