Fighting the pandemic, our top public health officials need the humility to learn from other countries. The constantly lauded Anthony Fauci should recognize what the national government of India, facing a major surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths had the courage to do. Considering that Americans are still suffering and dying from COVID, the US should finally do what India did. Follow the science. Make cheap, effective generic medicines available to cure and prevent COVID.
Over the past year a huge amount of real world data and accounts from frontline doctors pleading for the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin have been ignored. The whole story of how early home/outpatient treatments based on generics saves lives is told in Pandemic Blunder. In the history of medicine there has not been such a struggle to help people that has largely failed because of government resistance. With Fauci calling the shots, the US government has bet everything on much hated and mostly ineffective contagion controls, such as masking and lockdowns, and vaccines.
Never ignore the wisdom of following the money. Recently, Pfizer announced it expected 2021 sales of its COVID vaccine to reach a record-setting $26 billion, making it the biggest selling pharmaceutical product in the world. Add many billions more from the other vaccine producers. There was no financial incentive to promote wide use of the cheap generics. Look back at past months and over 580,000 American deaths and incalculable pain and suffering. As we approach 600,000 COVID deaths did the US really use the smartest pandemic management strategy?
India is a kind of mystery. Note that India has 28 states and a 1.4 billion population. Until recently India was praised for winning the battle against COVID. What was the basis for praise? There was widespread use of the two generic medicines pushed by some India states.
Also, in early 2020 the national government distributed over 100 million pills of hydroxychloroquine, promoting use for healthcare workers and household contacts of confirmed COVID cases, but not the general population.
As recently as February 2021 a headline was “Is India the new success story of coronavirus pandemic?” This was observed: “Based solely on facts, it’s safe to say that India is now emerging as a success story in fighting COVID-19, far from ‘bungling’ the pandemic response.” Also noted was that India was on track to be the second largest vaccine producer, just behind the US. It looked as if the pandemic in India was nearly over. In the preceding months there had been many reports on the successful use of ivermectin to cure and prevent COVID, as it replaced hydroxychloroquine that had previously been used successfully.
Moreover, it was reported that with sharp sales increases in 2020 5 billion pills of zinc, vitamin C and other supplements had been used as “people rushed to buy these pills to protect against the fast spreading Covid-19.” This too has happened in the US.
Less than three months later, on May 1, a headline was “India sets pandemic record with more than 400,000 new cases.” The sub-headline was “Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, says the situation is like a war.” Ignoring considerable evidence that lockdowns have more costs than benefits, Fauci as fearmonger-in-chief advised a nationwide shutdown. Like all the bad-news stories, there was no solid explanation of why India had transformed from a big success to a calamity. There was speculation about insufficient vaccinations, large gatherings and possible new variants of the COVID virus. But no attention to whether use of cheap generics was replaced by vaccine optimism.
This is the India mystery: What happened in just a few months to go from pandemic success to disaster? The answer lies in what the India government did recently.
Jerri Lynn reported on May 2 “the huge uncontrolled wave of infections hitting India is having all sorts of implications for the Modi government. In its desperation to regain control of the virus, India’s government quietly changed its treatment guidelines last week. The new guidelines include the option of prescribing two repurposed medicines for mild Covid patients: budesonide and ivermectin. The former is an inhaled steroid that has been shown to reduce the time to recovery and need for urgent medical care.”
Also noted was that “Uttar Pradesh (UP) [the largest state in the India union with 220 million people] did more than treat 300,000 mild cases at home through 2020; it also opted to use ivermectin to prevent infection. COVID response teams began taking the drug and they did not catch the illness. UP then had contacts of COVID patients take it, with similar success. “
The bad news: “Yet UP’s remarkable success at controlling the virus did not inform national policy — at least not until now. The Indian Council of Medical Research declined in October to recommend ivermectin nationwide, citing, like so many health regulators, the need for more data. But all that changed last week as India became the biggest country on the planet to adopt nationwide use of ivermectin against Covid-19.” We have enough data.
A February 2021 research study that used ivermectin for prevention in 2020 found for nearly 4,000 India health care workers it “reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection by 83% in the following month. Safe, effective, and low-cost chemoprophylaxis have relevance in the containment of pandemic alongside vaccine.” What worked for healthcare workers could work for the general population. And a new comprehensive review of data concluded that ivermectin “should be globally and systematically deployed in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.” One of the authors stressed that by using ivermectin widely “we can end this pandemic once and for all,”
Media coverage of the India surge is bleak, with no attention to the generics issue. Accounting for population, the data for cases is over seven times worse in the US, and deaths are 30 times worse (though under counting of India deaths seems likely).
The India pandemic mystery is explained by this: With a huge financial payoff looming from COVID vaccine production, some of which was exported, India ignored cheap generics and bet everything on vaccines, despite the enormous difficulty of quickly vaccinating much of the 1.4 billion population. People may have also stopped using supplements that increase immunity.
Facing reality, the central government yielded and recognized previous success of generics. If they are made easily available they could work and pandemic statistics should greatly improve.
Fauci, please learn from India. Belatedly restore medical freedom and remove the blocks to using cheap generics. Stop betting everything on experimental COVID vaccines not yet approved by the FDA that millions of Americans should not be compelled to take. Millions have effective immunity from past COVID infection and millions more are young and healthy with no significant COVID risk.