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Coronavirus Doctors Battle Another Scourge: Misinformation

An emergency room doctor in Illinois was accused in April of profiting from naming coronavirus as the cause of a patient’s death, a rumor spreading online.

An internist in New York treated a vomiting patient in May who drank a bleach mixture as part of a fake virus cure found on YouTube.

And in June a paramedic in Britain aided a clearly sick man who had refused to go to a hospital after reading misleading warnings about poor coronavirus treatment on social media.

Doctors on the front lines of the global pandemic say they are fighting not just the coronavirus, but also increasingly combating a never-ending scourge of misinformation about the disease that is hurting patients.

Before the pandemic, medical professionals had grown accustomed to dealing with patients misled by online information, a phenomenon they called Dr. Google. But in interviews, more than a dozen doctors and misinformation researchers in the United States and Europe said the volume related to the virus was like nothing they had seen before. They blamed leaders like President Trump for amplifying fringe theories, the social media platforms for not doing enough to stamp out false information and individuals for being too quick to believe what they see online.

Last week, researchers said that at least 800 people worldwide died in the first three months of the year, and thousands more were hospitalized, from unfounded claims online that ingesting highly concentrated alcohol would kill the virus. Their findings, based on studying rumors circulating on the web, were published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Doctors’ frustrations fill Facebook groups and online forums. The American Medical Association and other groups representing doctors say the false information spreading online is harming the public health response to the disease. The World Health Organization is developing methods to measure the harm of virus-related misinformation online, and over two weeks in July the group hosted an online conference with doctors, public health experts and internet researchers about how to address the problem.

Credit…Dylan Cole for The New York Times

Doctors say patients regularly resist their counsel, more inclined to believe what they read on Facebook than what a medical professional tells them. The falsehoods, they say, have undermined efforts to get people to wear masks and fueled a belief that the seriousness of the disease is overblown. Some doctors say they face abuse when they participate in online discussions to correct the record.

“This is no longer just an anecdotal observation that some individual doctors have made,” said Daniel Allington, a senior lecturer at King’s College London and co-author of a recent study that found people who obtained their news online, instead from radio or television, were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and not follow public health guidelines. “This is a statistically significant pattern that we can observe in a large survey.”

Dr. Howard Mell, an emergency room physician in an Illinois suburb of St. Louis, said the wife of a man who had died from the coronavirus in April accused him of falsely filling out the death certificate to make more money for himself. He explained that the form was accurate and that his pay was not based on the cause of death.

“She yelled, ‘We’ve seen online how you guys get more money,’” Dr. Mell said.

Since then, the situation has not improved, he said. Several times per week, he meets someone who believes false medical information that was discovered online.

“It has absolutely become a job unto itself,” said Dr. Mell, who is also a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, a group representing E.R. doctors.

Some doctors say they get into arguments with patients who demand prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, the unproven drug championed by Mr. Trump. At some hospitals, people have arrived asking for a doctor’s note so they do not have to wear a mask at work because they believe it will harm their oxygen levels, another online rumor.


Credit…Jess T. Dugan for The New York Times

“Now the numbers have picked way back up again, and I feel a lot has to do with things on social media, like this isn’t a big deal and we don’t have to take all these steps,” said Dr. David Welsh, a surgeon in Indiana who has treated coronavirus patients, referring to a recent infection surge in his area.

Online platforms like Facebook and YouTube, which is owned by Google, have introduced policies to limit coronavirus misinformation and elevate information from trusted sources like the World Health Organization. This month, Facebook and Twitter removed a post by Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign that falsely claimed that children do not get coronavirus.

“We have been aggressive in both removing harmful false claims and directing people to authoritative information,” Facebook said in a statement. The company, which held a call with doctors in June to hear their concerns, said it had removed more than seven million pieces of virus misinformation, and added warning labels to millions more.

YouTube said it was “committed to providing timely and helpful information around Covid-19” and had removed more than 200,000 dangerous or misleading videos.

But untrue information continues to spread. Last month, a video from a group of people calling themselves America’s Frontline Doctors was viewed millions of times. It shared misleading claims about the virus, including that hydroxychloroquine is an effective coronavirus treatment and that masks do not slow the spread of the virus.

The scale of the problem led last month to a British parliamentary report that added to calls in the country for tougher laws against the largest social media platforms, like Facebook and YouTube.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Kentucky, said a number of sick patients had waited until it was nearly too late to visit a hospital because they were convinced by what they had read online that Covid-19 was fake or “no big deal.”

“They thought it was just a ploy, a sham, a conspiracy,” Dr. Stanton recalled. “It just blew my mind that you can put these blinders on and ignore the facts.”

Thomas Knowles, a paramedic in Britain, said a person in June refused to be admitted after reading that hospitals would make his condition worse. The incident so troubled Mr. Knowles that he went searching social media for virus-related misinformation, where he encountered false claims like doctors taking people’s blood for research and then leaving them to die.

“I’ve never personally encountered such a strong, consistent — and so clearly coordinated from somewhere — collective of people so entrenched in their false beliefs,” Mr. Knowles said.


Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Some doctors in cities like New York said the volume of patients believing misinformation had declined as the disease swept their area. But, they said, it remained a troubling trend.

Dr. Parinda Warikarn, who works at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York, said the patient who had ingested bleach after seeing the bogus treatment on YouTube came into the hospital with severe abdominal pain.

“He clearly really believed that he was going to prevent Covid,” she said. “Luckily, his wife and two young children didn’t take this solution.”

A growing fear is that vaccine conspiracy theories could undermine eventual vaccination efforts, said Dr. John Wright from the Bradford Institute for Health Research in England.

“Social media brings many great things but it also provides a platform to sow the seeds of doubt, and that’s what has happened,” he said.

Dr. Wright recalled that Congolese immigrants believed a social media rumor that Covid-19 was a government trick to deport them, and that others, from the Indian community, cited posts about doctors intentionally infecting patients. A nurse at the hospital complained to Facebook about people posting names and pictures of health workers accusing them of leaving patients to die.

Dr. Mell, the physician in Illinois, encounters regular abuse from Facebook users when he has pushed back on false information. But he believes the effort is necessary to keep falsehoods from spreading.

“Doctors have to continue to speak the truth as loudly as we can,” he said. “People need to hear it.”

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Misleading Hydroxychloroquine Video, Pushed by the Trumps, Spreads Online

In a video posted Monday online, a group of people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” and wearing white medical coats spoke against the backdrop of the Supreme Court in Washington, sharing misleading claims about the virus, including that hydroxychloroquine was an effective coronavirus treatment and that masks did not slow the spread of the virus.

The video did not appear to be anything special. But within six hours, President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had tweeted versions of it, and the right-wing news site Breitbart had shared it. It went viral, shared largely through Facebook groups dedicated to anti-vaccination movements and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, racking up tens of millions of views. Multiple versions of the video were uploaded to YouTube, and links were shared through Twitter.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter worked feverishly to remove it, but by the time they had, the video had already become the latest example of misinformation about the virus that has spread widely.

That was because the video had been designed specifically to appeal to internet conspiracists and conservatives eager to see the economy reopen, with a setting and characters to lend authenticity. It showed that even as social media companies have sped up response time to remove dangerous virus misinformation within hours of its posting, people have continued to find new ways around the platforms’ safeguards.

“Misinformation about a deadly virus has become political fodder, which was then spread by many individuals who are trusted by their constituencies,” said Lisa Kaplan, founder of Alethea Group, a start-up that helps fight disinformation. “If just one person listened to anyone spreading these falsehoods and they subsequently took an action that caused others to catch, spread or even die from the virus — that is one person too many.”

One of the speakers in the video, who identified herself as Dr. Stella Immanuel, said, “You don’t need masks” to prevent spread of the coronavirus. She also claimed to be treating hundreds of patients infected with coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine, and asserted that it was an effective treatment. The claims have been repeatedly disputed by the medical establishment.

President Trump repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, in the early months of the crisis. In June, he said he was taking it himself. But that same month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency authorization for the drug for Covid-19 patients and said it was “unlikely to be effective” and carried potential risks. The National Institutes of Health halted clinical trials of the drug.

In addition, studies have repeatedly shown that masks are effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The trajectory of Monday’s video mirrored that of “Plandemic,” a 26-minute slickly produced narration that spread widely in May and falsely claimed that a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power. In just over a week, “Plandemic” was viewed more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before it was taken down.

But the video posted Monday had more views than “Plandemic” within hours of being posted online, even though it was removed much faster. At least one version of the video, viewed by The Times on Facebook, was watched over 16 million times.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter deleted several versions of the video on Monday night. All three companies said the video violated their policies on sharing misinformation related to the coronavirus.

On Tuesday morning, Twitter also took action against Donald Trump Jr. after he shared a link to the video. A spokesman for Twitter said the company had ordered Mr. Trump to delete the misleading tweet and said it would “limit some account functionality for 12 hours.” Twitter took a similar action against Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chairwoman, who also tweeted the video.

No action was taken against the president, who retweeted multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers Monday night. The original posts have since been removed.

When asked about the video on Tuesday, Mr. Trump continued to defend the doctors involved and the treatments they are backing.

“For some reason the internet wanted to take them down and took them off,” the president said. “I think they are very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it, that she’s had tremendous success with it and they took her voice off. I don’t know why they took her off. Maybe they had a good reason, maybe they didn’t.”

Facebook and YouTube did not answer questions about multiple versions of the video that remained online on Tuesday afternoon. Twitter said it was “continuing to take action on new and existing tweets with the video.”

The members of the group behind Monday’s video say they are physicians treating patients infected with the coronavirus. But it was unclear where many of them practice medicine or how many patients they had actually seen. As early as May, anti-Obamacare conservative activists called the Tea Party Patriots Action reportedly worked with some of them to advocate loosening states’ restrictions on elective surgeries and nonemergency care. On July 15, the group registered a website called “America’s Frontline Doctors,” domain registration records show.

One of the first copies of the video that appeared on Monday was posted to the Tea Party Patriots’ YouTube channel, alongside other videos featuring the members of “America’s Frontline Doctors.”

The doctors have also been promoted by conservatives like Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a nonprofit media organization.

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A Drug Company Wagers the U.S. Won’t Dare Charge It With Crimes

In the coming days, the Justice Department will make an important decision: whether to file criminal charges against one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies for allegedly colluding with rivals to inflate the prices of widely used drugs.

The company, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, is betting that in the middle of a deadly pandemic, the Trump administration won’t dare to come down hard on the largest supplier of generic drugs in the United States.

It is a high-stakes gamble that could affect millions of Americans who rely on Teva’s dozens of inexpensive generic drugs, as well as its brand-name products like Copaxone, for multiple sclerosis, and Ajovy, for migraines. Teva officials say criminal charges could cripple the Israeli company and potentially leave it unable to sell drugs to federal programs like Medicare.

For years, the Justice Department and state prosecutors have been investigating what they describe as a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to increase the prices of popular drugs. The department has already extracted guilty pleas and $224 million in penalties from four other drug companies.

Lawyers for Teva, which prosecutors believe was deeply involved in the conspiracy, until recently had been holding settlement negotiations with officials in the Justice Department’s antitrust division. But in April, the company all but walked away from the talks, essentially daring the Trump administration to file charges, according to people on both sides of the discussions.

Teva officials have said that the company did nothing wrong and that they plan to vigorously defend themselves.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Teva executives and board members believe that one reason the Trump administration will back down is to avoid the impression that it is harming a company that is helping the United States fight the coronavirus.

Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

A week or two before Teva’s lawyers pulled out of the settlement talks, a board member, Roberto Mignone, reached out to the White House to discuss the company’s efforts to provide drugs that might help treat the coronavirus.

President Trump had been touting an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a possible “game changer” in the fight against the coronavirus. Teva was among the companies that made hydroxychloroquine overseas and could export it to the United States. It had already donated millions of hydroxychloroquine pills to American hospitals.

On March 24, Mr. Mignone emailed a former college roommate of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. He wrote that Teva wanted the White House to help get the company’s hydroxychloroquine supplies out of India and to permit Teva to coordinate with rival drug companies to make and distribute the drugs.

In an ensuing discussion with officials on the White House’s coronavirus task force, Teva positioned itself as a valuable partner in the manufacturing and distribution of potential medical treatments for the coronavirus, according to people familiar with the discussions, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about them. (In the weeks since, the results of several studies have dampened enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine, and Mr. Trump has stopped emphasizing the drug.)

Teva officials said there was no connection between the White House conversation and the yearslong antitrust investigation.

But, said Robert Field, a professor of law and health policy at Drexel University, “it’s hard to believe that Teva does not have that in mind and does not see some kind of absolution in producing a drug that might help us come out of a national nightmare while they are facing quite serious criminal charges.”

Ronny Gal, a research analyst who follows the generic drug industry at the brokerage Bernstein, said Teva and other generic companies had seen working with the Trump administration as an opportunity not because more sales of hydroxychloroquine would be profitable — pills cost pennies — but because “they want to be viewed as a partner.”

“It’s your chance, at a relatively low cost, to have a very large P.R. campaign,” he added.


Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Teva had its conversation with the White House just as the company’s officials were reconsidering their settlement negotiations with the Justice Department, which along with other government bodies has for years had Teva in its cross hairs.

The investigation centers on allegations that Teva and a number of rivals illegally worked together to increase prices for widely used generic drugs like pravastatin, which is used to treat high cholesterol.

Congressional investigators have found that Teva dominated the market for some of the drugs whose prices inexplicably rose and remained high. And nearly every state attorney general and the Justice Department’s antitrust division have identified Teva as a leading player in the alleged price-fixing conspiracy.

Teva executives and board members view the federal case as overly reliant on a single former Teva employee who has struck an immunity deal with the government, according to people familiar with their thinking.

But they also feared an indictment, which would be likely to crush the company’s stock price. A criminal conviction would bar Teva from selling drugs to federal health care programs for at least five years. Avoiding such an outcome was a top priority for Teva, and a settlement seemed close at hand this spring, according to the people on both sides of the negotiations.

The Justice Department was inking settlements with other players in the alleged price-fixing conspiracy. In March, the government announced a deal with the Novartis subsidiary Sandoz, another major generic drugmaker. Sandoz pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $195 million fine, the largest ever in a U.S. antitrust case. Last week, another company, Apotex, agreed to a $24 million settlement.

In mid-April, lawyers for Teva told officials in the antitrust division that they didn’t see a point in continuing with settlement negotiations based on their current trajectory, according to two people involved in the company’s internal discussions.

At a board meeting last week, Teva’s directors, lawyers and executives decided to stick with their legal strategy. With the statute of limitations on the case expiring soon, they doubted that the department would dare to charge the company.

Because Teva makes 10 percent of oral generic drugs prescribed in the United States, Mr. Gal said, it has significant leverage in negotiating with the federal government, especially during the pandemic, when the supply of some drugs has been strained. The company has “a level of protection, where the U.S. certainly does not want the company to go bankrupt,” he said.

Justice Department officials haven’t given up hope that settlement talks might resume before the statute of limitation expires in the next two weeks, at which point the government needs to decide whether to charge Teva or let the company walk.

A Justice Department lawyer, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about an active investigation, said that while prosecutors were wary of seriously harming a major drug company in the heat of a pandemic, they were also worried about giving a company a pass for illegal behavior simply because of a national emergency.

Jesse Drucker contributed reporting.

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Avigan May Cause Birth Defects. Japan’s Pushing It for Coronavirus.

TOKYO — As President Trump was extolling the promise of a malaria drug in the desperate hunt for coronavirus treatments, one of his top global allies was selling the world on his own “trump card,” a pale yellow pill that he said could be crucial to fighting the pandemic.

This supposed beacon of hope is an antiviral medicine known as Avigan, and its most vocal proponent is Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

Mr. Abe has pushed the homegrown drug in news conferences and in meetings with world leaders, including a call with Mr. Trump and the other heads of the Group of 7. He has allocated nearly $130 million to triple an existing stockpile of the medication. And he has offered to provide it free to dozens of other countries.

The prime minister, however, has glossed over one crucial fact: There is no solid evidence that Avigan is actually effective against Covid-19. While the drug has shown potential for treating some deadly diseases like Ebola in animal studies, there are limited findings that it works for any illness in humans.

What Avigan, whose generic name is favipiravir, does have is a peculiar regulatory history and one dangerous potential side effect — birth defects. Mr. Abe himself noted in a news conference on Monday that the side effect was “the same as thalidomide,” which caused deformities in thousands of babies in the 1950s and ’60s.

At the same time, Mr. Abe called for Avigan to be approved for use against Covid-19 by the end of the month. His pitches for the medication, like Mr. Trump’s testimonials for the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine, are adding to concerns that national leaders could warp careful drug approval processes by making unusual interventions in support of unproven medications.

The prime minister’s boosterism has helped get Avigan into over 1,000 medical facilities in Japan, and the country’s foreign ministry says nearly 80 countries have requested the drug.

“We’re all impatient. We want a drug yesterday,” said Susan Ellenberg, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in designing clinical trials. “But we’re not going to know what works until we do these studies.”

As the world clamors for coronavirus treatments, doctors are testing an array of medications. A number of countries, including the United States, have planned or started trials of Avigan.

For political leaders, backing the right treatment could save lives, bolster political fortunes, win international prestige and supercharge corporate profits. Promoting the wrong drug, however, can be disastrous.

The Food and Drug Administration last week warned that hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, can have dangerous effects on heart rhythm. In one extreme example, a man in Arizona died after ingesting a fish tank additive that had the same active ingredient as chloroquine.

Doubts among medical watchdogs have not slowed Avigan’s rise. The drug has the backing of one of Japan’s most powerful companies, Fujifilm, whose subsidiary Toyama Chemical developed Avigan. The Chinese government has attested to its safety and effectiveness against Covid-19.

On Japanese television, doctors are calling the pill a possible global savior, and celebrities who have taken it have offered glowing testimonials.

But that evidence is entirely anecdotal, said Masaya Yamato, chief of infectious diseases at Rinku General Medical Center in Osaka, who served on a 2016 government panel that considered the drug as a last line of defense against new types of influenza.

“I’m not saying this medicine doesn’t work. I’m saying there’s still no proof that it works,” Dr. Yamato said.

A spokeswoman for Fujifilm, Kana Matsumoto, said that the company was conducting clinical trials in Japan and the United States “in order to obtain substantial evidence of the drug’s efficacy” against Covid-19.

Avigan is potentially valuable because it functions differently from most other antivirals, interfering with viruses’ reproduction, instead of stopping them from entering cells. In studies on animals, the drug has appeared capable of curbing the propagation of certain viruses like Ebola, especially when administered early.

The drug also has major problems. Evidence of birth defects in animal trials led Japan to put unusually strict controls on the pill’s use and production. Before the coronavirus, it had been given to humans only during clinical trials and in desperate attempts to treat Ebola. None of those efforts delivered definitive evidence that it effectively treats any disease in humans, even common types of influenza, Dr. Yamato said.

If Avigan works against Covid-19, it is most likely useful in the illness’s early stages, said Norio Sugaya, an infectious diseases expert at Keiyu Hospital in Yokohama.

Dr. Sugaya said he believed the drug could be useful as a prophylactic if combined with widespread testing, a softening of the views he shared with the government task force in 2016, when he argued that the drug was unproven and should not be stockpiled.

Despite the warnings, officials at the time decided to purchase enough pills for two million patients, a stockpile that is now being tapped. So far, 1,100 Japanese medical facilities have given Avigan to almost 2,200 Covid-19 patients, with more than a thousand on wait lists for the drug, government data showed.

Many of those facilities are not applying rigorous scientific controls, such as double-blinding and the use of placebos. They argue that the potential benefits outweigh the risks, particularly in the elderly, for whom the problem of birth defects is unlikely to be an issue.

Fujifilm and others are now conducting proper trials of the drug for Covid-19. But Mr. Abe has rushed ahead of that process by calling for Avigan’s use to be expanded even further, by urging hospitals to give it to anyone who wants it, and by telling patients to ask for it by name.

On Monday, he said that the approval process would probably not depend on traditional clinical trials carried out by the developer, but instead would most likely take a “different form” after experts made a judgment about the drug’s effectiveness.

It is not clear why he has been such a vocal advocate. Some Japanese media have noted his close ties to Fujifilm’s chief executive, Shigetaka Komori. The two men have often golfed and eaten together, last meeting on Jan. 17, according to the prime minister’s schedule.

In mid-February, Fujifilm was the only company invited to attend a government task force meeting on international cooperation against the virus, according to materials from the meeting posted online.

Its representatives presented a 27-page PowerPoint presentation noting that the Chinese government was preparing to approve the medication for use on an emergency basis. The Chinese patent on Avigan expired last year, and if Japan dawdled, it could lose a potentially enormous market for the medicine.

In a news conference on Feb. 29, Mr. Abe said Japan was testing three treatments against the virus, mentioning only Avigan by name. The next week, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters that Mr. Abe’s relationship with Fujifilm’s chief executive had “absolutely no connection” to the prime minister’s views on the pill.

Government officials are thinking “it’s a drug that’s made in Japan, so let’s use it if we can,” said Dr. Yamato, the infectious diseases expert.

The Fujifilm spokeswoman said “there has never been any favorable treatment” from Mr. Abe or his administration.

The drug gained further support in March, when two Chinese research teams posted papers online suggesting that it had hastened the recovery of patients experiencing mild to moderate cases of Covid-19.

Chinese officials, who have been stung by criticism that they initially covered up the outbreak, began promoting the findings as an example of the country’s successful response to the virus.

But scientists soon began picking the papers apart, arguing that they lacked basic scientific controls. Both papers, which had not been peer reviewed, were revised, their conclusions becoming less assured.

Nevertheless, China quickly approved Avigan for use against Covid-19. It was the first time any country outside Japan had approved its use against any disease.

Japan itself had only conditionally greenlighted the drug in 2014 under what medical watchdogs describe as highly unusual circumstances.

In their assessment, regulators wrote that Avigan “has not shown effectiveness” against seasonal influenza and could not be approved for use against it. Instead, they would allow its use against new or re-emergent strains of influenza, but only in “crisis” situations when existing antivirals proved ineffective.

Ms. Matsumoto, Fujifilm’s spokeswoman, said that the approval process was “robust and rigorous.”

In a report issued Friday, Medwatcher Japan, a nonprofit group that monitors the pharmaceutical industry, described the approval process as “exceedingly abnormal.”

“It’s unbelievable that it was ever stockpiled as an influenza drug,” said Masumi Minaguchi, the group’s secretary general. “And it’s even more unbelievable, that under these circumstances, even without any scientific basis, people are being told to use it.”

Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Cao Li from Hong Kong.

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Fox News Stars Trumpeted a Malaria Drug, Until They Didn’t

For a month’s stretch, the Fox News star Laura Ingraham relentlessly promoted the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to her nearly four million nightly viewers.

The drug was “a game changer” in the fight against the coronavirus, the conservative anchor declared. She booked recovered patients to describe their “miracle turnaround” — “like Lazarus, up from the grave,” as Ms. Ingraham put it. Anyone who questioned the drug’s efficacy, she said, was “in total denial.”

“I love everybody, love the medical profession,” the host said on April 3, after listing off public health experts who questioned the cure. “But they want a double-blind controlled study on whether the sky is blue.”

But as of last Wednesday, Ms. Ingraham was no longer talking about hydroxychloroquine, and she didn’t bring it up on her show for a week.

Her fellow Fox News prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity also cut back on referring to the drug. In fact, since April 13, hydroxychloroquine has been mentioned about a dozen times on Fox News, compared with more than 100 times in the four previous weeks, according to a review of network transcripts.

The shift came as President Trump has dialed back his public zeal for the treatment — and as studies and health experts have increasingly cast doubt on the efficacy of the drug in treating coronavirus.

On Tuesday, a study of 368 Veterans Affairs patients showed that the use of hydroxychloroquine was associated with an increased risk of death. Mr. Trump’s own medical team, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has urged caution about hydroxychloroquine, noting the drug’s potential adverse effect on patients with heart troubles.

Ms. Ingraham declined to be interviewed for this article. On Wednesday, after this article was published online, she opened her Fox News program by dismissing the results of the Veterans Affairs study, calling it “shoddy,” “shockingly irresponsible” and “agenda-driven.”

“What’s driving this blind obsession to disprove the effectiveness of a drug that is being used right now, tonight, in medical centers across America?” Ms. Ingraham said, above an onscreen graphic that read “The Truth About Hydroxychloroquine.”

She added: “Is it triggered by pure hatred of Trump? Of Fox? Of me?” (Ms. Ingraham prefaced her remarks by reminding viewers: “I’m not a doctor; I don’t play one on TV.”)

Since mid-March, hydroxychloroquine has been a staple of the right-wing news media venues that Mr. Trump follows closely, including Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and Fox News prime time.

Ms. Ingraham was an early and enthusiastic advocate. On April 2, she told her viewers that “nearly all the experts that I’ve talked to, and the studies I’ve read, review this information, the evidence, and at this point, it’s come across as pretty much of a game changer.” The next day, she met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office to personally pitch him on the drug.

Doctors around the country have prescribed hydroxychloroquine to patients for weeks despite the lack of rigorous trials. Some physicians say, given the speed and severity of the coronavirus, they are turning to any medicinal tools they can to save lives, even as little evidence has emerged that hydroxychloroquine is a panacea. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has allowed that, “anecdotally,” doctors have seen positive results from the treatment, while reminding people that reliable data may take months to collect.

On Fox News, though, Ms. Ingraham acknowledged those caveats in passing, leaving an impression that a skeptical bureaucracy was keeping Americans from benefiting from a miracle drug.

On April 9, she began her program by mocking the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, for “essentially dismissing, trashing” hydroxychloroquine “despite all of its success stories.” She told viewers that the doctors booked on her program that night — “my medicine cabinet” — would “set the record straight.” (Fox News said on Wednesday that Ms. Ingraham’s segments about hydroxychloroquine always included a doctor or recovered coronavirus patient.)

Later on the show, she interviewed a patient, Billy Saracino, who, by his account, recovered from the coronavirus because his wife was inspired by “The Ingraham Angle” to help arrange a prescription for hydroxychloroquine.

“It is amazing that the left and the medical establishment is still in total denial about the potential of these decades old drugs,” Ms. Ingraham said.

Within a week, she had stopped talking about the drug on-air.

Mr. Hannity, while not as prominent a hydroxychloroquine cheerleader as Ms. Ingraham was, also highlighted the use of the drug, at one point citing a study that, he told viewers, showed “hydroxychloroquine is rated now the most effective therapy by doctors, over 6,300 of them surveyed, for coronavirus.”

Mr. Hannity, who likes to remind viewers that he is “not a doctor,” routinely asked guests whether they would take hydroxychloroquine for treatment if they were infected with the disease.

Fox News, the country’s top-rated cable network, carries outsize influence among viewers who flock to its popular opinion programs. Hydroxychloroquine was first cited on the network during a late-night news show on March 11. The mention jumped to prime time a few days later, when a guest named Gregory Rigano praised the drug to Mr. Carlson and Ms. Ingraham.

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” had identified Mr. Rigano as an adviser to the Stanford University School of Medicine, but the school has since said that Mr. Rigano has no affiliation with the institution; he has not been back on Fox News.

On Wednesday, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a frequent guest on Fox News, appeared on “Fox & Friends” and spoke about the Veterans Affairs study that showed no clear positive benefit of treating the coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine.

At first, Dr. Oz offered some caveats, noting the study was not a controlled trial and focused on “older and quite a bit sicker patients.” But pressed by the co-host Brian Kilmeade, Dr. Oz conceded that “the fact of the matter is, we don’t know.”

“There’s so much data coming from so many places,” he told viewers, “we are better off waiting for the randomized trials Dr. Fauci’s been asking for.”

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