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The episode was typical of what has become a serious problem in the COVID-19 pandemic: misinterpretation of trial data, with “disastrous” results for other studies, Mills and colleagues argue in a recent medical journal commentary.
Influenced by media accounts, scientific oversight boards often don’t recognize there are distinct phases to COVID-19 sickness, and that what works at one point in the disease may be useless at another — or vice versa, they wrote in Lancet Global Health.
“The scientific community has been no better versed on the complications of COVID than the general public,” Mills said in an interview. “I’m tremendously disappointed in the scientific community and what I see is a lack of critical interpretation of this complex disease.”
Sir Nick White, an Oxford University tropical-medicine professor, confirmed by email that his own planned study of hydroxychloroquine as a preventive was ordered shut down because of the RECOVERY results.
White convinced U.K. authorities to reverse that decision, but said in his own journal paper this month that a number of such trials “are now under substantial threat, as some regulatory agencies have actively stopped ongoing studies.”
Prematurely ending trials because of misinterpretation and other factors means it’s still unknown whether drugs like hydroxychloroquine could, in fact, be useful as preventives or early in the illness, Mills said.
He traces the problem in part to the unprecedented way science is being communicated during the pandemic.