WND's Coronavirus Conspiracies: The Dubious Docs
WorldNetDaily's stable of fringe physicians -- plus a couple new ones -- serve up the usual questionable advice (about hydroxychloroquine) and fearmongering (about a possible vaccine).
By Terry Krepel
WND started its campaign, though, by bringing in a new dubious doc. An anonymously written March 24 article stated:
A physician in New York state claims he has used the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and zinc to treat 350 patients for COVID-19 with 100 percent success.
The article downplayed the fact that hydroxychloroquine had not been federally approved to treat coronavirus at the time. Further, as fact-checkers have detailed, Zelenko has offered no documentation of his claims about curing patients.
On top of that, Zelenko's claim that residents of the Kiryas Joel community was suffering a "tremendous outbreak" of coronavirus have been debunked by state health officials who called them "unsubstantiated and irresponsible," given that Zelenko was extrapolating from a small amount of tested patients.
Nevertheless, WND touted Zelenko the next day in an article by Art Moore, who gushed that the doctor was "a recent survivor of an extremely rare cancer with a "100% mortality rate" that took one of his lungs" and that he has now been able to "successfully treat at least 500 patients with the coronavirus" and that "he hasn't slept in the past four days." Kovacs does not offer any documentation of anything Zelenko has done.
That was followed by a March 30 column by one of WND's favorite dubious docs, Elizabeth Lee Vliet -- who's affiliated with the fringe-right Association of American Physicians and Surgeons -- who cited how Zelenko "has been successfully using the combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, zinc and vitamin C to treat almost 700 patients in the outpatient setting" -- again, no documentation given -- as an excuse to attack politicians who "have no background in infectious disease, medicine, research design, or epidemiology" and "presume to dictate to front-line physicians who are reading the emerging research and caring for patients."
Similarly, a March 31 WND column by Andy Schlafly touted how Zelenko "has treated 699 coronavirus patients with a treatment regimen using the same hydroxychloroquine tweeted by Trump. By giving this inexpensive medication early enough, Dr. Zelenko has successfully kept 695 of his patients out of the hospital, and none of them has died." He too was apparently not troubled by Zelenko's complete lack of documentation of his claims, but was apparently more concerned in using Zelenko as alleged proof that "Trump was right" to push hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment.
Promoting treatments that aren't clinically proven and 100% safe and effective is highly irresponsible -- but it's par for the course for WND, where a sensational story is more important than the facts.
WND ultimately lost interest in Zelenko even though, as it turns out, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn was intervening on Zelenko's behalf to try and obtain large quantities of hydroxychloroquine and other drugs for a more formal trial of his regimen -- highly unusual for the head of a federal agency to do, though in line with Trump's own support of the drug. Zelenko has since departed Kiryas Joel.
Hydroxychloroquine obsession continues
In an April 6 column, Vliet touted how "A recent poll of more than 6,000 doctors from 30 countries found that 37% rated hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as the best treatment for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)." But that poll doesn't really mean much, given that medicine should be conducted on the basis of research rather than popularity. She then complained about the need for having to do pesky rigorous research on hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness before prescribing it to coronavirus patients:
When World Health Organization and U.S. experts say there is "no evidence that any medicine can prevent or cure" COVID-19, they correctly mean We don't yet have a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind clinical trial (RCT). But designing, setting up, conducting and analyzing any RCT takes years. And that is only one form of evidence in medicine. Case studies (pejoratively called "anecdotes") and decades of safe use worldwide provide other valid sources of clinical outcomes evidence, which have guided physicians for more than 2,000 years.
Did anyone really need double-blind trials to prove that smoking caused cancer? Besides, there's a difference between research on whether something causes a medical condition and researching whether a medication can treat a condition.
On April 8, WND granted a column to W. Scott Magill, a retired gynecologist who is the head of something called Veterans in Defense of Liberty -- about which the Better Business Bureau raised concerns after 94 percent of the money it raised in a two-year period went to the fund-raiser -- in which he outlined a three-point plan to fight coronavirus, the first of which was, of course, prescribing hydroxychloroquine along with azithromycin, which he declared a "silver bullet." He then went on a rant similar to Vliet:
In an ideal world, perhaps the one Dr. [Anthony] Fauci envisions, we would have controlled double-blind studies on hydroxychloroquine. Of course, we are now a world in crisis, a situation that demands we rely on the growing evidence we have of its efficacy and that requires action to counter the left and their complicit "Tokyo Rose" media, who have have waged a war of words to preclude using the silver bullet we have, claiming it is not the weapon we wished for a deadly deception for political gain.
That was followed the next day by another AAPS-affiliated doctor, Marilyn Singleton, who followed the template by recommending hydroxychloroquine, but she mostly stayed away from medical issues by ranting about the alleged motives of people continuing to advocate social distancing:
Ending the lockdown is not about Wall Street or disregard for people's lives; it about saving lives. Advanced stages of non-COVID diseases, suicides, domestic violence, increase in substance abuse and mental health disorders, permanent poverty and dissolution of the middle class are unacceptable. Our society must not be fractured into those who live in gated communities and those who live in the streets, trailer parks and decaying homes they can no longer afford to keep up.
It wouldn't be WND if it wasn't giving a platform to medical misinformer Jane Orient, the head of AAPS, and it doesn't disappoint in an April 14 article quoting her attacks on government officials allegedly interfering with the work of physicians. She complained that officials were restricting "off-label use" of drugs to treat coronavirus -- a clear reference to hydroxychloroquine -- declaring that "If off-label use were not possible, you’d have to throw one-fifth of your prescriptions away." Orient was allowed to go conspiratorial as well:
"Who benefits from the crisis?" she asked.
That's the kind of conspiratorial ranting we've come to expect from both Orient and WND.
More obsession, more conspiracies
In an April 29 column, Vliet touted how chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been "FDA-approved for safety and effectiveness in 1934 and 1955, respectively," though not for coronavirus. She went conspiratorial (and randomly italic) pretty quickly:
So, CDC has said CQ and HCQ are safe and well tolerated for years to prevent and treat malaria. FDA later approved HCQ for treating lupus and RA, with millions taking much higher doses over decades, not days.
On May 7, Vliet attacked a competing drug that has shown promise against coronavirus, remdesivir, for having been quickly given emergency use authorization by the FDA, declaring that "such rapid authorization is quite unusual with the FDA." Again, Vliet went conspiratorial, attacking remdesivir's maker, Gilead Sciences:
Is someone stacking the deck in Gilead's favor? Nine of the experts on the NIH COVID-19 Panel recommending treatment options have disclosed financial support from Gilead. Why did these nine experts not recuse themselves? Did financial conflicts of interest affect the recommendation against HCQ, the older, safer, cheaper medicine, and for use of remdesivir, the new, expensive experimental medicine, based on weak, not-yet-peer-reviewed evidence?
Vliet spent her May 20 column having a fit that an "FDA bureaucrat," Rick Bright, had tried to delay broad use of hydroxychloroquine against coronavirus due to lack of scientific evidence that it worked. And then it was quickly rant time:
Rick Bright's dictatorial decree limits the use of chloroquine (CQ) and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) from the National Strategic Stockpile in COVID-19 to hospitalized patients only. States are using Bright's fiat to impose broad restrictions limiting the drugs' availability for physicians to use for outpatients to help them recover without hospitalization.
Orient, meanwhile, turned her attention to trying to undermine the efficacy and safety of a possible coronavirus vaccine. She complained in a May 7 column: "What to do now? Let the collapse continue until "we have a vaccine"? Does that mean "until (unless?) everybody is vaccinated with a safe and effective vaccine"? There is NO vaccine for most viruses. The influenza vaccine may be only 30% effective, and many serious side effects are reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)."
In a May 18 column, Orient freaked out over President Trump's "Operation Warp Speed" to quickly develop a vaccine and, as befits the AAPS executive director, went conspiratorial:
One reason for hurry is that the epidemic might be gone later, and the vaccinators couldn't take the credit. We have no vaccine for the "Spanish" flu of 1918, the "Asian" flu of 1958, or the "Hong Kong" flu of 1968, all of which killed far more than the current pandemic, and all of which went away. A speedy vaccine, which was developed for the predicted 1976 mass extinction/swine flu pandemic that never was,resulted in deaths and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Of course, we have vaccines now, through which all much larger swathes of humanity are able to survive pestilence.
WND also gave more space to Magill to opine about coronavirus despite the fat that he, again, is a retired gynecologist and has no known training in virology. In his May 5 column, he ranted about Fauci -- unlike Magill, an actual expert on infectious diseases -- asserting that "Fauci, in his role as longtime federal immunology bureaucrat, paid $3.7 million to the Wuhan laboratory for coronavirus development after the U.S. declared a moratorium on such funding." That's a lie; the money -- which was renewed by the Trump administration last year -- was granted to a research group called the EcoHealth Alliance, which was doing research on coronaviruses in bats and working with, among others, the Wuhan Institute of Virology; the institute received only $600,000 since 2014 for its role.
Magill went on to assert that Fauci "and his pharmaceutical partners stand to make huge profits from any expensive COVID-19 vaccine developed later, while they earn nothing from cheap hydroxychloroquine cure available right now." Again, not true.
Lies and conspiracy theories? That's our WND! And it's also the reason, David Kupelian, why WND continues to get tagged as "harmful misinformation" on social media.