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Tennessean: Tennessee doctor in U.S. Senate race slams Fauci, defends use of disproved COVID-19 cure

Tennessean: Tennessee doctor in U.S. Senate race slams Fauci, defends use of disproved COVID-19 cure

By Natalie Allsion

Tennessean

August 3, 2020

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, a race in which the two frontrunners have sought to tie themselves as closely as possible to President Donald Trump, has now turned to criticism of the nation’s top infectious disease adviser who has at times been at odds with the president.

Both are also criticizing what they say is censorship by social media websites of information about COVID-19 treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, a drug intended to treat arthritis and malaria, but that Trump — followed by millions of his supporters — has incorrectly touted a promising cure for the virus.

Five credible studies “do not show any benefit to hydroxychloroquine” as a coronavirus treatment, Adm. Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC News Sunday.

The discourse surrounding Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and HCQ, as the controversial drug is commonly abbreviated, began after Manny Sethi, a surgeon and one of the top contenders in the Senate primary, energized a Knoxville crowd while calling for Fauci’s firing from the White House coronavirus task force.

He also defended use of the drug.

Sethi appeared with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who is also a doctor and has endorsed him.

“This COVID crisis, this pandemic, it’s real, it’s serious,” said Sethi, who is employed as an orthopaedic trauma surgeon and assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “But this guy Fauci, I’ve had about enough of this guy. And I think maybe, it’s time for the president to bring him into the board room and say, ‘You’re fired.'”

Sethi’s comments, echoed in recent weeks by a number of right-wing social media users critical of business shutdowns and mask wearing, received a roar of applause from his audience.

He then defended HCQ, saying that he has “seen it save a colleague of mine’s life,” referring to a fellow orthopaedic surgeon who was almost placed on a ventilator.

Sethi said he “looked at the science and we’re not sure” regarding the drug’s merits. But he argued companies like Facebook and Twitter that have censored content promoting HCQ should “get out of our business.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Manny Sethi speaks during a town hall meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at Music City Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Friday, July 24, 2020.

On Monday, Sethi declined to say whether the colleague he referenced was treated with HCQ in Nashville, but said she had tested positive for coronavirus and the drug “saved her life.”

“It’s not a silver bullet, but this is a drug that was prescribed five million times last year and is on the WHO list of 40 most essential medicines,” Sethi said.

The World Health Organization has not hailed HCQ as a coronavirus treatment.

“Doctors and patients have the right to try without having their care micromanaged by Anthony Fauci, or their views censored by people in Big Tech who have Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Sethi said.

In a statement, VUMC spokesperson Kylie Avery confirmed Sethi is “on an approved leave of absence from all duties at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.”

A pharmacist holds a bottle of the drug hydroxychloroquine on Monday, April 6, 2020, in Oakland, Calif.

Sethi previously said in May he was stepping away from work at the hospital to focus on his campaign.

Vanderbilt declined to comment on Sethi’s remarks concerning HCQ and Fauci, or whether the hospital has used HCQ as a coronavirus treatment.

Bill Hagerty, the former U.S. ambassador to Japan who has received Trump’s endorsement in the race, also criticized Fauci’s performance but came short of calling for his firing.

Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks to supporters at a campaign rally for Hagerty at the Clarksville Country Club in Clarksville, Tenn., on Friday, July 24, 2020.

“I don’t believe Dr. Fauci has done a good job advising our President,” Hagerty said in a statement Monday. “President Trump is quite capable of managing the Executive Branch, and I don’t view it as my job as a U.S. Senate Candidate to tell him how to manage his staff.”

Hagerty pivoted to slamming China, saying the “Communist leadership regime” there should be held accountable for spread of the virus, and supply chains should be moved from there back to the United States.

Regarding HCQ, Hagerty also said he opposed censorship over the drug by tech companies.

“Time and time again, Washington liberals and members of the media criticize President Trump for discussing Hydroxychloroquine,” Hagerty said. “Even worse, social media platforms and websites like Twitter and Google have censored President Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and a number of doctors for discussing the potential for Hydroxychloroquine. I have long said that no social media channel should be the arbiter of what’s true and what’s not. This one-sided attack on conservatives is very dangerous and should come to and end now.”

James Mackler, a Democrat also running for U.S. Senate, released a statement Monday attacking Sethi, whom Mackler has previously largely avoided referencing in favor of focusing on Hagerty.

“Doctor Manny Sethi’s prescription for Tennessee to ‘Fire Fauci’ and endorse hydroxychloroquine make it clear he doesn’t belong in the U.S. Senate,” Mackler said. “Real leaders don’t put their own political gain ahead of public health and safety, and our response to the COVID crisis shouldn’t be about politics.”