House committee approves bill that encourages unproven COVID-19 treatments

By: - February 10, 2022 1:16 pm

Safety warning posted near the ivermectin at Blain’s Farm and Fleet in Standale, MI on Aug. 31, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

The Michigan House Health Policy Committee approved Thursday a bill that Democrats say would put “physicians in a place where they are being pressured” to consider experimental and potentially harmful COVID-19 treatments. 

House Bill 5637, introduced by state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.), aims to amend the state’s 2014 “Right to Try” Act, which allows patients with an “advanced illness” to access and use experimental treatments that are under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The bill aims to specifically include COVID-19 to the act, which is not currently excluded from the act.

The bill passed through the committee with a 13-6 vote, with Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), being the lone Democratic yes vote. 

Whitsett, who took hydroxychloroquine when she had COVID-19 in March 2020, was invited to the White House in April 2020 and praised former President Donald Trump for his endorsement of the experimental treatment. 

President Donald J. Trump listens as Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett talks about her recovery from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. | Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks via Flickr Public Domain

“The concern that I have with the bill is that right now we’re seeing a lot of people who are frankly relying on conspiracy theories and misinformation from people who are not medical professionals. And it is putting a lot of physicians in a very, very difficult position, because they are simply trying to treat their patients responsibly and effectively and give them the best chance of recovery that they can,” said Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia). “Legislation like this just promotes the thinking that these completely unproven remedies are more effective than what we already know works against COVID-19, which is vaccinations.”

As of Wednesday, Michigan reports a total of 2,026,646 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 30,747 have died from the virus. Currently 59% of Michiganders have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, Michigan has the 10th highest number of COVID-19 cases and 10th highest death rate in the country, and ranks 34th in the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated.

Two of the most mainstream experimental COVID-19 treatments that have gained traction among conservatives are ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Trump advocated for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment in 2020, but the antimalarial drug has been proven ineffective against COVID-19 and potentially harmful if used for unintended purposes.

The concern that I have with the bill is that right now we're seeing a lot of people who are frankly relying on conspiracy theories and misinformation from people who are not medical professionals.

– State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (R-Livonia)

In vitro studies on ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasitic infections like scabies, onchocerciasis (“river blindness”) and others, have also proven the treatment to be ineffective and potentially dangerous at the dosages needed to be used on humans with COVID-19. 

During a hearing on the bill last month, Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in West Michigan and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care, said it could discourage Michiganders from getting vaccinated.

Pohutsky said the bill is more about “messaging” for Republicans, since the “Right to Try” Act doesn’t exclude COVID-19 experimental treatments. 

“The Right to Try Act has undoubtably [sic] saved numerous lives in the years since its implementation in Michigan,” Whiteford, a registered nurse and chair of the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement Thursday. “Michigan’s COVID-19 death toll has reached staggering and unacceptable heights. Adding COVID-19 to the list of conditions included in the act is a necessary and ethical step to protect more people from succumbing to the deadly virus.”

The bill will next move to the full House.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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