The Trump administration is so allergic to telling the truth that, even when they have really good news, they just lie. Because why admit something is an incremental improvement when you can shout that it's STUPENDOUS! AMAZING! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Well, for one thing, you squander your whole reputation if your name isn't Donald "The Lies Are Already Baked In" Trump. And then you wind up having to walk it back in humiliating tweets like this.

That whooshing sound is an entire career's credibility getting flushed down the toilet. Great job, Dr. Hahn!


On Sunday, Trump convened a press conference to announce a major breakthrough on COVID, and we all braced for whatever quack shit Twitter and the My Pillow Guy had talked Trump into this time. Would it be poisonous oleander? Bleach smoothies? Yet another round of hydroxybonercream?

No! Actually, this time is was an emergency authorization by the FDA for convalescent plasma therapy — basically an infusion of antibodies from a person who has recovered from COVID into a person with an active infection. After Dr. Anthony Fauci and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins intervened earlier in the week to halt an emergency waiver because the therapeutic effects hadn't been proven, Trump complained on Wednesday that the DEEP STATE was holding back the treatment to harm his electoral prospects, saying, "It could be a political decision, because you have a lot of people over there that don't want to rush things because they want to — they want to do it after November 3rd."

"I've heard fantastic things about convalescent plasma," the president blarbled. "And I've heard numbers way over 50 percent success. And people are dying, and we should have it approved if it's good. And I'm hearing it's good. I heard from people at the FDA that it's good. So we'll see. I'm going to check that right after this conference."

And hey, presto, that authorization for the Trump administration's latest fantasy cure-all magically appeared within three days! Whodathunkit?

The data on convalescent plasma isn't terrible. Although we'll never be able to get enough of the stuff to treat major outbreaks of infection, infusions of donor plasma with high levels of antibodies do appear to decrease mortality to some extent. But that's not what Trump and his cronies said at their big presser on Sunday. They insisted that it decreased mortality by a whopping 35 percent when given in the right doses. Which is nothing like the 50 percent Trump promised, but it's nothing like the truth, either.

Even Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA Commissioner, got in on the act:

So, let me just put this in perspective. Many of you know I was a cancer doctor before I became FDA commissioner, and a 35 percent improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit. What that means is — and if the data continue to pan out — 100 people who are sick with COVID-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma.

It's really the perfect Trump lie — one part bad data, one part conspiracy theory about easy solutions THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW, and one part touting himself as a savior based on someone else's work.

Except the data here is really, really bad. When asked by the New York Times where the FDA got this 35 percent number, first the agency pointed to a graph in its emergency use application which "appeared to indicate a 30-day survival probability of about 63 percent in patients who received plasma with a low level of antibodies, compared with about 76 percent in those who received a high level of antibodies."

In plain English, picture a set of 100 patients receiving plasma with a lot of antibodies in it, and another set of 100 patients receiving plasma with very few antibodies in it (functionally a control group). In this scenario, 24 patients in the first group would die, as compared to 37 deaths in the second group. And for those of you who aren't super math-y, that means the number of patients saved isn't 35, it's 13. Because that is how math fucking works, and it is simply inexcusable for our public health leaders to play fast and loose with the stats to pretend this therapy is three times as effective as it actually is!

And while we're talking about IRL data, the Mayo Clinic only reported a 2.7 percent reduction — that's absolute reduction, not relative, Dr. Hahn! — in mortality between the high and low antibody groups, which is exactly why Drs. Fauci and Collins nixed the emergency use authorization in the first place.

Or maybe they're just DEEP STATE. Shit, you never know, right?

[NYT / MedCity]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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