A shtickle of hydroxychloroquine anyone?

Sly Stone

Hot fun in the summertime. Sly and the Family Stone, 1969. Rolling Stone said of this rock group’s ethic, “If there was anything to be happy about, then everybody’d be happy about it. If there were a lot of songs to sing, then everybody got to sing. If we have something to suffer or a cross to bear–we bear it together.” Sly and his family rocked and we along with them, “Them summer days. Those summer days. That’s when I had most of my fun back.” Eh, this year, not so much.

Didier Raoult

Take yesterday as a case in point. A newly formed group in white coats calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” want to wrest us from the perilizing fears that have infiltrated our COVID summer. Thus they stood before the Supreme Court to re-introduce and advocate the use of the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) touted by French physician and epidemiologist Didier Raoult, to stop coronavirus in its tracks.

I watched the Frontline Doctors video embedded in a friend’s post on Facebook. The video was housed on the right-of-center Breitbart News, which is likely why it’s reputation got off to a rocky start with the left. Me? I found the video compelling. By evening I noticed that a young pediatrician friend and a professor friend had each debunked the video along with a chorus of followers: the doctors were not real doctors because they weren’t wearing masks (They were out of doors, socially distanced, but no matter), and they were not in fact affiliated with any medical establishments. They had no credentials. No evidence. To be fair, the doctors were presenting the evidence of their results with HCQ in their own practices. Yet their practices were dismissed as anecdotal, insignificant, and quasi-medical.

Social media critics were questioning the doctors’ credibility without offering any sources or evidence themselves. Maybe no one cares that people dismiss doctors’ claims about coronavirus based on their experience in treating it. Maybe that sounds unreasonable. “No one had ever heard of [these doctors].” OK, but now you have; who are they? Do doctors have a right and responsibility to report their experience with a virus they have faced daily over several months? Let’s find out. While the doctors claimed that HCQ could cure COVID in its early stages, the critics said “There is no known cure for COVID.” In the world of debate we call this an appeal to ignorance: As the fallacy goes, because we don’t know something to be true, it cannot be true. We have no evidence that HCQ works, even while doctors are presenting their evidence.

At my first Facebook login of the day today, I learn that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram wasted no time in censoring the Frontline Doctors’ video. So, the doctors came back for a second round on their Supreme Court platform. They tell us that their website, too, has been taken down by its host, SquareSpace. End of controversy? Not exactly. In their second go, the doctors begin by stating credentials up front. They hail from a slew of states, hospital emergency rooms, pediatrics and family practices, all board certified. Their message: hydroxychloroquine works. It’s a form of quinine, used in this country at least since the time of George Washington.

One of the Frontline doctors, Dr. Stella Immanuel, is a Black woman from Cameroon. According her own words in the Frontline press conference, she went to medical school in Nigeria and experienced in Africa the effectiveness of HCQ and other quinine derivatives for treating illnesses. She emigrated to the United States and certified in pediatrics in Texas. She more than all the Frontline group has been ridiculed on social media and in the press. The fact that she happened also to be Christian, a minister in a church, and experienced in demonology didn’t help her cause. Madonna was quick to claim Dr. Immanuel as her new hero. (It was Madonna’s Insta account that was messed with.)

Dr. Stella Immanuel
Madonna

The Guardian labeled the Frontline Doctors’ position a coronavirus conspiracy theory. The Washington Post’s Politifact pronounced it simply false. CNN addresses the Frontliners’ claims as both false and dubious because “The claims run contrary to multiple studies on the anti-malarial drug and advice from public health officials to prevent spread of the virus.” The BBC asks why the Frontline video has been repudiated. They conclude “The debate has been increasingly dividing Americans along political lines, with proponents of hydroxychloroquine pointing to President Trump’s support of it while accusing critics of covering up its potential effectiveness.” That’s pretty close to the heart of the matter.

I hear that in France now there are Raoult hospitals and non-Raoult hospitals, reflecting the political hot potato of a potential (or faux, depending on your persuasion) coronavirus cure. So much for all for one and one for all in France or the US or perhaps around the globe. Why is that? Is science fixed, immutable? Do political affiliations certify a medical treatment’s validity or riskiness? We continue to mask, distance, and sanitize. No fun in the summertime.