Brawley physician, Dr. George Fareed, stands outside the entrance of Pioneers Memorial Hospital’s emergency department. Fareed is seeking an audience before the federal government to advocate for the usage of the drug hydroxychloroquine in the early intervention of COVID-19 treatment. COURTESY PHOTO
Dr. George Fareed fears that as September nears, and the spread of COVID-19 starts to run its natural course and the number of cases begin to subside, that people will forget what a gross injustice has been committed in terms of the early intervention that could have saved tens of thousands of lives.
He’s talking about the use of a hydroxychloroquine cocktail, of course, that has been much maligned by Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Food and Drug Administration, which pulled the medication’s “emergency use authorization” as a viable treatment option against COVID, and the mainstream medical community, which has all but tuned out any discussion on the virtues of HCQ, as it’s known.
Still, Fareed and the researchers he has aligned himself with believe that many more people will die — 75,000 to 100,000 more — in the United States unless doctors on the ground, outside the controlled environment of hospitals, can openly prescribe the HCQ regimen.
“We can reduce the number of deaths going forward by tens of thousands,” Fareed said. The emphasis on an early regimen of the cocktail could have kept the U.S. death toll around “10,000 vs. 150,000,” Fareed said last week, before the death toll reached 161,000-plus on Aug. 8.
The intent here, Fareed said, is for the HCQ cocktail to be administered within the first five to seven days after an initial COVID-positive test to keep someone out of the hospital and off a ventilator. He added it can be useful further into the illness as well, but it’s all about early intervention.
Fareed is among a group of true-believers who just want a seat at the table of someone in the federal government, whether that be in front of Fauci himself, someone with the FDA, or even the President or members of Congress, to make their case that time is of the essence and more lives can still be saved if the HCQ cocktail is restored to respectability.
There is no time for double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials when people are dying, Fareed said, especially when doctors on the ground have witnessed the treatment work for themselves.
Make no mistake: Fareed and the other doctors he’s working with, Drs. Harvey Risch and Vladimir Zelenko, both well-respected researchers, among others, are making no claims about magic cures or HCQ as an intervention at the point of hospitalization, when patients are on ventilators in the most serious throes of the disease, known as the often-deadly “cytokine storm.”
(That’s when the virus already has unleashed an autoimmune attack on the most vulnerable systems of the patient, such as the lungs or heart, causing those systems to shut down and lead to death.)
Rather, this is about healing a patient before that point, with a regimen of HCQ, high-strength antibiotics azithromycin or doxycycline, and the key component, the element zinc, and in some cases, as “prophylaxis,” or preventative, dosing with HCQ alone.
For COVID treatment, “If HCQ is the gun, zinc is the bullet,” Fareed said. “The antibiotic is the protective shield, but also has antiviral functions.”
What the removal of the FDA’s “emergency use authorization” designation has done is shutdown the pipeline to a federal stockpile of the low-cost, 70-year-old medication that is currently used as a long-held treatment for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and the bone disease ankylosing spondylitis, without much in the way of side effects or long-term problems, he said.
Fareed, who is the lead doctor at Pioneers Health Center, a hospitalist at Pioneers Memorial Hospital, medical director at Imperial Heights Health and Wellness Centre in Brawley and works at Dr. Brian Tyson’s All Valley Urgent Care Center, has literally prescribed the HCQ regimen to hundreds, maybe even a thousand, recovered patients.
Due to the national media coverage of his current campaign to reach someone in the halls of government, he is now being contacted from outside Imperial County to write HCQ cocktail prescriptions to those suffering from the virus whose own physicians have refused.
Locally, doctors like Fareed, Tyson and Dr. Tien Tan Vo have prescribed the cocktail well into the thousands of times for Imperial Valley residents who have recovered from the illness. As of Aug. 8, of the 9,693 total COVID-positive cases identified by the Imperial County Public Health Department, 8,615 people have recovered and a large number of those were patients of the three local doctors.
Tyson is faithful to the HCQ regimen, which he says he’s prescribed to at least a thousand patients with zero mortality and only three hospitalizations.
On the flip side, Vo, who also has prescribed it thousands of times, has seen great successes early on, and still believes in its efficacy, but under more controlled conditions.
Fundamentally, both doctors wholly support the message Fareed is trying to get out there concerning early intervention, even if they don’t completely agree with HCQ’s efficacy in all circumstances.
The message “needs to get out and government needs to start paying attention to actual research and actual published research using data that has not been falsified, like the Lancet article,” Tyson said, referring to research conducted by Dr. Mandeep Mehra of Harvard University that appeared in a prestigious medical journal but was later found to be faked. That case is all but credited with kicking off the wave of anti-HCQ propaganda.
“If this medication is so deadly, why hasn’t it been pulled off the market before this? The most irrational point of this nonsense and madness is, it’s proven to be safe. If I’m wrong and HCQ does not work, people are still going to die. (But) if I’m right, we’re going to save hundreds of thousands of lives,” the vocal Tyson said during a recent interview.
“It works. It simply works,” Tyson added.
“I support him,” Vo said of Fareed’s efforts, although Vo said he does not agree that the HCQ cocktail works in all circumstances.
Where Fareed believes in the preventative effects of HCQ and its use in small doses to stave off the disease (Fareed takes a weekly dose himself), Vo is totally against that. He also has begun to only prescribe the cocktail in cases where there are specific severe symptoms seen, like heavy cough, excessive fevers, headaches, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
“With my experience, it worked in some cases very well and in some cases not as well. … the earlier the better, but you have to have symptoms,” Vo said, adding he’s only seen side effects in one to two patients, and he’s prescribed the treatment around five times a day for at least three months straight.
Even under the most extreme conditions, Fareed has seen the efficacy of the HCQ cocktail. Take the mid-June COVID outbreak at Imperial Heights, where he is medical director. Although the outbreak has resulted in the death of about 11 residents, possibly more, who died after they were transferred out of the county, Fareed treated as many as 40 Imperial Heights residents with the regimen. Many of them survived, despite their ages, co-morbidities, and immunocompromised status, and are back in the nursing facility recovered, he said.
The thing about Fareed that escapes most people is, the Harvard Medical School-educated family physician isn’t simply a family practitioner working on the border. Like Fauci himself, Fareed was an early AIDS research scientist and comes with 20 years of experience in immunology and virology research at Harvard and University of California Los Angeles before he cast aside a career in academia to devote his life to ground-level patient care.
He knows what works and he knows why, and he is disgusted by the politicization of HCQ and what he sees as wanton “criminality” — yes, he said what has been done to cut off access to HCQ is criminal — that has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people.
Like Tyson, Fareed is embarrassed by the disavowed and falsified research from the Lancet, which was done at his alma mater under Dr. Mehra.
Fareed is pushing hard to be heard, because the window to use HCQ might be closing fast. Although an Ohio pharmacy board reversed its ban on prescribing HCQ and chloroquine last week, other state governments are moving to institute limits, many pharmacies are choosing not to stock it, and when it is available the price is skyrocketing due to insurance companies not paying for it, and many other physicians just don’t want anything to do with it due to the stigma.
Tyson and Fareed believe one theory might be financial, with “Big Pharma” pushing its mighty monetary resources behind the development of high-priced drugs and vaccines under development and trial, some of which have been given FDA “emergency use authorization” because there are no other viable alternatives (read, the public disavowal of HCQ).
Local Man Tells His HCQ Story
Imperial resident Dionte Bell has been a patient of Fareed’s for about 15 years, ever since he met the physician when Fareed was a team doctor for the Central Union High Spartans varsity football team, where Bell was a player.
Bell, who is still under isolation after catching COVID at work, doesn’t know much about the controversy surrounding the drug, but he knows it got him through the worst he’s ever felt.
“I don’t know what the hell that pill did, but it did its job,” the 36-year-old U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector said over the phone, as he awaited his latest test results clearing him so he could back to work.
Bell said he thinks he caught COVID while either working the vehicle lanes or the pedestrian lanes at the Calexico West Port of Entry in early July.
After getting to the point where he already had no taste, shortness of breath, a blinding headache and fevers that wouldn’t go away, he walked into the ER at Pioneers on July 12, a Sunday.
A healthy man, who regularly lifts weights and exercises, Bell took a COVID test and was told to go home and isolate until the results came back. He wasn’t given any medication and didn’t get any results back until the 14th or 15th.
Feeling worse, he called his physician on July 22, 10 days after being tested, and Fareed immediately called him in a five-day course of the HCQ cocktail.
“It felt really strong at the beginning; made my heartbeat rise,” Bell said. “But after a day or two, I got used to it.”
What amazed Bell, though, was the very night he started taking the cocktail, he could feel his symptoms start to subside, his fever relented, and his headache went away.
“It was awesome, man. To take the tablet, get some sleep, wake up and feel completely different,” Bell said. “It was like a magic pill.”
He said before the first dose, his scalp felt like it was on fire, painful to the touch, but his feet felt frozen, like ice.
“The doctors are the experts. If a doctor recommends it for healing, then the option should be available,” he said. “I don’t think any solution should be hidden from anyone.”
Bell is still feeling the effects of COVID. When he spoke to a reporter Aug. 7, he said he’s feeling a little weak and has some shortness of breath, “like his cardio’s not there,” but he’s ready to get out of isolation and he’s been walking two and a half miles with no problems.
He credits Fareed with stepping in and healing him, and Bell hopes to hear back from Fareed on a negative test in a few days.
Opinions Mixed About Fareed, HCQ Locally
People are divided about HCQ locally, even when pushed by a doctor as universally well-liked as Fareed, who without a doubt has one of the softest, kindest bedside manners in all the county, if not anywhere.
Local physicians have written letters disavowing the use of the HCQ protocol, and social media has seen Fareed criticized for his stance on the drug, with someone even referring to him as a quack.
During an El Centro Regional Medical Center Facebook Live update several weeks ago, around the time Fareed began his crusade for HCQ, hospital chief medical officer, Dr. Christian Tomaszewski, brushed aside a viewer’s question about the use of HCQ. He said something to the effect that it’s a non-issue when there are other viable alternatives being trial-tested at ECRMC.
County Public Health Director, Dr. Stephen Munday, has shown that he is no fan of HCQ, either. He publicly criticized Fareed’s use of the drug at the time of the initial Imperial Heights nursing home outbreak, questioning whether Fareed (not by name, of course) was opening himself up to state medical board review in prescribing the drug.
However, a few weeks later Munday seemed to temper his response when questioned about the cocktail by county supervisors.
During a July 28 county board meeting both Supervisors Ryan Kelley and Jesus Escobar asked Munday about HCQ use. Escobar questioned whether it shouldn’t be a viable alternative if doctors are seeing it work.
Seeming to walk back some of his prior criticisms about HCQ, Munday rendered a more middle-of-the-road opinion.
He said only a “small handful” of physicians around the country believe in its efficacy, pushing for its use in the absence of other proven medicines now under prolonged clinical trials.
“My personal opinion is, as much of this virus as there is out there, and as many people as there is working on this, there are many clinical trials that are going on, and my perspective is that the best way to manage this is to try to enroll patients in a clinical trial,” he told the board.
“Because then, you get to monitor what’s going on with your own patients … but your also providing data that helps everyone else at the same time,” Munday said.
Fareed is a man of conviction, however, and he believes there is a moral obligation to see HCQ be given its due in order to save lives. The HCQ issue has brought a whole other side of Fareed to the fore, one that is as fiery as he was once seen as almost submissive.
Fareed said doctors like Munday don’t treat patients, they’re not seeing what’s happening on the ground, in the doctors’ offices or the hospitals, the way he is.
“We have to use what’s available. We knew in February and March that this was a valid treatment,” Fareed said. “We don’t need double-blind studies, or randomized studies. … I don’t need to see that to know it works.
“We may never have anything better,” Fareed added.