Peter McCullough, M.D., M.P.H.. is an internist, cardiologist, and epidemiologist at Baylor University Medical Center who has been leading the charge on early, at-home treatment for COVID-19. McCullough was one of 10 physicians who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the issue and discussed with Health Care News why the nation’s existing approach to caring for COVID-19 has been misguided. McCullough says his views are his own and not necessarily those of his institutions.
Health Care News: What does the Biden Administration need to know to stop the virus?
McCullough: As a doctor, I’ve never seen such an event as this come sweeping through in a sense or our current medical history. The United States is leading the world in test-positive cases and deaths per million population. And it just seems from the beginning, on virtually every aspect of pandemic control, we have made gross errors. And we don’t seem to be learning at all from other countries around us.
To my knowledge, in neither the Trump nor Biden Administration’s task force, there’s not a single individual who has any experience in treating outpatient COVID-19.
Health Care News: Has there been any response to the five hours of testimony on Capitol Hill on early Covid-19 treatment?
McCullough: We have had now nearly a year of constant media attention to this problem and the protocol goes something like the following. There’ll be an update on the coronavirus. There’ll be mention of some bad statistics, more cases, more hospitalization, and more deaths. And then there’ll be a media expert. And that media expert will immediately pivot and then blame the victim and make some comment regarding social distancing or not wearing masks, not following various lockdown ordinances. There’s never any mention of treatment. There’s never any mention of what to do when given a test positive result. It’s almost as if these bad events fall out of the sky.
It’s stunning because in any other medical condition, heart attack, breast cancer, pneumonia, you name it, we have detailed information sheets on what to do in terms of early treatment. In COVID-19, shockingly, a year into this, we have no information available for the public. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WS), who was the majority chairman of the Senate Committee for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at the end of last year, held two hearings to break the information to the public on the treatment of COVID-19 (November 19 and December 8). I was one of the lead presenters. We had world-renowned experts summarizing the information on early COVID treatment with a goal of getting this information to the public, and there was a complete block of major media.
Health Care News: Are there any physicians using the existing drugs you’ve discussed, like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID?
McCullough: The doctors who have voluntarily taken on outpatient COVID are very much heroes. They’ve risked their clinics. They’ve risked their lives. They’ve become incredibly busy with so many sick patients with COVID. The vast majority of doctors say they don’t treat COVID. They don’t treat COVID. And that’s a very short conversation. There’s no advice. They literally just sit at home, wait until they get sick enough and go to the hospital, get put in isolation, and either die in the hospital or have a prolonged stay, with all kinds of various procedures and complications. And it is absolutely terrifying.
The detractors have come up with innumerable reasons not to treat COVID early. One of the most common ones is, “we don’t have large clinical trials,” or, “we don’t have conclusive clinical trials.” I’m an expert in clinical trials. We have zero conclusive randomized clinical trials (RCT). We would need a study of about 20,000 patients. We could have done that in March and April, but it wasn’t done. And as soon as our pharmaceutical and National Institutes of Health, FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) complex understood that this disease could be amenable to a vaccine, all hopes of early treatment are dropped. There is zero hope that we’ll have any randomized trials on early treatment.
Health Care News: So, we have a large body of observational studies on early COVID-19 treatment. During testimony, Dr. Harvey Risch of Yale stated that modern statistical analysis can look at this type of data and come very darn close to high-quality RCTs. What do we know?
McCullough: The reality is COVID-19 is a very treatable illness. My colleagues and I have reviewed many studies, most of them coming from outside the United States, and have assembled scientific information in a series of publications. Our work has shown that a sequenced multi‑drug approach using off-target, intracellular, anti-infectives as a first layer, then corticosteroids, then blood thinners that, in fact, putting this together on top of a base of nutraceuticals, which help protect against tissue injury, in fact, work. It works so successfully that it reduces hospitalization by about 85 percent. We would have avoided 85 percent of the hospitalizations if this early treatment initiative was undertaken at the outset. And I’ve estimated conservatively in my senate testimony that 50 percent of the deaths could be avoided. Although two studies now show that it’s probably closer to 85 percent of the deaths could have been avoided.
We have to remember we are dealing with a virus. Single drugs don’t work against viruses. We need a sequenced multi-drug approach.
Health Care News: These existing drugs you suggest for treating COVID have been used for decades. Doctors prescribe drugs “off label” all the time. Why do you suppose there is the heavy hand of government here?
McCullough: The drugs are all generically available. They’re all safe and effective. They would be of no interest to large pharmaceuticals, working with Operation Warp Speed. They would be of zero interest, in fact, they’d be viewed as competitive to vaccine manufacturers If we had early, effective treatment, then the hospital administrators wouldn’t have this deluge of patients.
You can see there’s an alignment of stakeholders against early treatment. The only stakeholder that wants early treatment is the patient themselves, who wants to avoid hospitalization and death.