Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Doctor Who Pushed HCQ as Early COVID Treatment Dies
Vladimir Zelenko, MD, an upstate New York doctor who gained notoriety during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic for his controversial treatment ideas, died last week in Dallas, Texas, at 48, according to an obituary in The New York Times.
Zelenko garnered national attention for claiming that hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment for COVID-19 after former President Donald Trump championed his ideas in the early days of the pandemic, according to the Times.
Zelenko was even contacted by Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, who requested more information about his treatment, which he claimed was 100% effective, according to the article. This connection with the President led to more attention from conservative media, landing him on various TV shows and podcasts.
The adoption of his coronavirus treatment by the President led him to become “something of a folk hero on the right” in part because he offered an alternative to the medical establishment, according to the Times.
However, the article noted that eventually other medical professionals pointed out Zelenko only had anecdotal evidence and that the “little research” that had been completed at that time “painted a mixed picture.” He received negative attention as research continued to emerge showing no benefit for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, according to the Times.
Zelenko eventually left his practice and his community after a federal prosecutor opened an investigation into his medical claims about the treatment. He died of lung cancer, according to the Times.
Fauci Ready for a New Chapter
At 81 years old, Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), reportedly works more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, according to a new profile in the Washington Post.
Fauci, who is also the chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, is in his 38th year as the NIAID director and has led the response to several major pandemics, from AIDS to COVID-19. But he believes his time as a director and advisor is coming to an end.
Fauci said this will be the last time he leads the country through a crisis like COVID-19, which he expects to decline in prevalence in the near future, according to the profile. He noted that another wave should be expected in the fall and that he hopes there will be another variant-specific booster to prepare the country for it. And eventually, he believes that COVID-19 vaccines will be offered yearly, according to the Post.
Despite decades of experience managing new infectious disease threats, the COVID-19 pandemic was a uniquely challenging crisis for Fauci, according to the article. He noted that he struggled with the politicization of the pandemic and his role within the Trump White House. He even wrestled with the decision of whether to stay in his role and continue to endure the insults and threats, or leave and “let his half-century of work be taken over by God-knows-who in his absence,” according to the profile.
In the end, Fauci emphasized that his work was too important to leave behind. Several colleagues noted in the Post’s profile that for Fauci work has always been his main “hobby.” The article noted that even when he retires from the NIH, Fauci already has plans for other projects to focus on.
Fauci told the Post that he plans to teach, and to write the story of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a memoir about his early life. He said one of his main goals after he leaves the NIH is to encourage young people to enter civil service.
Abortion Bans May Restrict IVF
Infertility patients and their doctors fear that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may restrict their ability to choose the fate of frozen embryos for in vitro fertilization (IVF), according to the New York Times.
The fear over these restrictions comes from the routine practice for IVF treatment of creating “as many healthy embryos for each patient as possible,” and then implanting one or two embryos in the patient’s uterus. The rest are then frozen for future procedures at the patients’ discretion. According to the article, if states choose to ban abortions at conception, it would raise a host of questions about what happens to those frozen embryos and who gets to decide.
The Times outlined several of those legal questions in the article, including whether patients and their doctors could be “precluded from discarding unneeded embryos.” Another concern in the article was whether clinics legally could be held responsible, if embryos did not survive being thawed for implantation.
Aside from concerns over future effects, the ruling already has impacted fertility clinics, which have been fielding calls from patients wondering if they are allowed “to transfer frozen embryos to states with guaranteed abortion rights,” according to the Times.
The article noted that none of the current laws targeting abortions “explicitly target embryos created in a lab,” and experts do not think these bans present “an immediate threat to infertility patients and their health care providers,” yet. And “leading anti-abortion groups” interviewed by the Times stated that embryos created for IVF “were not currently a priority.”
However, experts interviewed by the Times cautioned that restrictions on IVF are a real concern under any new state abortion laws.