Today’s controversy surrounding COVID-19 vaccines might seem unprecedented. But nearly four decades ago, the now-famous doctor encouraging them advocated an ineffective, dangerous medication for a far deadlier disease — and got away with it.
During the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic ravaged the world and long before Dr. Anthony Fauci became a household name, he promoted AZT as a treatment for HIV in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Doctors once used AZT in cancer chemotherapy. But AZT not only failed to treat HIV. It made patients sicker.
The way that medical, pharmaceutical and political bureaucracies handled that crisis resembles the way they handle COVID-19. More importantly, both episodes suggest possible conflicts of interest among those charged with protecting public health.
Spin Magazine’s Celia Farber exposed the AZT debacle in her 1989 article, “Sins of Omission.” Farber described how the federal government, corporate media and a major pharmaceutical firm responded to public panic about AIDS by approving AZT and promoting it even after it proved to be deadly.
Doctors withdrew AZT as a cancer treatment because it destroys cells indiscriminately. But Burroughs Wellcome submitted it under an anonymous description to the National Cancer Institute in 1987, and AZT killed HIV in laboratory conditions. However, doctors at the Food and Drug Administration expressed extreme reluctance to approve AZT.
“We do not know what will happen a year from now,” said Dr. Itzhak Brook, the panel’s chairman. “The data is just too premature, and the statistics are not really well done. The drug could actually be detrimental.”
Despite Burroughs Wellcome’s promise to provide updated data every two years — a promise the firm never kept — and to limit AZT to emergency use for extremely ill patients, the panel considered rejecting the drug. Then FDA bureaucrats got involved.
“Once the FDA realized we were intending to reject it, they applied political pressure,” Brook said. “At about 4 p.m., the head of the FDA’s Center for Drugs and Biologics asked permission to speak, which is extremely unusual. Usually they leave us alone. But he said to us, ‘Look, if you approve the drug, we can assure you that we will work together with Burroughs Wellcome and make sure the drug is given to the right people.’ It was like saying ‘Please do it.’ “
As a result, the panel approved AZT, with Brook providing the only “no” vote. Two years later, Fauci “was now pushing to expand prescription,” despite the fact that the study promoting AZT “has long been declared invalid,” Farber wrote.
“In mitigating a disease, Tony Fauci does only things that they can patent,” said Dr. Judy Mikovits, who worked with Fauci at the National Cancer Institute.
AZT became a financial boon. In 1989, annual treatment cost $8,000 per patient — or nearly $18,000 today.
“Burroughs Wellcome’s gross profits for next year are estimated at $230 million,” Farber wrote in 1989. “Stock market analysts predict that Burroughs Wellcome may be selling as much as $2 billion worth of AZT, under the brand name Retrovir, each year by the mid-1990s — matching Burroughs Wellcome’s total sales for all its products last year.”
Government agencies became so busy conducting trials for AZT that they ignored more than 100 other promising, less expensive drugs.
But AZT’s tendency to destroy cells indiscriminately made HIV patients worse by annihilating T-4 cells, a special kind of white blood cell needed to fight the deadly virus.
“Undeniably, AZT kills T-4 cells,” said Dr. Harvey Bialy, a molecular biologist with a doctorate from UC Berkeley. “No one can argue with that. I can’t see how this drug could be doing anything other than making people very sick.”
Farber’s description of the debate between AZT’s champions and critics sounds eerily similar to today’s arguments surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.
“When promoters of AZT are pressed on key scientific points, whether at the (National Institutes of Health), FDA, Burroughs Wellcome, or an AIDS organization, they often become angry,” she wrote. “The idea that the drug is ‘doing something,’ even though this is invariably followed with irritable admissions that there are ‘mechanisms about the drug and disease we don’t understand,’ is desperately clung to.
“It is as if, in the eye of the AIDS storm, the official, government-agency sanctioned position is immunized against critique. Skepticism and challenge, so essential to scientific progress and so prevalent in every other area of scientific endeavor, is not welcome in the AZT debate, where it is arguably needed more than anywhere else.”
Just as AZT made HIV patients more vulnerable to that virus, mRNA vaccines increase the risk of COVID-19 infection, as one scientific study shows.
In August, the Journal of Infection, a peer-reviewed monthly from the British Infection Association, published a study showing that mRNA vaccines wreaked havoc on the immune system. The vaccines actually make the recipient more susceptible to COVID variants. The study’s authors recommended that pharmaceutical firms change the vaccines to eliminate the flaw.
Luc Montagnier, a French virologist who won the Nobel Prize for isolating the virus causing HIV, said the vaccines’ spike proteins actually create the variants, since resulting antibodies force the virus to adapt quickly or die.
“The history books will show that it is the vaccination that is creating the variants,” Montagnier said. “There are antibodies created by the vaccine. This is where the variants are created.”
Geert Vanden Bossche, a Belgian virologist who once worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explained the process. The mRNA vaccines produce antibodies that adhere to the spike protein but fail to penetrate the virus. Consequently, the virus overwhelms the immune system and becomes more potent.
That tendency would explain the meteoric rise in COVID-19 infection rates among the vaccinated in such nations as Israel, where 85 percent of the population received shots and 58 percent was considered fully vaccinated in August.
Just as Fauci recommended AZT, he promoted another expensive drug to treat COVID-19 last year before vaccines became available. As FrontPage Magazine reported in “Hydroxychloroquine Follies,” Fauci called Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir the “standard of care.”
Fauci’s agency conducted a clinical trial for the drug, which the FDA approved unusually quickly for emergency use in hospitals. But critics remained skeptical.
“It is unusual to call a drug the ‘standard of care’ until peer review of data and publication, and before studies have shown benefit in mortality,” said Dr. Michele Barry, director of Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.
But Remdesivir could make a lot of money. Under Gilead’s recommendations last year, Remdesivir would cost $3,120 for five days of treatment. That price could rise to as much as $5,080 per patient, stated the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which sets cost parameters for medications.
Making Fauci’s endorsement more suspicious are these facts: Nine members of a government panel that formulated COVID-19 treatment guidelines had ties to Gilead. Seven of them, including two of the panel’s leaders, failed to disclose those ties for 11 months. Two others belonged to Gilead’s advisory board.
Burroughs Wellcome’s broken promise to provide data on AZT would resonate in 2018 in a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the former Presidential candidate and an activist for children’s health, joined the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) in suing HHS for information about vaccine safety, as FrontPage Magazine reported in March. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 demands that HHS regulate vaccine safety and effectiveness, and submit reports to Congress every two years.
Kennedy and ICAN requested those reports through the Freedom of Information Act. But when HHS refused to provide them, the lawsuit ensued.
HHS responded by stating that after “a thorough search of its document tracking systems” and “a comprehensive review of all relevant indexes,” the reports were missing. HHS “had to finally and shockingly admit that it never, not even once, submitted a single biennial report to Congress detailing the improvements in vaccine safety,” stated an ICAN press release.
California’s Legislature provided a more recent — and blatant – example of possible collusion between Big Government and Big Pharma.
As the Legislature was about to adjourn before Gov. Gavin Newsom faced recall, Democrats in the Assembly, the Legislature’s lower house, tried to rewrite a bill regulating telephone medical services. The new bill would require businesses to demand vaccination records for customers, employees, apprentices and interns, as FrontPage Magazine reported.
The rewritten bill, which has been tabled, specified the “Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen vaccines” as most effective. How often do brand names receive the kind of free advertising provided by proposed legislation?
As he discussed the controversy surrounding AZT in 1989, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, one of the pioneers of HIV research, described the kind of climate that demands expediency over truth, a climate that dominates today’s discussion of COVID-19.
“The name of the game is to protect your grant, don’t open your mouth,” Sonnabend said. “It’s all about money. It’s grounds for just following the party line and not being critical, when there are obviously financial and political forces driving this.”
Mikovits describes the similarities more bluntly.
“For 40 years,” she said, “they’ve been perpetrating the fraud on not only the American people, but the world.”
Joseph Hippolito is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine. His commentaries have appeared in The Federalist, The Stream, Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post and National Post.