Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine abruptly reversed course on Thursday, requesting that the Ohio Pharmacy Board halt a rule set to go into effect today that would have essentially banned the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Ohio.
The request came just two days after a discredited pair of “doctors,” embraced and promoted by fringe right-wing groups such as the Tea Party Patriots and the Save Our Country Coalition, met with Vice President Mike Pence to urge him to lend his approval to the drug’s usage, touted in a controversial viral video in which they and others lauded the curative effects of hydroxychloroquine, the drawbacks of mask usage, and the purported ineffectiveness of masks in slowing transmission of the virus, as well as the adverse mental health impacts of lockdowns and social distancing—all in furtherance of their backers’ push to reopen businesses.
As reported by CNN:
The video, which was shared by President Donald Trump before being removed, featured members of the group America's Frontline Doctors [AFD] standing on the steps of the Supreme Court claiming that masks aren't necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus and promoting hydroxychloroquine as a cure. Both claims are contradicted by scientific studies.
Two members of AFD, Simone Gold and James Todaro, met with Pence on Tuesday after their video was taken down by both Facebook and Twitter for peddling false and potentially dangerous information. On Thursday Todaro tweeted the following, indicating that he believes Gov. DeWine’s action directly resulted from Todaro’s and Gold’s meeting with Pence:
Todaro’s “Medical Doctor” designation is somewhat misleading, and his direct experience with treating COVID-19 patients is apparently nonexistent. According to an investigation by Medpage Today, Todaro is actually an ophthalmologist who hasn’t practiced in years.
Todaro, an ophthalmologist based in Michigan who is no longer practicing, graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2014. His medical license, which was classified as "educational limited" in Michigan, expired in 2019.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Todaro has not practiced medicine since 2018. He co-founded an investment fund called Blockchain Capital.
Gold’s qualifications, according to Medpage Today, are somewhat murky at best: She has a medical degree and claims to be a “board-certified emergency physician in the Los Angeles area.” She is a frequent contributor to Fox News and other right-wing media, where, according to Medpage Today, “she advocates for HCQ as a treatment for COVID-19 and fast economic reopening.”
As noted above, Pence met with these individuals after their video—which has been viewed millions of times and is particularly popular with right-wing and anti-vaccine groups—was debunked and pulled by both Facebook and Twitter because the misinformation conveyed in it was dangerous and potentially deadly.
Of course, the primary driver of the push for hydroxychloroquine treatment has been Donald Trump himself, who mentioned it favorably during his first round of ill-fated press conferences, convincing many Americans that it would provide a swift solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refuted Trump’s claims, and in fact has issued a strong caution against the use of hydroxychloroquine in non-hospital settings to treat COVID-19 patients because of the drug’s potential to cause “serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure,“ along with its lack of efficacy as a viable treatment for COVID-19.
A key point in linking DeWine’s action to the meeting between Pence, Gold, and Todaro is the language Todaro uses in his tweet: “It looks like he got the message.” The “message” groups like Todaro are promoting is that the use of hydroxychloroquine should be an issue “between the doctor and the patient.” The current head of the FDA is Trump appointee Steven Hahn; on Thursday, Hahn was asked about the use of hydroxychloroquine on NBC’s Today Show. His language in response suggests that the “message” about the use of this drug is now being carefully massaged by the Trump administration in accordance with these quack “doctor” groups.
DeWine said in a statement earlier Thursday that he agreed with FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn that the decision about the prescription should be between a doctor and patient.
On Thursday, NBC’s the “Today” show asked Hahn, who leads the FDA, whether people should take hydroxychloroquine for COVID.
“The question you’re asking me is a decision between a doctor and a patient,” he said.
It is no coincidence that this is the exact language Todaro uses in his tweet praising DeWine’s action. Implicit in this framing is that the consensus of the scientific community deserves less credence than the doctor-patient relationship.
But when a patient receives disinformation of the type peddled by Gold, Todaro, and their ilk, and insists that their doctor follow the group’s guidance on the administration of a potentially life-threatening drug, they are unable to meaningfully participate in that relationship. Much like patients are cajoled by television advertisements to “ask their doctor” for various prescription drugs, what Trump, Pence, and Todaro’s group is pushing here is an imperative that many genuine physicians will be unable or unwilling to refuse, particularly if the patient can cite their own governor’s vacillating orders, not to mention the president of the United States. In effect, both doctors and their patients are simply acting as unwitting tools of the Republican-inspired ideology cloaked in soothing medical quackery.
As a result of this deliberate abandonment of sound science and medicine by the Trump administration, Republican governors politically beholden to Trump have proven themselves throughout this pandemic to be willing to risk their citizens’ lives and health to accommodate Trump’s ideological fantasies.
How many people will ultimately die because of this reckless, bizarre fealty to Trump has yet to be seen. But it seems likely that many of them will be from Ohio.