A quick note, I posted an update yesterday, but I accidentally only sent it to one person, so for the weekly update, check your feed for yesterday morning, or check my timeline.
Many people have asked me about a video that was posted yesterday by a group called “America’s Frontline Doctors”. The original video has since been removed from Facebook, YouTube and the group’s website has even been dropped by the host, Squarespace. All this to say, you may have a hard time watching it if you want to. I found a different version.
As I’ve said before, politics and science should never go together. Whenever a scientific issue becomes political, it becomes very difficult for free scientific inquiry to move forward, and nearly impossible for non-scientists to figure out what the truth is. So I’m sorry to those of you who are confused and are trying to pursue the truth. The video was put together by the Tea Party Patriots and Breitbart News, 2 right leaning organizations. This is a red flag for me because I know that the message will have a political angle, and that I’ll need to watch with extra care. As I said in my July 14th post, however, just because you disagree with someone in general doesn’t mean they have nothing good to contribute to the discussion. Especially with politically charged issues, we need to get information from a variety of sources in order to be as informed as we can. I know for many of us, it’s nearly impossible to have time for that, so we often just pick someone we trust to get our information from. I definitely have political opinions, but whenever a scientific issue comes up, I do my best to set those aside and look at the evidence. I hope this has been valuable to you. You may have noticed that some of my thoughts about the Coronavirus have been “left-wing” and others have been “right-wing.” I’m doing my best to be objective. And yes, I consider it a tragedy that opinions on scientific issues can be categorized as either left or right.
I want to discuss some of the main points of the video and offer my informed but not expert opinion. I am a Ph.D. molecular biologist specializing in infectious disease testing. I am not a physician or an epidemiologist. I will give my opinion and also why I think that way.
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ): The video focuses to a great degree on HCQ as a potential “cure” for the Coronavirus. As soon as President Trump mentioned it as being potentially helpful for treating Coronavirus, it became a subject of immediate and hot controversy. Democrats seemed to reflexively dismiss HCQ, and Republicans seemed to reflexively support it. President Trump dug in his heels and seemed to support its use before all the evidence was in. Obviously, this is not how science should be done. Careful and well-reasoned studies should be done, and conclusions made based on evidence. Early studies seemed to support both conclusions. Opponents claim that HCQ doesn’t work and is even harmful to patients, causing heart problems in some. Supporters claim that HCQ works when given early in the disease, and with Zinc and perhaps azithromycin.
Dr. Immanuel made an impassioned case for the use of HCQ, having successfully used it to treat over 300 patients. This kind of evidence is what scientists call “anecdotal”. Anecdotal evidence, basically stories, is often not considered scientific because in a large pool of people, you can find stories supporting all kinds of claims. Anecdotal evidence also usually does not carefully consider other factors that may contribute to a conclusion. An example would be “I ate ice cream and then I got attacked by a shark, so eating ice cream leads to shark attacks.” This is obviously a silly example, but many pieces of anecdotal evidence you hear suffer from the same lack of critical thinking. However, this is not at all to say that anecdotal evidence is not useful! These kinds of stories may not be scientific per se, but can often trigger more rigorous studies that prove the claims of a story.
Several scientists I’ve heard from will point out that HCQ is useful when given early and given in combination with Zinc, and also in appropriate dosages. I actually agree that some of the studies arguing against HCQ use have given it too late or in inappropriately high dosages. I would like more rigorous studies to be done, however at the moment, I think HCQ is well worth consideration by the medical community. Other treatments also exist and may actually be better, such as the MATH+ protocol I described in my summary post on June 22nd, Dexamethasone, Remdesivir, and perhaps Budesonide. For the HCQ protocol, it appears that Zinc is actually most responsible for anti-viral activity, with HCQ mostly helping Zinc enter cells to interact with the virus.
Some have pointed out that Dr. Immanuel has some beliefs that are well outside accepted scientific views. As I pointed out before, even folks who you generally disagree with can bring helpful information to the table. Her HCQ experience may be true despite her unorthodox beliefs. So even if you justifiably don’t consider a person reliable, you should resist the urge to dismiss them outright.
Lastly on the issue of HCQ, physicians have the right to use drugs “off-label” meaning they are granted by their medical degree the right to try medications in ways that are not necessarily supported by the literature or guidelines. This right is granted in the interest of patients, because careful studies can take a prohibitively long time to be published, and to encourage the development of helpful new protocols. In my opinion, government agencies should not be restricting the use of HCQ by doctors at this time.
School reopening: In some ways, there is reason to re-open schools in the Fall. It appears to be true that children under 10 do not get infected at high rates, do not carry a high viral load when infected, do not get severe disease, and do not seem to spread virus to others. So there is a case to be made for reopening schools for young children. However, because of the ADE issue I’ve written about before, I am not currently in support of re-opening schools in the Fall. Just to recap, ADE (Antibody Dependent Enhancement) is the phenomena in which some viruses can use antibodies presented on immune cells to infect those cells and cause more severe disease. So a second infection with a similar strain can lead to much worse symptoms. SARS-1 and MERS, cousins of SARS-2, can both use this pathway, so with current evidence, it seems likely that SARS-2 will as well. But we won’t know for sure until another SARS strain develops and we see how people respond to it. I will point out in full disclosure, that almost no-one is talking publicly about ADE. Dr. Fauci has mentioned it, but just in passing. So I could be out to lunch about this, but it is a major concern of mine. I have had a few epidemiologists mention in private conversations that they think ADE is a real issue, but they aren’t comfortable talking publicly about it either.
Sweden and Herd Immunity: Dr. Dan Erickson, who made a video back in April, also spoke. I was critical of his original video because his analysis of the death rate used the wrong number for total cases. This time he spoke mostly about the lock-downs, and most of his comments were more measured. He argued against lock-downs and suggested Sweden as a model.
I am also critical of lock-downs as they were done in much of the US, with people asked to stay home at all times. However, I am not supportive of the Swedish model either, in which few precautions are taken. While I am not for people staying at home, and I think people should find ways to get back to work, I also think people should wear masks while indoors in public. Small outdoor meetings are fine, even without masks, but large outdoor gatherings with closely packed people are dangerous in my opinion. Again because of the ADE issue, I am not in support of the idea of obtaining herd immunity as a way out of the crisis.
Masks: Some have taken away from the video the idea that we should not wear masks. I didn’t get this from the video. Dr. Gold explicitly said she thinks masks should be worn indoors, but not necessarily outside. I agree with this approach.
As you can see, I agree with some aspects of the video, and disagree with others. When possible, study all sides of the issues, and make the best most reasoned choices for you and your family.
My basic rules are as follows:
1) Wear a mask or face covering in public. Avoid places with unmasked people.
2) Keep 6 ft away from others.
3) Avoid indoor gatherings, especially ones in which singing or shouting is likely.
4) Small outdoor gatherings are fine, even without masks, if everyone maintains a distance. Have guests bring their own food.
5) While many restaurants are open for limited indoor seating, I personally am still not comfortable eating indoors at a restaurant. I enjoy eating outdoors at restaurants, however.
Don’t fear, but be smart!
A version of the America’s Frontline Doctors video:
NOTE: The below video was removed by YouTube a day after this blog posted.
My recent summary post.
My comments on Dr. Erickson’s original video.
Antibody Dependent Enhancement