Vladimir Zelenko, a self-proclaimed “simple rural doctor” from upstate New York who rose to prominence in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when his controversial coronavirus treatment received White House backing, died Thursday in Dallas. He was 48.
His wife, Rinat Zelenko, said he died of lung cancer at the hospital where he was being treated.
Until the beginning of 2020, Dr. Zelenko, who also went by the Hebrew name Zev, nursed patients all day in and around Kiryas Joel, a village of about 35,000 Hasidic Jews about an hour northwest of New York City.
Like many healthcare professionals, he became alarmed when the coronavirus began to appear in his community. Within weeks, he stumbled upon what he insisted was an effective drug: a three-drug mixture: the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin, and zinc sulfate.
He was not the first doctor to promote hydroxychloroquine. But it began gaining national attention on March 21 — two days after President Donald J. Trump first mentioned the drug in a press briefing — when Dr. Zelenko posted a video on YouTube and Facebook in which he claimed a 100% success rate for the treatment. He begged Mr. Trump to take him in.
A day later, Mark Meadows, Mr. The head of the Trump administration turned to the doctor. Zelenko for more information. So are the bookies of the talk show. Over the next week Dr. Zelenko bypassed the conservative media by appearing on podcasts hosted by Steve Bannon and Rudolph W. Giuliani. Sean Hannity of Fox News touted his research during an interview with Vice President Mike Pence.
“At that time it was a completely new discovery, and I looked at him as a commander on the battlefield,” the doctor said. Zelenko told The New York Times. “I realized that I needed to talk to a five-star general.”
On March 28, the Food and Drug Administration granted doctors emergency clearance to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and another antimalarial drug, chloroquine, to treat Covid. mr. Trump called the treatment “very effective” and perhaps “the biggest game changer in the history of medicine.”
But, as medical colleagues began to point out, Dr. Zelenko had only his own anecdotal evidence to support his case, and the little research that was done painted a mixed picture.
However, he became something of a right-wing folk hero, one who offered not only hope amid the pandemic, but an alternative to the medical establishment and Dr. Jones. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, insisted that it would take months of research to find an effective treatment.
Dr. Zelenko continued to correspond and talk with Mr. Meadows, Mr. Giuliani, and several members of Congress. But he clashed with leaders at Kiryas Joelwho said his talk of treating hundreds of Covid patients gave the impression that the community was stricken by Covid, potentially fueling anti-Semitism.
Over the next few months, researchers questioned the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine even more. Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine. found no benefit from the treatment, and other studies have identified the risk of dangerous cardiac arrhythmias in some patients.
These and other findings led the FDA to revoke your emergency permit June 15, 2020
A quiet, unassuming man, D. Zelenko seemed unprepared for the attention he received, including phone calls and even death threats. In May 2020, a federal prosecutor launched an investigation into whether he falsely claimed FDA approval for his study.
In the same month, Dr. Zelenko announced in a video that he is closing his practice and leaving the Kiryas Joel community. He accused several of its leaders of organizing a campaign against him.
After the FDA rescinded approval of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, he founded Zelenko Labs to promote other unconventional treatments for the disease, including vitamins and quercetin, an anti-inflammatory drug.
And although he claimed to be apolitical, he took on the image of a victim of the establishment. He founded the non-profit organization Zelenko Freedom Foundation to promote his cause. In December 2020, Twitter suspended his account, saying he violated standards against “platform manipulation and spam”.
Dr. Zelenko was born on November 11th. age 27 1973 in Kyiv, Ukraine and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3, settling in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn.
His father Alexei was a taxi driver, and his mother Larisa (Tailor) Zelenko worked at a fur factory and later, after studying computer programming, at Morgan Stanley.
In his memoir Metamorphoses (2018), Zelenko wrote that he grew up non-religious and entered Hofstra University as an avowed atheist.
“I enjoyed arguing with people and proving to them that God does not exist,” he wrote. “I studied philosophy and was attracted to nihilist thinkers like Sartre and Nietzsche.”
But after a trip to Israel, he began to change his mind. He gravitated toward Orthodox Judaism and, in particular, to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
He graduated from Hofstra in 1995 with a degree in chemistry and also received his MD from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2000. in 2004.
Dr. Zelenko spent three years working at the Ezras Choilim Medical Center in Monroe, as well as advising the local Hatzolah ambulance service. He opened his own practice in 2007 with offices in Monroe and Monsey, another upstate town with a large Orthodox Jewish population.
In 2018, doctors discovered a rare form of cancer in his chest and removed his right lung in the hope of curing him.
Dr. Zelenko’s first marriage ended in divorce. Together with his second wife, he was survived by two children, Shira and Liba; six children from his first marriage: Levi Yitzchok, Esther Tova, Eta Deborah, Nochum Dovid, Shmuel Nosson Yaakov and Menachem Mendel; his parents; and brother Ephraim.