From the Viewsroom

Half-knowledge, a dangerous pill

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on May 25, 2020

Taking hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid is a case in point

They are not popular characters in the latest serial streaming on the internet and yet these tongue-twisters have virtually become household names. Hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, favipiravir, etc., are being bandied around with such ease that a doctor could feel intimidated! But there-in hangs a scary tale. Half-knowledge is a dangerous thing and could be a killer in medicine. Take hydroxychloroquine, now seen in some quarters as a villain that’s of no use to treat patients with Covid-19 and worse, could even cause death. This, even as US President Donald Trump, the person who single-handedly put the drug in a charmed orbit by mentioning it in the first place, claims to have consumed it.

But away from television studios, doctors had always said the drug’s Covid benefits needed to be evaluated from large human studies. They red-flagged the impact on the heart and cautioned against self-prescription. Nevertheless, people bought the drug indiscriminately on incremental scientific information made public by people with differing intentions. Now, the adverse heart effects of hydroxychloroquine is being publicised and scaring away people it was originally meant for, those with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Experimental antiviral remdesivir also saw over-the-top headlines on positive outcomes, without a caveat that they were slim pickings as of now. Then came the “runaway success” of a Covid vaccine-probable from Oxford, only to be hit by a setback and overshadowed by the apparent “success” of another vaccine candidate in the US, from Moderna. While scientists temper their responses with caution, the company’s stock jumped 20 per cent and so did people’s emotions, without understanding we don’t have a cure, yet.

Irrational responses spark the question: Should scientific information be released on a “need to know” basis. Preferably after peer review and when a regulatory authority gives the product an approval? Otherwise, science runs the risk of becoming a spectator sport, with non-scientific opinions that could have adverse effects.

Published on May 25, 2020

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