Metformin, oleander extract, azithromycin, famotidine, fluvoxamine, hydroxychloroquine, indomethacin, remdesivir, different vaccines, and many others. What does this disparate group of agents have in common? They’re all being bandied about as treatments for COVID-19.
This sort of thing makes big headlines in the news when someone even mentions them as a possible treatment, but so do proposed treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, various cancers, and other devastating illnesses. It triggers calls to doctors’ offices by patients wanting to be put on them, demands for them to be sold over the counter, and less-then-scrupulous people selling all kinds of things claiming to contain them and cure the disease for only $89.95 with free shipping if you act now.
Even in ordinary times (whatever that means anymore) it doesn’t take much for even a hint of success to make the news, spiking calls to doctors’ offices asking about “that new treatment I saw.” Of course, the number of drugs that are proven to be successful and come to market is a fraction of what’s actually tested.
Since the many failures don’t make headlines like successes do, the general public moves on and doesn’t even remember the initial story after a while. Only the medical and pharmaceutical professions are left to remember “we tried that, it didn’t work.”
We learn as much from failure as we do from success – sometimes more – but failure doesn’t make headlines or sell papers or get clicks.
The research scientists and physicians know this and how long it can take to find something that works. In some diseases it still hasn’t happened, in spite of billions spent and decades going by.
Unfortunately, nonscientific people (which is most of the population) just see our remarkable breakthroughs evidenced by shiny equipment and new drugs, and only read the headlines about successes. They don’t realize the many years and failures behind them.
It doesn’t help to have nonmedical talking heads on the news egging this belief on. The few voices of reason are drowned out.
The polio virus was identified in 1908 (the disease is thousands of years old). The Salk vaccine came out in 1955. That’s a 47-year gap. I doubt it will take that long for COVID-19, but the point is that these things never have, and never will, happen overnight.
The problem isn’t science or medicine. It’s unreasonable expectations for immediate success. While science and diseases may change over time, human nature doesn’t.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.