Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Reuters Corrects Article on Ivermectin Efficacy
Reuters faced backlash this week after the news outlet published an article stating that ivermectin was “effective” against Omicron in phase III clinical trials.
However, that original statement was incorrect.
The article was updated Jan. 31 to read that a press release issued by Japanese company Kowa Co. Ltd. stated that ivermectin showed an “antiviral effect” against Omicron and other coronavirus variants in joint non-clinical research. Reuters reported that Kowa has been working with Tokyo’s Kitasato University on testing ivermectin as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but that the company did not provide further details.
Given how controversial the anti-parasitic drug has become during the course of the pandemic, even prompting a number of lawsuits brought by doctors and family members of COVID-19 patients, Twitter users were quick to call out Reuters’ misstatement.
One thread read in part that Reuters corrected its story “after damage was already done,” and that “the uncorrected version will live on, including on Covid conspiracy sites.”
Of the misstatement, a spokesperson for Reuters said the following in a statement provided to MedPage Today: “The original Reuters story misstated that ivermectin was ‘effective’ against Omicron in Phase III clinical trials, which are conducted in humans. We corrected this to clarify it had an ‘antiviral effect’ against Omicron and it was shown in joint non-clinical research. After being made aware of the error, we corrected our story immediately.”
Nursing Homes Struggle with Long Waits for Test Results
As nursing homes are challenged with an Omicron surge that can be more severe for seniors, an increasing percentage of facilities are waiting longer for COVID-19 test results when it comes to their residents and staff, KHN reported, citing federal data.
“The double whammy of slower turnaround times for lab-based PCR tests and a shortage of rapid antigen tests has strained facilities where quickly identifying infections is crucial for keeping a highly vulnerable population safe,” KHN wrote.
In fact, a KHN analysis of data from CMS found that 25% of nursing homes that sent COVID-19 tests to a lab waited an average of three days or more for results as of Jan. 16, the news outlet reported. That percentage was up from 12% in early December.
Longer waits can render COVID-19 tests all but “useless,” Alex Kiefer, president at Lutheran Life Villages in Fort Wayne, Indiana, told KHN.
“If we send somebody off to get a PCR test, sometimes it takes two days for them to get an appointment,” Kiefer told KHN. “And then it takes two, three, four days to get a read.”
KHN noted that a survey this month by LeadingAge, an organization that lobbies for nonprofit nursing homes and other aging care providers, found that 76% of nursing homes had adequate testing supplies, but that restocking was becoming more difficult. KHN further reported that the American Health Care Association has asked the Biden administration to increase the sector’s testing supplies, estimating that 5 million tests per week are needed.
Further Strain on Hospitals: Shortage of COVID-19 Treatments
As many hospitals continue to feel the strain from an onslaught of new COVID-19 patients, their latest stumbling block is a shortage in treatments that could help keep patients out of their beds, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“States say they are getting a fraction of [antiviral pills and effective antibody drugs] to meet demand for treatments that can prevent the disease from progressing to the point of hospitalization,” WSJ wrote. “That is a concern for some hospitals that are dealing with staffing shortages and a daily crush of sick patients, even as the wave of cases driven by the Omicron wave recedes elsewhere.”
The U.S. government ships pills and antibody drugs to states, but it’s then up to states to determine where to distribute them, WSJ reported. That includes decisions on which patients are at the highest risk from infection, and having some clinics and other healthcare providers cut off from supplies because hospitals are first in line.
Antiviral manufacturers, such as Pfizer, are ramping up production to meet demand, WSJ reported. And current antibody treatments that work against Omicron have been limited.
In the meantime, distribution of limited treatments continues to draw criticism.
Doug White, MD, a University of Pittsburgh doctor and ethicist, told WSJ that individuals who lack access to regular medical care or the necessary time or money can be at a disadvantage when it comes to getting to a doctor or pharmacy.
“The people who will get [treatment] are the people who have the means to get there quickly,” White told WSJ.
As for hospitals that do have some treatments, the challenge remains determining how to give them to the sickest patients, Tina Tan, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, told WSJ.
Researcher Eviscerates Supplements, Then Profits off Industry
An investigation by Science alleges that a high-profile botanist may have committed research fraud that ultimately helped him profit from the supplement industry.
Steven Newmaster, PhD, of the University of Guelph (UG) in Canada, published an influential study in BMC Medicine in 2013 using a technology called DNA barcoding to show that herbal products contained fillers, contaminants, or other incorrect ingredients.
Newmaster allegedly leveraged the paper into a profitable business, where supplement makers would hire his companies to certify their products, the report states.
But last May, a former young investigator from Newmaster’s lab raised concerns about data fabrication, which then snowballed into a 43-page allegation letter in June 2021 penned by eight experts in DNA barcoding and related fields, calling for UG to investigate potential misconduct.
The Science investigation says the possible fraud goes beyond the three papers — into fabrication, data manipulation, and plagiarism in Newmaster’s speeches, teaching materials, biographies, and scholarly writing.
UG has been investigating the accusations since August 2021, but some fear university administrators will “quash the new accusation in a misguided attempt to protect UG’s and their own reputations, and the university’s share of funds raised by Newmaster,” the article stated.
Both the university and Newmaster declined to comment for the article, but in a defense to UG, Newmaster denied all the charges against him.
Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.