AP featured image
A pharmacist shows a bottle of the drug hydroxychloroquine, April 6, 2020, in Oakland, CA. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

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A few weeks ago, my RedState colleague Betsy Vaughn and I both wrote about a flawed study done by the VA on the effects of hydroxychloroquine on patients. As we both noted, the mainstream media completely botched their reports on it purely in an effort to dunk on President Trump for often touting it as a possible treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus.

To recap before we get into the latest round of the media getting a study like this all wrong, Betsy’s report on the VA study highlighted the fact that the hydroxychloroquine and hydroxychloroquine-ZPAK combo were given to patients who had already been intubated. That’s was a pretty significant point against drawing definitive conclusions about hydroxychloroquine from the VA’s study.

Not only that, but as I noted in my write-up, that study was a “retroactive” review of past cases of men who were over 65, the majority of whom were black. As a result, it didn’t really tell us anything at all about how the drug would work on people from other demographics who are under 65 and who may not be as sick as some of the patients whose cases were reviewed for that study.

So with that in mind, let’s turn to a report from CNN on a new study that just came out from the Journal of the American Medical Association. CNN’s piece began with the headline “Yet another study shows hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work against Covid-19” and it went downhill from there:

A new study — the largest of its kind — shows that hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted by President Trump, does not work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems.

[…]

“The nail has virtually been put in the coffin of hydroxychloroquine,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and longtime adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are the two paragraphs of “details” they gave about the study:

In the most recent study, researchers at the University at Albany looked at 1,438 patients with coronavirus who were admitted to 25 New York City area hospitals. After statistical adjustments, the death rate for patients taking hydroxychloroquine was similar to those who did not take the drug. The death rate for those taking hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, was also similar.

[…]

“The air seems to have gone out of the hydroxychloroquine balloon I’m afraid,” [Schaffner] said. “I’d be surprised if there were many patients and their families or doctors who would want to pursue using hydroxychloroquine.”

Then, in what clearly was a smug “told ya so” attempt at a dunk on Trump, the author then went on to detail how Trump had eagerly promoted the drug as a treatment.

This report was written by CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, with contributions from Dr. Minali Nigam and others. So you’d think with that level of expertise that they’ve have covered all the finer points and even finer print from the Journal of the American Medical Association study, right?

Wrong.

Not mentioned anywhere in the CNN piece, not a single place, is the fact that this study, too, was a “retrospective” study of past cases. It says so right there in the study itself. These types of studies are not even close to the gold standard in terms of making definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of a treatment across various demographics.

Second, let’s go back to this part from the CNN article:

In the most recent study, researchers at the University at Albany looked at 1,438 patients with coronavirus who were admitted to 25 New York City area hospitals. After statistical adjustments, the death rate for patients taking hydroxychloroquine was similar to those who did not take the drug. The death rate for those taking hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, was also similar.

Guess what CNN didn’t mention, though? In a retrospective study done on a total of 1,438 patients, the vast majority received either hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin together, or hydroxychloroquine alone. Only 221 patients in the study did not receive either drug.

So they’re comparing the death rate of the 1,217 people who received some form of either hydroxychloroquine and/or azithromycin treatment to 221 who did not receive either. That seems to me to be a flawed analysis.

But the biggest thing CNN did not mention anywhere in the piece is that this retrospective study was done on patients who were already seriously ill. Politico did a very similar report to CNN’s but did not point out the information about all the patients being “severely ill” until the last paragraph:

But [lead study researcher David] Holtgrave stressed that the study only analyzed hospitalized patients who were already severely ill. Other research still in the works is focused on mildly ill patients or whether hydroxychloroquine can be used to prevent Covid-19, though there is still no solid evidence to suggest it can.

Politico, too, couldn’t manage to get their story right. Because there is “solid evidence” to suggest it works on patients who are not seriously ill and/or do not have to be intubated, as a VA official noted last month:

From what we’ve learned from the New York City cases alone over the last two months, patients who are already seriously ill have a much higher rate of death than those who either have mild symptoms or who are somewhere in the middle between mild and severe.

It’s the role of a journalist, especially one with a specific expertise, to give readers all relevant information in their reports in order for them to draw their own conclusions. That was not done in the CNN report. Their failure to include the information noted above suggests to me that the motive behind the report was not to inform readers, but to say “hey, Trump, too bad, so sad, the treatment you promoted didn’t work.”

We can’t draw any definitive conclusions from this study, either, but we can draw a few about the so-called journalists who “reported” on it. This is just appalling.

Sister Toldjah
Based in North Carolina, Sister Toldjah is a former liberal and a 16+ year writer with an emphasis on media bias, social issues, and the culture wars.
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