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In this April 22, 2020 file photo President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House in Washington. (AP) In this April 22, 2020 file photo President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House in Washington. (AP)

In this April 22, 2020 file photo President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House in Washington. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke May 6, 2020

Don’t fall for conspiracy about Dr. Anthony Fauci, hydroxychloroquine

If Your Time is short

  • An article published by a website run by an anti-LGBTQ political organization claims Dr. Anthony Fauci knew in 2005 that hydroxychloroquine was effective against human coronaviruses.

  • The article cites a 2005 study that found a related drug, chloroquine, could inhibit the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

  • There is no known treatment, cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus or SARS. While some early research suggests hydroxychloroquine could treat COVID-19 symptoms, other studies have found no discernible effect

A widely shared conspiracy theory on Facebook alleges that Dr. Anthony Fauci is knowingly advocating against a treatment for the novel coronavirus. 

An April 27 article says the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has known since 2005 that hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat conditions like lupus and arthritis, is effective against coronaviruses like the one that causes COVID-19.  

"Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose ‘expert’ advice to President Trump has resulted in the complete shutdown of the greatest economic engine in world history, has known since 2005 that chloroquine is an effective inhibitor of coronaviruses," reads the article. "How did he know this? Because of research done by the National Institutes of Health, of which he is the director."

The source of the article is One News Now, a website operated by the American Family Association, a Christian fundamentalist nonprofit founded by Mississippi pastor Donald Wildmon. The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the political organization as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

One News Now’s article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It has been shared more than 27,000 times.

(Screenshot from One News Now)

Despite being one of the most trusted coronavirus experts in the United States, Fauci has been the target of several conspiracy theories about his handling of the pandemic — particularly since he tempered expectations for hydroxychloroquine during a March press conference. So we wanted to check out this article, too.

There are several things wrong with the One News Now story. 

First: The article relies on a 2005 study about the effect of chloroquine on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, more commonly called SARS. Chloroquine is chemically similar to hydroxychloroquine, but it is a different drug and is primarily used to treat malaria. Both drugs pose risks for people with heart problems.

The One News Now story claims the journal that published the study is "the official publication of Dr. Fauci’s National Institutes of Health." That’s inaccurate.

While the 2005 study has been indexed by the NIH’s National Library of Medicine, it was published in the peer-reviewed Virology Journal. The journal is produced by BioMed Central, a United Kingdom-based for-profit publisher. The study’s authors worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal, and the study was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

We reached out to the NIH for more context, but we haven’t heard back. 

Featured Fact-check

Second: The study does not suggest that hydroxychloroquine could be effective at treating or preventing COVID-19, as One News Now claims.

"HCQ functions as both a cure and a vaccine," the website wrote. "In other words, it’s a wonder drug for coronavirus."

This is inaccurate — there is no cure or vaccine for SARS or the novel coronavirus. While some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could mitigate some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, other research has found no such effect. With more than 50 studies in the works, as well as an NIH clinical trial, it’s too soon to say whether the drug is a viable treatment for the coronavirus.

The 2005 study found that chloroquine — not hydroxychloroquine — was "effective in inhibiting the infection and spread of SARS CoV," the official name for SARS. The research was conducted in "cell culture conditions," meaning the drug was not administered to actual SARS patients. The authors wrote that more research was needed on how the drug interacts with SARS in animal test subjects.

"Cell culture testing of an antiviral drug against the virus is only the first step, of many steps, necessary to develop an antiviral drug," said Kate Fowlie, a press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an email. "It is important to realize that most antivirals that pass this cell culture test hurdle fail at later steps in the development process."

RELATED: Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: what you need to know

Finally: Fauci could not have known in 2005 that hydroxychloroquine was a potential treatment for COVID-19. Available evidence shows that the novel coronavirus first emerged in Hubei Province, China, in November.

While the novel coronavirus is similar to SARS in some respects — both are human coronaviruses that originated in bats, cause respiratory illness and spread through coughs and sneezes — they are different diseases. COVID-19 has infected more than 3.5 million people worldwide compared to the 8,000 who were sickened during the 2003 SARS outbreak. While SARS cases are generally more severe, scientists believe that COVID-19 is more transmissible.

As One News Now notes, the novel coronavirus and SARS have a 79% genetic similarity and use the same "host cell receptor," meaning they infect people in similar ways. But that doesn’t mean the findings of the 2005 study apply to COVID-19.

"Whether chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are of value for treating infections with the different, but related, SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot be answered by the data in the 2005 study," Fowlie said.

Our ruling

One News Now wrote that Fauci "has known for 15 years that chloroquine and … hydroxychloroquine will not only treat a current case of coronavirus but prevent future cases."

The website cited a study that has to do with SARS, not the novel coronavirus. It was published in 2005 in Virology Journal, which is not the "official publication" of the NIH. 

While the study found that chloroquine helped inhibit the spread of SARS in cell cultures, those results do not suggest that the drug is an effective treatment for SARS or COVID-19. As of now, there is no approved treatment or vaccine for either coronavirus.

The One News Now article is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Business Insider, "Dr. Anthony Fauci and Andrew Cuomo remain the most trusted leaders on coronavirus, while Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are the least trusted," April 30, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Information for Clinicians on Investigational Therapeutics for Patients with COVID-19, April 25, 2020

C-SPAN, President Trump with Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, March 20, 2020

Email from Kate Fowlie, press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 6, 2020

Healthline, "COVID-19 vs. SARS: How Do They Differ?" accessed May 5, 2020

National Institutes of Health, "NIH clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine, a potential therapy for COVID-19, begins," April 9, 2020

One News Now, "Fauci knew about HCQ in 2005 -- nobody needed to die," April 27, 2020

PolitiFact, "What early research actually says about hydroxychloroquine and the coronavirus," April 7, 2020

PolitiFact, "What we know about the source of the coronavirus pandemic," April 17, 2020

Southern Poverty Law Center, American Family Association, accessed May 5, 2020

Virology Journal, "Chloroquine is a potent inhibitor of SARS coronavirus infection and spread," Aug. 22, 2005

World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Situation Report– 106, May 5, 2020

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