• Parise Lockwood

COVID-19 and the Surgisphere Scandal

SARS-CoV2, better known as COVID-19, has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds for the majority of 2020. It has affected the economy, people’s physical and mental health. we seem to be clinging on to the hope that scientists across the globe will produce a vaccine which that will help us return to normality. 

This international race to be the first to produce the successful vaccine against SARS-CoV2 has not been a faultless journey and I can’t help but question; is the pressure to produce resulting in sloppiness within the field? 

According to the World Health Organisation, there are over 160 vaccines which are at varying stages of clinical trials with the majority still not being tested on humans yet. Of the 21 that are in the process of human trials, only one has been approved for the military’s use in China. The expectation to have a vaccine against a novel virus seems like an incredibly difficult feat considering that the average time for a novel vaccine to be available on the market usually takes between 10 to 15 years… not six months. 

Amongst all of these trials, other areas of research are trying to understand SARS-CoV2 more critically. This sudden need for information has potentially caused certain factors to be overlooked within published research leading to papers having to be retracted due to misleading information. 

One such paper from The Lancet stated that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine would increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmias within COVID-19 patients, increasing their chance of death. The paper was based on data from a private company called Surgisphere who claimed that they had thousands of patient records from many hospitals within the US. However, once the paper was published, researchers began to question the validity of the paper and concluded with Surgisphere admitting that they were unable to provide patients’ data to third parties due to confidentiality requirements. Hospitals which Surgisphere had claimed to work with had never even heard of the company and as a result the company was terminated. 

Further papers that had used the data sets from Surgisphere have been retracted and additional trials of hydroxychloroquine have been halted. The African Federation of Emergency Medicine had built a scoring model based on the data that Surgisphere had provided to help hospitals rank the severity of an individual’s COVID-19 infection. This was to allow limited resources such as oxygen and ventilators to be allocated to those more in need. This false information could have potentially led to individuals being at an increased risk of harm; the complete opposite of what medicine and science values.

In a time where we are most reliant on the medical research that is published, we cannot afford to have mistrust against science. This confusion has led to genuine trials being paused with potential treatments not being further investigated. 

For now, I remain hopeful among the rest of us that we will find protection against this virus and prevent further harm. However, I am cautious that further repercussions could develop if we are not meticulous with future clinical research and peer review assessments. 

By Parise Lockwood 

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