Just like those of us who witnessed the destruction of the twin towers in New York on 9/11 can recall where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001, we also remember such details of our lives when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced to the nation in March of 2020.  As for me, I had taken my wife to the SEC basketball tournament in Nashville. My wife, who should have been a sportscaster, had enjoyed the first game and was reviewing the brackets when the announcement came over the loudspeaker system informing us that after the next game spectators could not be in the facility for the remainder of the tournament because of the growing threat of this novel coronavirus infection.

The following day the tournament was canceled.

Chaos ensued as people everywhere became overwhelmed by fear and panic with outbreaks of the virus being reported almost simultaneously in countries all around the world. Governments responded with extensive lockdown measures. Citizens willingly gave up their freedoms in exchange for the promise of immediate protection from and quick control of the pandemic. Now, more than a year and a half later, the virus is still with us, along with much persistent governmental overreach. The power of the executive branch at the federal level, as well as that of the governors at the state level, has dramatically increased throughout this pandemic, resulting in much loss of liberty for the governed.

There has been all manner of collateral damage inflicted upon us by the administrative state to slow the spread of the virus, including the destruction of family-owned businesses, halting cancer screenings, children falling behind in their education, increased drug and alcohol addiction with attendant increased abuse of women and children, as well as increased depression and suicide, just to name a few of the many "benefits" of this approach to keeping us all safe and sound. All social gatherings, including religious services, weddings and funerals, needed to be canceled or very restricted in attendance. And if you happened to be numbered among the unfortunate who required hospitalization or nursing home placement, then of necessity for the greater good of us all, you would need to deal with any suffering and possibly even die alone, without the emotional support of friends and family. We have no real grasp of what has been done to the psychosocial fabric of our lives, and especially the developing lives of our children, by all these repressive interventions of unrestrained governmental authorities.

Some with sadness, and some even with glee, have said that COVID-19 may be the beginning of the end of America as we have known it.

I certainly hope that is not true but one thing is for sure, the disastrous public health response to the pandemic has resulted in great damage to our healthcare system as well as tremendous harm to both the sick and the well.  As a physician myself, it was shocking to learn of the public health guidelines which offered no meaningful outpatient treatment for patients infected with this virus. While these guidelines at first almost appeared to be timid suggestions, they quickly grew in strength assuming almost the status of some well-established medical policy or even healthcare law.

The "best practices" offered by the CDC from their own website even as late as March 2021 still just recommended acetaminophen as the only medication for outpatients, with the instruction to seek emergency medical care for the development of: "trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds."

Not surprisingly, thousands of patients across our nation who were diagnosed with COVID-19 at an urgent care clinic or emergency room were sent out with these instructions in hand, only to return days later often with severe respiratory distress requiring ICU care.  Many were placed on ventilators, and far too often, a lot of these patients died. As of September 30, 2021, Johns Hopkins University reported that the United States is ranked among those countries with the highest COVID death rates at number 20 out of 155 reviewed.

I could not believe that no serious outpatient treatment was being pursued for these patients. This was completely out of character for doctors that I had known and with whom I had worked throughout my career.  Over the years, as I observed my fellow physicians at work, it had become clear to me that individuals who enter the practice of medicine develop an almost unstoppable urge to help their patients.  They will stay up late and get up early, search through the medical literature and consult with colleagues to find solutions for their patient's problems.

I wondered why this proclivity had seemingly vanished with the appearance of SARS-CoV-2.

Unfortunately, we have all had to accept that there will often be a middleman from the government, or from an insurance company, who will step in between doctor and patient, with whom we will have to contend regarding what medical interventions may be pursued.  With the growth in the power of these middlemen, the looming threat of being labeled as an outlier with the possibility of various fines and penalties has increasingly conditioned doctors to accept the dictates of the central healthcare authorities and insurance companies. Increasingly, we physicians have become comfortable with relying on the judgment and directives of various prominent authorities and medical societies, rather than carefully examining the purported supporting medical research, with its underlying assumptions and methods, as well as drawing our own conclusions after analyzing the results.

Despite this rather bleak picture, I was encouraged by reports that there were actually physicians across America, as well as in other nations, who were figuring out what to do to help their patients who became infected with SARS-CoV-2. These doctors were treating outpatients with success and keeping them out of the hospital.  But to my complete amazement, all such efforts were met with tremendous animosity and suspicion by the healthcare establishment.  These physicians were subjected to all manner of fallacious attacks by their colleagues for questioning the accepted narrative, much like Dr. Semmelweis of a bygone era.  Except now physicians who dared to propose a different approach could be more quickly and effectively canceled with the eager assistance of the social media monopolies with seeming religious fervor. More recently the Federation of State Medical Boards has anointed itself to be the National Guardian of all COVID knowledge and has proclaimed that doctors who generate and spread "COVID misinformation or disinformation" could be subject to disciplinary action, including the suspension and revocation of their licenses to practice medicine. These holy believers in science that is so firmly settled as to make sedimentary rock seem soft, would surely have done a better job than Galileo’s timid inquisitors!

I eventually discovered that there were physicians here in Alabama who were also successfully treating COVID-19 on an outpatient basis.  It turned out that one of these physicians was from my own community.  I had observed him over the years to be a competent and caring physician who was well-liked by his patients.  I decided to dig deeper and investigate for myself what these physicians were doing.  I uncovered no hidden agendas or dark motives lurking in the shadows among these doctors.

One thing stood out as I listened to these physicians, they were passionate about early treatment of COVID-19 patients to prevent any need for hospitalization. Rather than accepting the bureaucratic straitjacket that was immobilizing so many doctors, they had decided to make use of their training and skills to do what they could for the patients who presented to them.  They made use of a number of different FDA-approved medications, and were among the first in our state to recommend monoclonal antibody therapy, well before the healthcare bureaucracy finally began to more directly encourage its use this summer despite its availability since late last year.

As patients started sharing the results of their recovery from COVID, the number of patients seeking help from these doctors grew dramatically. They were overwhelmed with a flood of calls for help. They barely had time to eat or sleep during the peak of the delta outbreak, but they stayed in the fight. Thankfully the caseload began to decline by mid-September!

I decided to chronicle the results of this small group of doctors and, as of my most recent review, well over 5000 patients had been successfully treated, often with complete recovery in as little as three to five days. Certainly, those patients presenting later in the course of the disease process - especially those with respiratory compromise requiring supplemental oxygen - were slower to recover, but even in those cases, recovery was usually complete within two weeks.  Only 26 patients ultimately required hospitalization and the majority of these had presented after already being ill for seven to 10 days. Of this latter group, there have been three who died, but no patient has died who presented to these doctors early in the disease process. No side effects or complications from treatment were identified or reported.  

Just think about how many lives would have been saved across our state if open dialogue among physicians had been encouraged by our healthcare authorities regarding the early treatment of SARS-CoV-2 patients instead of mindlessly adhering to the failed, centrally-planned narrative and hoping that at some point there would be better outcomes.

If healthcare functioned as it should have during this crisis, public health officials would have invited physicians who were successfully treating COVID-19 patients into a welcome discussion with other physicians and, as a community, we could respectfully learn from each other. But that did not happen.  Instead, these physicians were labeled as extremist quacks, which is anything but helpful.

Another thing that is not helpful and, frankly, is even dangerous, is to have our healthcare authorities stating that well-established FDA-approved medications such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are harmful or not even for human use.  There have literally been billions of people all around the world who have taken these medications for a number of conditions with good outcomes. There have been very few adverse events associated with the use of these medications. In fact, both of these medications are on the list of essential medications of the World Health Organization. Of course, these medications were not specifically developed for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2, but the so-called "off label” use of an approved medication is a well-established practice in the treatment of many diseases. Unfortunately, with all the effort expended by the healthcare authorities to denigrate the use of these medications, pharmacists are now greatly restricting patient access to these life-saving drugs.  However, at least one of our healthcare leaders in the state was able to obtain access when he developed COVID, but he has since repented and is making amends for this wicked deed, having become a dedicated evangelist warning us not to fall into sin as he once had so shamefully done.

It is worth noting that both of these medications are off-patent and available as inexpensive generics.  This is of special relevance now with pharmaceutical companies seeking Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for oral COVID-19 medications, particularly since an EUA cannot be obtained if there are safe and effective medications already available. Some of the top owners of at least one of these pharmaceutical companies have profited mightily from COVID and have now been added to the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

“Follow the money” comes to mind.

But this is what central planning gets us. Powerful special interests gain oversized influence over policy decisions. There is no flexibility to allow lesser voices in this top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.  No diversity of thought or opinion.  It is the party line or else.  And unfortunately, this has even become the case with regard to medical research.  Whether in the funding of the research or in the peer-review process, ideological and even political forces are gaining increased influence regarding what is acceptable.

This problem has now come to the forefront with regard to the COVID vaccines.  In fact, it would seem that the focus on vaccination may actually be why there has been such little support for COVID treatment and may even explain the minimal emphasis on the use of monoclonal antibody therapy until recently, when it became obvious that the outbreak was getting out of hand.

Just to be clear, since this has become such a volatile topic, I am not "anti-vax."  I still remember the excitement and relief that my family experienced in the late 1950s as we watched a helicopter descend at a shopping center in our community, bringing to us our first doses of the polio vaccine. Both my wife and I as well as our children and grandchildren have received all the standard vaccinations as well as some that were not so standard because of our participation in various short-term mission trips outside the country.

It is commonly assumed that physicians who are in favor of early treatment of COVID are “anti-vax,” but I have not found that to be true. These physicians know first-hand that the vaccinated, as well as unvaccinated, have been getting infected with COVID during this most recent surge and that the vaccinated have generally been less ill. They also are aware that complications and deaths associated with these vaccines greatly exceed all such reports in VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event System) over its 30-year history with regard to all other vaccines offered for the prevention of infectious diseases.  What these physicians strongly advocate is that potential vaccine recipients should be thoroughly informed as to the risks and benefits of these various vaccines, after which, without threat or coercion, they can freely choose whether or not they will grant their informed consent to receive one of the vaccines. 

Informed consent has been a well-established principle in the ethical practice of medicine throughout my career and, as far as I could tell, this had been the standard upheld by the physicians in my community as well.  This is also the standard outlined in the October 1, 2020 New England Journal of Medicine article regarding SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. This article also points out that the state should have adequate infrastructure to provide compensation to workers who have adverse effects from a required vaccine and that there should be real-time surveillance of vaccine side effects.

We would all profit from occasionally reviewing the Nuremberg Code as well as the more recent Declaration of Helsinki.

Also, one would do well to become familiar with the PREP Act as applied to COVID with all the protection from liability provided to Big Pharma as well as to any facility or persons involved in administering vaccines or other treatments for the infection. Especially concerning is the lowering of standards permitted in the latest update of this act.  Sadly, any injured patient or a bereaved family member has no recourse but to accept whatever remedy or support the government determines to offer through its settlement program.  If these government-sanctioned treatments and vaccines are so safe and effective, then why is such iron-clad protection needed for those producing and administering these agents?

Those who support forcing people to get one of the COVID vaccines are consumed with the belief that this will ultimately be for the good of the entire society. This belief justifies their righteous anger toward the "evil" vaccine unbelievers among us. These misfits contaminating our society are putting us all at risk - or so we are told by our healthcare authorities and mass media overlords. Sadly, there have been some physicians who said that they would refuse to help such people if they needed medical care, and a few have even suggested that it would be better if the unvaccinated were to perish from the disease.

What has happened to us? If the vaccines are effective, then what is there to fear? The obvious response to this question has been that the unvaccinated are filling up our hospitals and wasting our medical resources as well as selfishly interfering with the ability of other patients to receive the medical and surgical care they need. But actually, if we were really interested in preventing hospitalization, then we would have instituted aggressive, early outpatient treatment of SARS-CoV-2.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? Will we just continue to tear each other apart, hopelessly divided as a society? I certainly hope not! Rather, my hope is that we will come together in our pursuit of truth and liberty for a just society conducive to human flourishing. Almost all of us have been guilty to some extent of shouting "Fire!" in the crowded theater of our world. This has served only to stoke the madness of crowds, leading us to angrily yell at one another with the potential for even more dreadful outcomes than we have already experienced. It would be good if both sides of our present divide could step back from their fears and anger so that we could speak to one another with less emotional intensity, which inhibits rational discussion. I pray that people on both sides of our present divide would converse with one another as fellow human beings, and make an effort to find a way to live in peace with one another.

A native of Huntsville, Dr. Michael Brown is a retired gastroenterologist who obtained his medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians as well as the American College of Gastroenterology. He has continued his work in research and also as a GI Hospitalist. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com