Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mass.: The only way this ends is through herd immunity

It has a bad rap, but in the long run it’s our best hope

Last week Governor Charlie Baker released projections of how many Massachusetts residents were likely to contract the coronavirus. By this reckoning, Baker said, the state would experience “somewhere between 47,000 and 172,000 cases during the course of the pandemic.” This represents between 0.7 and 2.5 percent of the state’s population.

These are daunting numbers. Unfortunately, they are not nearly daunting enough. Because while there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, including exactly how many people are or have been infected, epidemiologists believe that this virus won’t begin to disappear until a far higher percentage of the population — at least 60 percent — develops immunity. If that doesn’t happen with a vaccine, it has to happen through exposure.



No, the United States Does Not Lead the World in Coronavirus Cases or Deaths

Last month, the media jumped on the news that the United States had more confirmed cases of the coronavirus than any other nation. That was bogus on two fronts. First, U.S. intelligence agencies believe that China is lying about its true numbers, and reports from inside the country tell of crematoriums working around the clock and people being paid off to keep quiet.

Second, the United States does not lead the world in coronavirus cases per capita—which is the best way to compare how the pandemic is being contained in each country. For much of the pandemic, Italy has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus, but Italy has fewer cases and deaths than the United States. The United States has nearly six times the population of Italy, and when you measure cases and deaths per capita it’s easy to see why Italy was overwhelmed and the United States is not.

Here are the top six countries by confirmed cases (based on the case numbers from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University as of 9:00 am ET April 12) in descending order (excluding China because their numbers are bogus):

USA (530,006)
Spain (166,019)
Italy (152,271)
France 130,730
Germany (125,452)
The United Kingdom (79,885)

Now, here are the top six countries by confirmed cases per million people (based on population numbers from the CIA World Fact Book) in descending order:

Spain (3319.33)
Italy (2440.14)
France (1926.80)
USA (1593.34)
Germany (1565.03)
United Kingdom (1214.78)

See? When looking at the number of confirmed cases compared to the population, the United States is not number one.

Just like with confirmed cases, when the United States’ whole number of coronavirus deaths passed 20,000, the media rushed in to say that the United States “now leads the world in deaths.” But does it really? Let’s look at the data.

Here are the total confirmed deaths of the top six hit countries in descending order.

USA (20,608)
Italy (19,468)
Spain (16,972)
France (13,851)
The United Kingdom (9,892)
Iran (4,474)

The United States has passed Italy for confirmed coronavirus deaths, that must mean we’re doing worse than they are, right? Wrong. Here are the top six countries for deaths per million people.

Spain (339.33)
Italy (311.97)
France (204.15)
The United Kingdom (150.42)
USA (61.95)
Iran (52.68)

Obviously, the media wants the public to believe that the situation in the United States is worse than anywhere else because that makes Trump look bad. Last month, when President Trump said the United States had done more coronavirus tests than South Korea, the media pounced on the claim and pointed out that the United States’ population is more than six times that of South Korea, and when you looked at testing per capita, the United States was still behind South Korea.

And through it all, the country that seems to avoid criticism from the media is China. They covered up the virus, even led the world to believe that it couldn’t be transmitted human-to-human for weeks. They’re even covering up the true extent of the spread of the disease in their country. Instead, the media chooses to push the narrative that things in the United States are worse than they really are because they hope it will result in Trump’s defeat in November. So, when the media tells you that the United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, they are wrong. The United States is a very big country, and when you measure coronavirus cases and deaths per capita, we don't "lead the world" at all.



'Some people have gone crazy': Eccentric French doctor trialing experimental coronavirus treatment championed by Trump hits back at experts who say it has fatal side effects and claims to get astonishing results

An eccentric French doctor has become a YouTube sensation and been approached by the French president for advice after he claims he has gotten astonishing results using Trump's favorite coronavirus treatment on sick patients.

Didier Raoult, a 68-year-old French infectious-disease specialist, has been using controversial antimalarial drug hydroxycholoroquine to treat COVID-19 patients.

The doctor has a history of defying conventional medicine practices, including blaming the pharmaceutical industry for the state of research, dismissing climate change predictions as 'absurd' and, more baffling still, touting the growing fears in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic 'crazy'.

But Raoult has now become an unlikely hero amid the pandemic, after he said he has given the experimental drug to more than 2,400 patients, with highly positive results.

His stance has divided opinion in France and overseas after many conservative medics warned of the dangers of using the drug to treat the virus, typically used to treat malaria and some autoimmune diseases, due to a lack of evidence over its effectiveness. 

But panicked members of the public view him as a hero in the pandemic, with his each of his YouTube videos getting at least one million views and people urging their doctors to let them try the medication.   

Raoult is not the most conventional of doctors, often sporting a long white beard and a skull ring on his finger in his online videos and being known for challenging conventional medicine throughout his career.

The doctor has spoken out on Twitter and YouTube urging healthcare professionals and governments to not delay their use of hydroxychloroquine until after clinical trials.

Trials could take several months by which point thousands more lives could be lost to the killer virus. 

'Some people have gone crazy with methodology,' Raoult argues in a video posted this week. 'Our objective as doctors is to make people better.'

Emmanuel Macron met Raoult this week at his research institute in Marseille, where the doctor presented his research on coronavirus to the French President. 

French authorities have now permitted the drug to be used in 'the most severe cases.' 

However, Raoult's approach has come under fire from many in the medical world. Several experts have argued that further clinical trials are needed to determine its effectiveness in treating coronavirus.

Concerns have also been raised that it can have fatal side effects, especially in people with pre-existing heart conditions. 

More than 50 cases have been reported where coronavirus patients have developed serious heart problems after taking hydroxychloroquine, according to a doctor at France's drug-safety monitoring center.

Raoult said that 10 of the 2,400 patients he has treated using the drug have died, and recommends it be administered at an early stage of the virus.

Jean-Paul Stahl, a French doctor of infectious diseases, told the Wall Street Journal that he was turning patients away after they have seen Raoult's campaign and are now asking for the drug. 'We have to say no,' Stahl said. 'It's a matter of patient safety.'   

The controversial drug is a favorite of Donald Trump's. During his daily coronavirus press briefings, the president has repeatedly plugged the use of hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for the deadly virus. He has even said he'd consider taking hydroxychloroquine himself.

The president announced Sunday the government has purchased and stockpiled 29 million doses of the hydroxychloroquine to send to hot spot areas of the country battling the virus.

'I want people to live and I'm seeing people dying,' he explained Sunday about why he continually touts the drug, which scientists say has not gone under enough testing in regards to the coronavirus.

Chloroquine – sold under the brand name Arlan – kills malaria parasites in the blood, stopping the tropical disease in its tracks.

But tests of the drug – which has been used for 70 years – on COVID-19 patients in China show it has potential in fighting the life-threatening virus. Chinese officials claimed the drug 'demonstrated efficacy and acceptable safety in treating COVID-19 associated pneumonia'.

South Korea and China both say the drug is an 'effective' antiviral treatment against the disease, according to a report by US virologists.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology – in the city where the crisis began – claimed the drug was 'highly effective' in petri dish tests. Tests by those researchers, as well as others, showed it has the power to stop the virus replicating in cells, and taking hold in the body.

Twenty-three clinical trials on the drug are already underway on patients in China, and one is planned in the US and another in South Korea.

Professor Robin May, an infectious disease specialist at Birmingham University, said the safety profile of the drug is 'well-established'.

He added: 'It is cheap and relatively easy to manufacture, so it would be fairly easy to accelerate into clinical trials and, if successful, eventually into treatment.'

Professor May suggested chloroquine may work by altering the acidity of the area of cells that it attacks, making it harder for the virus to replicate.

Chinese scientists investigating hydroxychloroquine penned a letter to a prestigious journal saying the 'less toxic' derivative may also help'.

'I've seen people that are going to die without it, and you know the expression, when that's happening, they should do it. What really do we have to lose? We also have this medicine's been tested for many years for malaria and for lupus, so it's been out there. It is a very strong powerful medicine, but it doesn't kill people,' the president said.

'But what do I know? I’m not a doctor,' Trump conceded.  'I'm not acting as a doctor. I'm saying, do what you want.'

The president has also argued there isn't time to conduct in-depth studies on hydroxychloroquine's effect on the coronavirus.

'I would love to go to a laboratory and spend a couple of years testing something. We don't have time. We don't have two hours because there are people dying right now,' he said.

But his claims have often contradicted his own advisers, who say studies of its effectiveness are still too small to prove it is safe.

Dr Tony Fauci has previously warned against seeing the malaria medication as a wonder drug, saying Americans should not consider it a 'knock out' drug when it comes to treating the coronavirus. 

'We’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug. We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitely prove whether any intervention is truly safe and effective,' he told 'Fox & Friends' last week.

Some doctors in the US have already started treating patients with the drug but there have been reports of at least one death connected to the medication.

Lack of availability is also sparking a worrying trend for people self-medicating with hydroxychloroquine.

Demand for a cure is ramping up as the US death toll topped 20,000.



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