Joe Pennacchio is no stranger to plunging ahead to make a point. He did that 26 years ago with a long shot primary challenge to Dean Gallo, a popular congressman.
Now a state senator from Montville (LD-26) and also a co-chair of Donald Trump’s New Jersey reelection effort, Pennacchio is energetically championing another and much more important cause – a
treatment for COVID-19.
A dentist by profession, the man who called himself “Jersey Joe” during an unsucessful U.S. Senate bid more than a decade ago, has been firing off regular press statements praising the drug, hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, as a treatment for the virus.
The drug is not unknown. It is used to treat lupis, rheumatoid arthritis and malaria.
“In my bone of bones, I think this works,” Pennacchio said this morning.
He is not alone.
The president himself has promoted the drug, as have others on the right.
The politics is interesting. The belief seems to be that quickly finding medication to control COVID-19 would be good for patients, good for the country and of course good for the president.
Keep in mind that all people in politics think about political considerations even if they say they don’t. It is who they are and what they do.
Getting back to the medical side of things, the FDA a few days ago approved the drug for use by people who are ill with the virus.
That’s a step in the direction Pennacchio wants to go, but only a small one.
He wants the state to encourage its use for people concerned about getting the virus in the first place. Pennacchio says there is medical evidence to suggest that a person taking the drug for five days will
be safe from getting the virus for up to two months.
And in a release just yesterday, Pennacchio said New Jersey is “behind the curve.”
He wants the state to encourage HCQ treatment for a whole roster of people, including doctors, first responders, supermarket workers, those who have been exposed to the virus and those who are high risk.
The other side of the argument here is quite basic – the drug is unproven and therefore may not work.
And worse, it can do harm.
Pennacchio waves those concerns away, suggesting that any drug – even aspirin – has some negative side effects. He says the promise of halting a crippling virus must take precedent.
Pennacchio’s position popped up during the governor’s Tuesday press briefing.
Doctors on hand said they have a concern beyond whether the drug works.
They said the drug is now accepted as a treatment for the previously cited ailments. But if doctors and hospitals are encouraged to use HCQ for the virus, it could prevent others who may need it for, say,
arthritis from getting it. The overall point was, “Let’s use the drug where we know it will work, not where it may not.”
The senator doesn’t buy it.
Referring to the FDA action, he confidently said of the drug, “We know it works. The discussion is over.
“Now it’s time to use HCQ to help keep people healthy, break the back of the pandemic and release people from isolation” he concluded.
Of course, in real time, the discussion is not yet over.
But Pennacchio’s latest campaign has gotten him attention from doctors all over the country and even the world — including he said, “Eastern Europe.”
Yep. He said he was contacted approvingly by a doctor from Slovakia.
Heady stuff for a New Jersey state senator born in Brooklyn.