Courtesy of gilead.com

SciCheck Digest

Remdesivir is the only antiviral medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. But a retired chiropractor misleadingly claims on a viral clip on social media that the drug is “killing people.” Studies have shown that remdesivir can lead to faster recovery times for hospitalized patients.


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Doug Mastriano — a Republican state senator in Pennsylvania who chartered buses to the Jan. 6 rally and has been subpoenaed by the committee investigating the riot that followed — hosted a panel on March 4 billed as a “Discussion on COVID-19 and Medical Freedom.”

A clip from that panel has spread widely on partisan social media accounts, showing up on platforms that cater to conservative audiences, such as RumbleGETTR and BitChute, as well as mainstream platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and Twitter.

The clip features Bryan Ardis, a retired chiropractor who sells purported acne treatments online and hosts a show that frequently makes dubious claims about the pandemic. He used his appearance at Mastriano’s forum to spread a claim that he’s made before.

Referring to the only antiviral drug that has, so far, been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 patients, Ardis said, “remdesivir is killing people… remdesivir is proven to kill lives.”

The only support that Ardis offered for his claim, though, was a reference to data he said he’d received from Thomas Renz — a lawyer who was also on Mastriano’s panel. That data, he said, showed that among “Medicare-aged” patients in New York hospitals who received a five-day course of remdesivir, “26.9% of them died.”

We asked Ardis by email for a copy of that data and for evidence that the drug had caused those deaths, but we didn’t hear back.

Remdesivir was first approved in October 2020 for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. As we’ve explained before, randomized, controlled clinical trials found that the drug led to faster recovery times and statistically significant odds of improving conditions among hospitalized patients with mild to severe COVID-19 as compared with those who received a placebo plus standard care.

On Jan. 21, the FDA expanded the approved use of remdesivir for high-risk patients who weren’t hospitalized as part of the agency’s response to the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. That decision was based on a clinical trial that demonstrated that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 could benefit from early treatment with the drug. High-risk patients who received three days of remdesivir within a week of onset were 87% less likely to be hospitalized or die compared with those receiving a placebo.

We don’t know what timeframe Ardis’ data covered or how sick those patients were to begin with, but he provided no evidence in the clips on social media or at the panel to support the claim that the drug itself caused any deaths.

Some patients who have had severe COVID-19 and were treated with remdesivir have died, but there’s no evidence that remdesivir caused those deaths. In fact, clinical trials found no increase in mortality among patients who were treated with the drug.

It could be true that 26.9% of “Medicare-aged” patients who took remdesivir in New York died at some point. After all, the patients were likely very sick with COVID-19. But on its own, the statistic is meaningless because it doesn’t tell you the mortality rate of similar patients who didn’t take the drug.

This isn’t the first time that Ardis has made this claim. As a guest last year on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show, InfoWars, Ardis referred to remdesivir and claimed, “They’re driving a narrative to kill as many Americans as possible.”

Other fact-checkers, including MedPage Today, First Draft, and Health Feedback have addressed this claim when he’s made it in some other forums.

It’s also worth noting that, although remdesivir is the only antiviral drug that’s gotten full approval from the FDA for treatment of COVID-19, it’s not the only drug that’s available. Other treatment options have been authorized for emergency use, including an oral antiviral called Paxlovid, which has been the preferred treatment for COVID-19 patients who aren’t hospitalized.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

Sources

Meyer, Katie, Miles Bryan and Ryan Briggs. “Mastriano campaign spent thousands on buses ahead of D.C. insurrection.” WHYY. 12 Jan 2021.

Mastriano, Douglas. Subpoena. 15 Feb 2022.

Mastriano, Douglas. “Expert Panel Discussion on COVID-19 and Medical Freedom.” 4 Mar 2022.

Ardis, Bryan. Licensure verification. Tennessee Department of Health. Accessed 4 Apr 2022.

National Institutes of Health. Characteristics of Antiviral Agents. Updated 24 Feb 2022.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Frequently Asked Questions for Veklury (remdesivir). Updated 21 Jan 2022.

FactCheck.org. “What treatments are available for COVID-19?” Updated 28 Mar 2022.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Press release. “FDA Takes Actions to Expand Use of Treatment for Outpatients with Mild-to-Moderate COVID-19.” 21 Jan 2022.

Gottlieb, Robert, et al. “Early Remdesivir to Prevent Progression to Severe Covid-19 in Outpatients.” New England Journal of Medicine. 27 Jan 2022.

Fiore, Kristina. “Fact Check: Remdesivir Isn’t Killing People.” MedPage Today. 27 Jan 2022.

Beaman, Lucinda and Esther Chan. “Claims about remdesivir ‘killing’ patients used to discourage medical care.” First Draft. 30 Sep 2021.

Ferreira, Fernanda. “Claim that the antiviral drug remdesivir is killing people is baseless.” Health Feedback. 5 Apr 2022.

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