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Researcher worries politics could play role in trial of drug that could protect against COVID-19 –



A Manitoba researcher worries people in the province could shy away from enrolling in a drug trial because of the politics attached to the medication being studied.

The study hopes to find out if taking the drug hydroxychloroquine can help prevent frontline healthcare workers — who are most at risk of coming into contact with COVID-19 positive patients — from getting the disease.

“Some of the challenges have been that hydroxychloroquine, unfortunately, has been a very politically charged kind of drug in this COVID-19 epidemic,” said Dr. Sylvain Lother, an infectious disease and critical care physician at the U of M and a sub-investigator on the drug trial.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that he has been taking the malaria drug to protect against coronavirus for about a week and a half, despite warnings from his own government that it should only be administered for COVID-19 in a hospital or research setting due to potentially fatal side-effects.

Trump spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential cure or prevention for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals. The FDA has cautioned against using the drug outside of a clinical setting because of a potential for harmful side effects when taking with other medications.

“Very early on in early April, many people on social media and in mainstream media were touting hydroxychloroquine to be a game changer and thinking that this drug was going to completely revolutionize the pandemic,” Lother said. 

 “And because of that, people have sort of developed very polarized opinions about hydroxychloroquine.”

The trial is part of a collaboration of researchers on both sides of the Canada-U.S, border.  

the University of Manitoba is heading up a part of the study here in conjunction with the University of Minnesota in the United States and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades to prevent and treat malaria, as well as in treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The study is a pre-exposure prophylaxis trial, which means it’s looking to see if the use of the drug before being exposed to the virus can prevent the disease.

“We view it as a tool in the whole toolbox of things that we use to prevent ourselves from getting infection,” said Lother, who works directly with COVID-19 patients.

“We know that even in the context of wearing appropriate PPE, that healthcare workers are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 across the world.”

Few Manitoban applicants for trial 

Lother said the study aims to include 3500 participants on both sides of the border. So far in the U.S there are just over 1400 people enrolled in the trial. Lother said since launching the trial in Canada last week there have been just three applicants from Manitoba.

Dr. Sylvain Lother, is an infectious disease and critical care physician at the U of M and a sub-investigator on a drug trial that hopes to find out if taking the drug hydroxychloroquine can help prevent frontline healthcare workers from getting COVID-19. (Submitted/Dr. Sylvain Lother )

“It’s been politically charged and that has prevented us from enrolling as quickly as we would have liked to over the last few weeks, so we hope that, you know, people will see past that.”

It’s not just Manitoba seeing a lull in participation, Lother said, recruitments for hydroxychloroquine studies have become an issue on both sides of the border.

“We know that for sure it’s been a problem in both Canada and the US because we have been studying hydroxychloroquine now for several weeks in different populations with different studies.”

 “And initially we had a lot of large amounts of enrolments in these trials. And we’ve really seen a flattening of the curve in terms of our enrolment just from different opinions that have been coming out,” he said.

Despite earlier warnings from the FDA, researchers say the drug is safe if used in a clinical trial because participants are screened and monitored closely. The drug has also safely been used to prevent other infections, like malaria, for years.

Lother said in addition to the polarizing political views on the drug, the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in the province may also be a factor.

“Some of that initial fear might be dwindling away. And for that reason, people might feel a little less vulnerable than they did initially,” he said.

Lother said healthcare workers still face a significant risk, and studying the drug could be very helpful for preparing for a second wave of the virus if it occurs.

“We hope that enrolment happens quickly because these are things that we need answers on as soon as we can in order for us to be prepared.”

Many people may also be avoiding a clinical trial because of the fear of receiving a placebo, Lother said. He speculates that some healthcare workers may want to take the drug anyway, but that could prevent scientists from learning if it’s effective.

“Because the bottom line is we don’t know if this medication works or not. That’s why we’re studying it. And we need good science to do that. There’s a chance that it could work. But we need to prove that scientifically with trials.”

On Thursday, Manitoba’s chief public health officer said taking the drug only makes sense as part of a clinical trial.

“The only reason for using [hydroxychloroquine] for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 would be as part of a clinical trial because there isn’t evidence that it’s effective in preventing or treating a COVID-19,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

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Trudeau takes a knee at anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill –



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill today, showing up unannounced to hear speeches from activists demanding fairer treatment from police for minorities.

Trudeau joined the large crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down George Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died. The African-American man died while in police custody on May 25; all four officers at the scene now face charges.

Protesters in other cities have asked police officers to kneel to show respect for black people who have been killed in police custody. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also took a knee during a protest in that city today.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the kneeling gesture some years ago by dropping to one knee during the national anthem to protest violent police treatment of African-Americans. His critics accused him of showing disrespect for the anthem and the American flag.

Trudeau tried to blend into the crowd Friday — but TV cameras and the RCMP security detail made his presence known to the roughly 4,000 activists gathered around the Centennial Flame on the lawn at Parliament Hill. Trudeau told his security detail to stop pushing people as he made his way closer to the stage where the speakers were addressing the crowd.

Trudeau initially was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” and “Go away!” from some in the crowd. The yelling died down as local black leaders started speaking about their calls for an end to racial injustice at home and abroad.

WATCH | Justin Trudeau takes a knee during anti-black racism protest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance at an anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Friday. He was met with chants of “Stand up to Trump!” from the crowd and kneeled for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember George Floyd. 1:47

The Trump chant was a reference to the prime minister’s reluctance to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump by name over his handling of the protests.

Trudeau was asked this week to respond to the president’s threat to deploy active duty military personnel on protesters in U.S. cities — a question that Trudeau answered after a 21-second pause.

The prime minister clapped Friday as the assembled speakers chanted “black lives matter” and called on those in power to do more to address systemic racism.

Someone in the crowd handed the prime minister a T-shirt with that slogan emblazoned on the front.

Trudeau was accompanied by Families Minister Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-Canadian who has spoken out about the racism he has faced in Canada.

“I think it’s powerful when you have the head of government taking a knee and clapping when people say ‘black lives matter,'” Hussen said. “It’s incredibly powerful for him to come and be part of this.”

The crowd on hand for the Parliament Hill protest was a multi-racial cross-section of the city, something Hussen said gives him “a lot of hope in the future.”

WATCH | Ahmed Hussen says the PM’s action were ‘pretty powerful’

Families Minister Ahmed Hussen spoke with reporters after attending the anti-racism rally on Parliament Hill with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau June 5. 1:29

After the speeches, the protesters moved down Wellington St., which runs right in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in downtown Ottawa.

NDP Jagmeet Singh also took part in similar anti-black racism protests in Toronto. He marched with the activists to that city’s Nathan Phillips Square.

“We need to be heard. People need to be heard,” Singh said in a video post on his Instagram page. “People want justice, they want systemic change and an end to racial profiling.”

Watch: The Power Panel discusses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at a protest against anti-black racism and his government’s record on that issue:

The Power Panel discusses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attendance at a protest against anti-black racism and his government’s record on that issue. 8:57

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The politics behind how governments control coronavirus data – SaltWire Network



Anton Oleinik, Memorial University of Newfoundland

COVID-19 has affected almost every country around the globe. The World Health Organization has confirmed cases in 216 countries and territories, a total that represents more than 85 per cent of 251 entities recognized by the United Nations. Yet each government has responded differently to the coronavirus pandemic — including how data on the disease have been shared with each country’s citizens.

The selectiveness with which governments release information about the number of confirmed cases and the deaths caused by the coronavirus suggest techniques of “bio-power” may be at play.

French philosopher Michel Foucault invented the concept of bio-power in his lectures at the Collège de France in 1977-78. He defined bio-power as a “set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.”

Foucault found an early example of bio-power in the smallpox vaccine developed by the end of the 18th century — one of the first attempts to manage populations in terms of the calculus of probabilities under the banner of public health. While a COVID-19 vaccine is still in the making, the concept of bio-power may help make better sense of how we see governments deal with the ongoing pandemic.

Our perception of the probability of contracting the virus and the chances to recover is shaped by the relevant statistical figures released by our respective governments. Those figures feed the entire spectrum of our own reactions to COVID-19 — including fear and negligence.

A balanced take on COVID-19 and a proper course of action to deal with the pandemic means the information provided by governments must be complete, valid and reliable. Unfortunately, that is not happening in many cases.

When examining how some countries have responded to the pandemic, bio-political factors should be taken into account. This includes how governments are collecting and sharing data about the coronavirus. Let’s look at three countries in particular.

The United States

In the U.S., COVID-19 information is disseminated by government agencies, universities, the media and even search engines. Various levels of governments remain the ultimate source of the reported figures, but how accurate are those figures?

The U.S. now has the most confirmed cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. While this can be explained by a late response to the pandemic and the lack of universal health care coverage, the political stakes in the COVID-19 crisis are also very high for the U.S.

The social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic will be a major factor in this year’s elections. In an effort to shift attention from his administration’s response, U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated China should be blamed for the crisis. The high number of infections and deaths contribute to a feeling of fear and insecurity — which from a bio-power perspective may actually help Trump sell his message.


In addition to being the only source of information about COVID-19, the Russian government also makes every effort to protect its monopoly on the production and dissemination of the relevant data. Anyone who attempts to collect and disseminate COVID-19 figures without having a “licence to inform” may face criminal charges for being an agent provocateur.

A group of medical doctors in Chechnya, the previously rebel region in the Caucasus now under the tight control of the central government, attempted to complain about the lack of preparedness to COVID-19. They were promptly accused of “provocations” and forced to deliver public apologies.

According to government data, Russia has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world, less than one per cent. (The U.S. reports a six per cent mortality rare; Italy, France and the U.K. are in the range of 14-15 per cent). Either the Russians have an exceptionally strong immune system or something is wrong with the way the government counts the deaths.

As well, the regular monthly statistics of deaths released by some regions shows an anomalous hike in April — numbers that are out of line with the officially approved figures of COVID-19-related deaths.

The gap between the number of officially acknowledged COVID-19 cases and deaths may have political explanations.

Similar to the U.S., the pandemic interferes with the political agenda in Russia. The constitutional referendum engineered to extend Vladimir Putin’s term as Russia’s president was originally scheduled on April 22, but was eventually postponed until July 1.

Putin is trying to make the gambit of accepting high (but not necessarily accurate) figures of COVID-19 infections and simultaneously doing everything possible to under-report the true number of COVID-19-related deaths. If successful, he would be able to claim credit for handling the crisis better than other world leaders.


Canada’s figures do not look controversial at first sight. The country has neither an exceptionally high number of COVID-19 cases nor an exceptionally high mortality rate (7.5 per cent). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potentially some elements of bio-power at play.

Canada’s government chose to complicate the task of comparing the COVID-19 figures across its provinces and territories. The federal government’s website dedicated to COVID-19 reports the aggregate data only. No death statistics are included. Comparing the responses of each province requires an examination of 13 different provincial websites, which have various formats of reporting the relevant figures.

Access-to-information requests are not of great help here either, despite the fact that there are access-to-information acts both at the federal and provincial levels. It takes an average of one month to get a response to an access-to-information request under normal times. But now governments have full discretion in deciding what information on COVID-19 to release, as well as when and how to do it.

This means that in Canada, bio-politics manifests itself through the fuzziness of information and, in the absence of clear information, the public is expected to uncritically accept the actions of their governments.

The Conversation

Anton Oleinik, Professor of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Essential Politics: The generals' revolt – Los Angeles Times



Over the three-and-a-half years he’s been in office, President Trump has clashed repeatedly with government institutions that he sought to bend to his will.


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The first fight came with the nation’s intelligence agencies, then the FBI, the diplomatic corps and, more recently, the quasi-independent inspectors general at federal agencies.

This week, though, brought a battle with the military — a clash with far more serious implications.


For Trump, the decision to push the Pentagon into politics was a fateful choice, and it quickly brought an extraordinary rebuke.

“Mockery of the Constitution”

As has often been the case with Trump, the impetus seems to have been his desire to appear tough.

Since the start last week of nationwide protests over police brutality, Trump’s aides had debated how he should respond. Some talked of an Oval Office address to the nation, others advocated public “listening sessions” designed to showcase the president talking with black Americans about their concerns.

It’s unclear whether Trump ever seriously considered either of those approaches. His past attempts at each have gone badly.


By Monday, however, officials say Trump’s focus had shifted: He was angry about news reports which accurately said that the Secret Service had hustled him down to the White House’s underground bunker on Friday when protests in downtown Washington turned violent. He wanted to counteract that image with something that would showcase him looking powerful.

That set the stage for one of the indelible moments of the Trump presidency: Monday evening, military police, national guard troops, Park Police and other federal law enforcement agents confronted a peaceful crowd of demonstrators in Lafayette Square, just across the street from the White House, and suddenly, as television cameras recorded the scene, assaulted them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

(White House officials the next day tried to insist that “tear gas” hadn’t been used, a claim based on a narrow definition of tear gas, which, in any case, appears to be false based on shell canisters reporters have found in the park.)

As the mayhem unfolded, Trump began speaking in the White House Rose Garden, threatening to send troops to American cities if state and local officials failed to halt protests that he described as “rioting.” He then walked out of the north gate of the White House, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top officials in tow, passed through the park, now devoid of protesters, and posed for a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal church, which had been damaged by fire during protests over the weekend.


By the next day, both Trump’s campaign and Joe Biden‘s were using video and still images of that walk across the park in their advertising. Trump’s side believed the scene portrayed strength, power and toughness. Biden’s side saw bullying, recklessness and contempt for free speech.

With both campaigns focused for now on motivating their core supporters, not reaching out to the voters in between, it’s possible both could be correct in seeing the images as helpful to their cause. But the aftermath did not end there.

Trump’s decision to pull the military into a political fight, and his threat to go further and invoke the Insurrection Act, a law dating to the early 19th century, to send troops to other cities, provoked a swift and negative reaction in the top ranks. (If you wonder how the Insurrection Act works, we have you covered.)

The military is one of the few institutions that still enjoys widespread approval in a deeply divided country, largely because the public sees it as nonpolitical. Top commanders have made a high priority of preserving that. Trump does not.


That’s the context for the outpouring that dominated this week.

The pattern was a familiar one — statements from anonymous Pentagon officials to reporters distancing the brass from the White House, followed by stronger language from retired top commanders, who are free to criticize the commander-in-chief in ways that their active-duty former colleagues cannot.

What was not familiar was the intensity, starting with former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, who, as David Cloud reported, accused Trump of ordering the military to “violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.”

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote in The Atlantic. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership,” he said, adding that Americans “must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”


A phalanx of other retired commanders followed: Retired four-star Gen. John R. Allen warned that Trump
“could wreck the high regard Americans have for their military, and much more.”

The former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, wrote that Trump had “laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country.”

Another former Joint Chiefs chairman, retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in an interview with National Public Radio that “the idea that the military would be called in to dominate and to suppress what, for the most part, were peaceful protests — admittedly, where some had opportunistically turned them violent — and that the military would somehow come in and calm that situation was very dangerous.”

Former White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, also a former Marine Corps four-star, spoke out to praise Mattis. Esper, confronted by a problem far beyond what he expected, called a news conference at which he said he opposed use of the Insurrection Act, potentially putting his job at risk.


The criticism from military leaders effectively ended — at least for now — talk of sending troops to U.S. cities. Troops that the administration had summoned to Washington quietly started to return to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina on Thursday.

But the political impact on Trump seems likely to be more lasting. Only a handful of Republican elected officials — most notably Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — publicly praised Mattis. But few spoke out clearly in support of Trump, either.

Trump’s effort to militarize the response to the protests has left him isolated, and the new fences that his administration has erected around a large swath of downtown Washington, reinforced the image of a president alienated from much of the country.

Even in a fight with the military, most of Trump’s voters will almost surely stick with him.


But the support Trump receives from his base is increasingly beside the point. Rather than a source of strength, catering to his base has become a trap for a president who is behind in the polls and badly in need of a way to broaden his backing. Picking a fight with the country’s most-admired institution almost surely won’t help.

Unemployment bottoming out

What could help Trump is a revival of the economy, and the president was quick to crow over Friday’s jobs report, which provided a significantly better unemployment picture for May than most economists had projected, as Don Lee wrote.

Trump hailed the report on Twitter as “a stupendous number,” and the stock market rose briskly. He quickly scheduled a White House news conference.

But while a 13.3% unemployment rate is a lot better than the 20% many economists had guessed, it’s still one of the highest jobless numbers since the Great Depression, surpassed only by the rate in April. The numbers suggest that the job market has bottomed out as a large number of workers on furlough have returned to work. But the bottom is very deep — about 20 million jobs lost.


The key question for the future of the economy — and for Trump’s political standing — is how many of those 20 million get recalled to work and how quickly. Some share of the jobs lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic were temporary, and as businesses begin to reopen, those people will get back to work. Others will come back only slowly, if ever.

Trump is currently betting on a quick, sharp rebound of the economy that can be accomplished without additional large amounts of federal spending. He has a lot riding on that bet paying off.

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Police reform on the agenda

The House likely will take up and pass a bill later this month calling for nationwide police reforms, including a ban on at least certain forms of chokeholds. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked the Congressional Black Caucus to take the lead in writing the legislation, which could come to the floor as early as next week.


Democrats will put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the bill up in his chamber. They don’t truly expect him to do so, but they do hope to create a politically difficult situation for some Republican senators who are up for reelection this year.

Trump has largely ignored calls for police reforms, as Chris Megerian and Noah Bierman wrote. It’s not a topic in which he has ever showed interest.

So national legislation isn’t likely before the November election. If Democrats were to win, however — especially if they take a Senate majority — a national move on police reform likely would be a major agenda item.

Another venue for the debate is the Supreme Court, which over the past several decades has shielded police officers from excessive-force claims in a way that has drawn criticism from both conservatives and liberals, as David Savage wrote. The court has several cases before it that could become opportunities to change course if the justices want to.


Finally, as former President Obama noted in a speech this week, the federal government isn’t the only actor in this arena. He called on mayors to take action against systemic racism, as Janet Hook reported.

For an example of how the issue plays out in real life, see Erin Logan’s story about a Minneapolis woman’s run-in with the officer charged in the killing of George Floyd.

“I lived to complain,” she said.

Harris’ VP prospects

The focus on police brutality against African Americans has increased pressure on Biden to choose a black running mate, and Sen. Kamala Harris’ prospects have improved as a result, Evan Halper and Melanie Mason reported.


There’s some irony there: Harris’ career as a prosecutor proved to be a major stumbling block for her in the primaries, with activists objecting that she hadn’t been aggressive enough in pursuing police reform and holding officers to account. But Harris has worked hard since the primaries ended to improve relations with some of those activist groups, and the context of a general election has shifted the debate.

Still, she faces considerable competition, including Rep. Val Demmings of Florida, who also has a law enforcement background.

Some old issues never go away

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week to look at claims by conservatives that anti-Trump bias tainted the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Former Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein was the witness. As Chris Megerian reported, he conceded some mistakes in the investigation but largely defended it — and himself — against the central accusations.

“I do not believe the investigation was a hoax,” he testified.


1968 redux?

With racism, civil unrest and police brutality dominating the news, is America living 1968 all over again, Mark Barabak asked. “Yes, and no,” he reports.

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