French microbiologist Didier Raoult – who has become a controversial figure in the science world, who has promoted suspect treatments for Covid-19 proposed by former President Donald Trump, and gained public popularity – may soon lose his prestigious job as director of the IHU Medigane Institute of Infection. The founding members of the institute in the southern city of Marseille are expected to hold their first meeting on Friday to discuss whether Raoul will be allowed to continue his work as director of the institute. Raoul, 69, has sought to stay in office despite reaching retirement age. The head of the city’s public hospital system says it’s time to “turn this page.”
Raoult, distinguished by his silver hair draped over his shoulders, is an anti-establishment figure who has nevertheless been embraced by the French scientific establishment. In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix Inserm – one of the nation’s highest honors for scientists. However, his reputation took a dramatic turn during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the spring of 2020, just a few months after the outbreak, it was announced that the end of the crisis was near. Among the reasons for his optimism, he praised hydroxychloroquine, an easily available anti-malarial drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic, which he praised as effective treatments against “Covid-19”.
Trump then began touting the two drugs as “game-changing agents,” and Trump said he himself had started taking hydroxychloroquine. In a surprise visit in April, French President Emmanuel Macron flew to Marseille to meet the world. But in May, amid growing doubts about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, France banned the treatment, and the US Food and Drug Administration followed suit by revoking its emergency use authorization. Some studies have suggested that the drug may also be associated with an increased risk of death in some patients. Much of the world has shifted to focus on vaccines and other treatments. However, Raoul continued to promote in favor of hydroxychloroquine. Meanwhile, his support for coronavirus vaccines has been lukewarm.
And while France was one of the world’s most skeptical countries about vaccines when the coronavirus vaccines were introduced late last year, it now has a higher vaccination rate than the United States. Anti-vaccine protesters are a minority in France, but their strong protests in recent weeks reflect many of the sentiments expressed by American opponents of vaccination.
Speaking to the Washington Post last week, Raoul said he plans to stay in his job, citing petitions from his institute’s boards to stay in the job. He had previously likened the efforts to remove him to a “coup”, and added in the interview this week that the attempts to remove him were motivated by jealousy.
But his critics, including those who supported him until a few months ago, say he has only himself to blame for the growing criticism he has faced. “Raoult had a very positive impact at the beginning of the epidemic,” said the Deputy Mayor of Marseille and responsible for public health, Michel Roberola. She cited his early advice to “test, discover, and wear masks”. But the continued promotion of hydroxychloroquine and its mixed messages about vaccination have been a turning point. “One has to have the humility to admit that he was wrong,” Rubirola said.
Concerns about Raoult’s influence extend beyond France. Prescription hydroxychloroquine is still being taken at much higher levels in the United States than it was before the pandemic, despite warnings of serious side effects from the Food and Drug Administration and researchers.
When Macron visited Marseille again earlier this month, he praised Braul as a “great scientist” but blamed him for potentially damaging the country’s vaccination campaign with his public statements. Raoul says that he was generally supportive of vaccination against the Corona virus, and that he encouraged nurses to vaccinate. But unlike his advocacy of hydroxychloroquine, his remarks about coronavirus vaccines have frequently focused on the areas likely to raise doubts.
“I never, ever, never take a stand against a vaccine,” he told the Washington Post, adding that “there is no question about vaccinating people at risk of contracting the disease, or transmitting the disease.” But he then spent most of the remainder of his response talking about the potential risks of vaccination for younger age groups. The newspaper asked him: “Is there any danger in vaccinating people?” He replied, “Yes.”
It’s hard to avoid talking about Raoul in France these days. On a bus in Marseille last week, a rush-hour commuter shuffled between music videos and Raoul’s YouTube lectures. Parisian taxi driver Brault has been cited as a target in a government plot, and many Internet memes portray him as a superhero, religious leader or wizard.
Some on the far right in France see Raoult as an ally. Last week, far-right politician Florian Philippot organized a demonstration that drew hundreds of people to the Raoult Institute in Marseille to protest against his expected impeachment. Protesters stuck anti-vaccine stickers on the fence surrounding the institute and on the building wall just below the facade glass, making the facade of the institute look like a half-closed curtain. ‘ and ‘No Traffic’.
Raoul denies any political ambitions, and has said that his French supporters come from across the political spectrum. He said Trump and populist Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro had taken hydroxychloroquine, which means “all liberals everywhere in the world are against me, but I don’t care.”
Many of Raoul’s colleagues disagree with his assertion that he has nothing to do with politics. In an open letter last month, several prominent French doctors condemned Raoult after sharing a conspiracy text that tacitly called for the execution of doctors deemed compatible with the government’s views. This comes after a series of attacks by anti-vaccine activists on French vaccination centers and coronavirus test tents over the past months. “We are concerned individually and collectively,” the signatories wrote in their open letter.
social media star
Through videos and publications that focus on the potential and unknown negative aspects of the world, he has amassed more than 800,000 followers on Twitter, more than the French Prime Minister and Minister of Health. In a country of about 67 million people, his institute’s YouTube videos, many featuring Raoul, have been watched more than 90 million times.
In one of his recent videos, he discussed the increase in coronavirus cases in Iceland, a country with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. But he failed to explain why hospitalizations and deaths continued to drop, which Icelandic authorities take as evidence that the vaccines had their intended effect. In the same video, Raoul said it was too early to say whether vaccines reduce the risk of “Covid-19”.
He defended his videos as revealing the true state of scientific knowledge about coronavirus vaccines, and said, “Scientists who are certain about something are not scientists at all.” When asked about the impact of his statements, he seemed angry, and said, “That is why I do not want – in general – to talk to journalists,” and accused the media of spreading fear of the Corona virus, despite the “very few deaths,” (more than 116,000 people died). Because of the virus in France, according to official statistics, at least 668,000, or 1 in 500 residents of the United States, have died.
Raoul announced that the end of the crisis was near. Among the reasons for his optimism, he praised hydroxychloroquine, an easily available anti-malarial drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic, as he praised them as effective treatments against “Covid-19”.
Parisian taxi driver Braault has been cited as the target of a government conspiracy, and many Internet memes portray him as a superhero, religious leader or wizard.
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