PRINCIPIA SCIENTIFIC - Aug 14, 2020 -
Written by Edmund Fordham
‘THE dog did nothing in the night-time,’ said Inspector Gregory. ‘That was the curious incident,’ replies Sherlock Holmes, in Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of Silver Blaze.
Another dog that has for weeks done nothing in the night-time is the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), along with the Lancet one of the world’s most respected medical journals, or at least formerly so. It should have barked, but didn’t.
We reported in June how the Lancet damaged its own reputation by publishing highly influential fake news on treatments for Covid-19. This was the most extraordinary example of fabricated propaganda planted in a prestige scientific journal. It was retracted only after multiple governments (and the WHO) had changed policy on hydroxychloroquine, achieving major impact from falsehoods.
The NEJM was bound up with the same scandal, albeit less noticed. The same authors retracted another paper from it on the same day (June 4) as the Lancet’s fake news. The reason given was the same: the database was ‘unverifiable’. Bizarrely, this did not stop it reaching print on June 18, albeit with a retraction ‘banner’.
Amid the noise of the two retractions, and the near-simultaneous termination (June 5) of the Oxford ‘RECOVERY’ clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine, another paper slipped into the NEJM on June 3 entitled ‘A Randomized Trial of Hydroxychloroquine as Postexposure Prophylaxis for Covid-19’. Authored by Dr David Boulware (University of Minnesota) and others from Canada, the paper, taken at face value, was an attempt to establish whether hydroxychloroquine can not just treat but actually prevent Covid-19.
The terminology ‘postexposure prophylaxis’ has been described as an oxymoron, but what it means is: if I have been exposed to Covid-19 (for example if I get a message from NHS Test and Trace) can taking hydroxychloroquine reduce my chance of developing the illness? This is like treating the illness, on the assumption you have already caught it, without waiting for either symptoms or a test result.
What is usually meant by prophylaxis is slightly different: before being exposed at all, can taking hydroxychloroquine reduce my chances of catching Covid-19 if I am exposed? Some people now call this ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis’, but the qualifier shouldn’t be needed.
Either way, the idea that hydroxychloroquine might preventyou catching Covid-19, or prevent symptoms developing if you do, isn’t strange. It’s been around at least since 2005, when a paper in Virology Journal entitled Chloroquine is a potent inhibitor of SARS coronavirus infection and spread was published. The authors were talking about the original ‘SARS-1’, but the virus isn’t that different. They reported ‘inhibitory effects . . . when the cells are treated . . . either before or after exposure . . . suggesting both prophylactic and therapeutic advantage’. Sharp-eyed Americans have long pointed out that Dr Anthony Fauci, the Chris Whitty of the USA, must have known all about a paper published by the institute he headed at the time.