A Senate listening to promoted unproven medication and doubtful claims concerning the coronavirus


Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, spent much of that year promoting the investigation of Hunter Biden, trying unsuccessfully to point out corruption on the part of Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Now, Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Mr Johnson is more focused on another narrative President Trump sympathizes, if not established science: that the response to the coronavirus pandemic has been exaggerated and public health officials are increasing conclusions were quickly drawn about the best ways to deal with it.

For example, on Tuesday, not for the first time, Mr Johnson awarded his committee's platform for promoting unproven drugs and dubious claims to contain the spread of the coronavirus while giving a high priority to a vaccine skeptic.

In a move that even caused most members of his own party on the committee to avoid the hearing, Mr Johnson called witnesses promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The guidelines of the National Institutes of Health recommend not using either drug to treat coronavirus patients except in clinical trials.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug that President Trump has promoted heavily but has shown disappointing results in many clinical trials. Ivermectin is used to treat parasites in humans and to prevent heartworms in dogs. Research on its effectiveness in treating the coronavirus is mixed.

Despite government warnings and the lack of substantial scientific evidence of their effectiveness, Mr. Johnson claimed that “discouraging, and in some cases banning, the research and use of drugs that have been used safely for decades has cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people her life. "

Only three other Senators on the 14-member committee attended Tuesday's session – "such a low turnout," Mr Johnson admitted at one point. Michigan Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the committee, criticized the hearing in opening speeches but left before asking questions. On the Republican side, only Senators Rand Paul from Kentucky and Josh Hawley from Missouri appeared.

For approximately two and a half hours, participants continuously questioned the public health consensus, sometimes making inaccurate and previously debunked claims.

A witness, Dr. Ramin Oskoui, a Washington cardiologist, argued that "masks don't work" and "social distancing doesn't work," citing a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study tracked virus transmission among Marine Corps recruits who were quarantined. However, two of the study's authors disproved Dr. Oskoui's interpretation. Rather, they said the study showed that non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks and social distancing cannot be used to eliminate transmission on their own.

"To me, the conclusion from our study is that masking is not effective, like the claim that car brakes are not effective at preventing accidents because accidents still occur when they are used," said Dr. Stuart C. Sealfon, Senior Study Author and Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine on Mount Sinai. "This is either an incorrect or an intentionally misleading interpretation of the study results."

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Dec. 11, 2020, 6:16 p.m. ET

Dr. Sealfon added, "Given the vast majority of evidence in the scientific literature demonstrating the benefits of wearing masks in reducing transmission of SARS-COV-2, no reasonable scientist would conclude that these measures are ineffective . They are very effective, but not foolproof. "

Throughout the hearing, Dr. Oskoui also prescribes zinc and vitamin D. He said the United States should follow Britain's lead and distribute vitamin D supplements to the elderly.

The N.I.H. Also advises against using zinc to treat the coronavirus, except in clinical trials. The UK government has offered free vitamin D to 2.5 million people to keep bones and muscles healthy, especially as more people stayed indoors. However, the National Health Service noted that “There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of coronavirus. ”

Dr. Jane M. Orient, a prominent vaccine skeptic, also questioned wearing masks, suggesting, "Perhaps instead of putting all of our masks on, we should put lids on the toilet or put Clorox in before flushing them." While there is evidence that toilet bowls can be infectious, most commonly the virus is spread through close contact with others, and masks offer some protection.

Dr. Orient also cited "192 studies compiled with hydroxychloroquine, all of which showed some benefit when used early."

This seemed like an exaggerated reference to a database of studies collected by an anonymous group. Of these studies, about 40 were classified as researchers for the use of hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment, and about two dozen of them concluded that the drug had "positive" effects.

Criticizing lockdowns as harmful to mental health, Mr Hawley cited exactly a government poll that found a quarter of young adults were seriously considering suicide in June. He then reiterated an inaccurate claim made by Mr Trump that the World Health Organization was no longer recommending lockdowns.

Mr Johnson himself praised hydroxychloroquine, claiming that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, also "spoke" about the drug. While it is true that Dr. Fauci has discussed hydroxychloroquine in the pandemic, he has warned against its use.

Towards the end of the hearing, the Senator commented on the severity of the pandemic.

"It's certainly worse than the flu, but is it so much worse to cause so much economic devastation with this heavy human toll?" Mr. Johnson asked.

This resulted in an almost instant recoil from one of his own witnesses, Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya of Stanford University School of Medicine, who told the senator, "It's worse than the flu."