A New York doctor, whose promotion of the experimental coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine purportedly reached the president’s desk, has slammed new scientific proof of the drug’s deadly side effects as “garbage.”
Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko, whose coronavirus advice is being probed by federal authorities, said he was leaving his home town of Monroe, New York, on Thursday—where he has treated the Hasidic Jewish community for 40 years—after being hounded out by local officials who “have attempted to ruin my reputation.”
“Due to public defamation of my name and reputation caused by the political leadership, the damage being done to my ability to practice medicine and effect health policy nationally and internationally is being damaged,” he told The Daily Beast on Friday.
Zelenko’s enthusiastic and vocal support for hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug being used experimentally to treat coronavirus symptoms, has catapulted him from a small-town family practitioner to a national voice in the increasingly political debate over coronavirus cures.
“I’m doing it. I’m taking it,” Zelenko told The Daily Beast of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that he claimed was as safe as “Tylenol or Advil.”
However, a global study of 96,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Friday, found that the combination of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic drug azithromycin quadrupled the risk of heart arrhythmia and increased the risk of death by 45 percent.
Previous trials and studies have also had mixed results: A small French trial was cut short after patients suffered heart complications, and a Chinese trial showed no significant benefits. A government-funded study of patients in a U.S. Veterans Affairs hospital found that it increased the risk of death when taken both with and without azithromycin.
Zelenko, who is not a medical researcher, claimed the latest study was “garbage” because it involved patients who were seriously ill in the hospital.
“It is designed to fail, there is nothing new that this study presents that is not already stated by the VA study, which means if you wait until the fire is out of control it is very difficult to put it out,” he said.
“That study proves that my approach of treating patients of the early stages or the beginnings of infection will lead to much better results than if you wait until the infection is out of control.”
President Donald Trump revealed on Monday that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic, mentioning that he’d received a letter from a New York doctor who was successfully treating patients with it.
While he didn’t name Zelenko, White House officials previously told The Washington Post that Zelenko’s hydroxychloroquine advice, which was discussed on Fox News in front of Vice President Mike Pence, had made its way to the president’s desk.
Zelenko sent The Daily Beast a letter he claims he sent Trump dated April 2 that outlined a treatment protocol he said had been used on 900 coronavirus patients in Monroe, New York.
About 250 of those were in an outpatient setting and were considered high risk, he wrote. He outlined in his letter a cocktail of drugs they were given including hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.
“Outcomes: NO serious side effects. No cardiac arrhythmias. 0 deaths, 9 people hospitalized,” he wrote in the letter, which was not peer reviewed and contained only rudimentary details of his experiment.
“I have been contacted by the governments of Ukraine, Russia, and Israel who are interested in this protocol,” he wrote to the president. “I humbly and respectfully request that you consider this outpatient treatment against Covid-19.”
Ironically, he claimed in a recent YouTube interview that his data would be published in 10 to 14 days “hopefully” in a journal like The Lancet.
Community leaders have lambasted Zelenko for spreading misinformation, and a Baltimore federal prosecutor is investigating his claim that the drugs he promoted had received FDA approval. In fact, the FDA has warned that hydroxychloroquine can have “serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems.”
Nevertheless, Zelenko told The Daily Beast he thought Trump was “a very smart man” for taking the drug.
“If he was my patient, I would recommend it because he is in his seventies and he's exposed to a lot of people being president, so he's at high risk so it makes perfect sense,” he said. “There are no major side effects… It’s safer than Tylenol or Advil.”
In a YouTube interview, he claimed that “politics, profit, arrogance, and fear” were behind opposition to the drug’s widespread use, and was partly why he was being driven out of his home town.
Zelenko has previously blamed the coronavirus-related deaths of 14 Jewish residents on three local officials who did not close down the region’s synagogues and schools quickly enough. Officials have responded with threats of libel suits.
He told The Daily Beast he would move his base of operations to the nearby town of Monsey after a “disagreement between me and the political leadership of the community [who] have attempted to ruin my reputation due to business and financial reasons.”