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Yale epidemiologist says hydroxychloroquine is 'the key to defeating COVID-19'

'Tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily' without the drug, he argues.

Updated: July 25, 2020 - 3:47pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An Ivy League epidemiology professor is claiming that hydroxychloroquine — the drug that has been at the center of a politicized medical debate for the last several months — is "the key to defeating COVID-19," and that medical officials should be widely prescribing it to save the lives of thousands of coronavirus patients. 

Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at Yale as well as the director of that school's Molecular Cancer Epidemiology Laboratory, argues in a Newsweek op-ed this week that "the data fully support" the wide use of hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment of COVID-19. 

"When this inexpensive oral medication is given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control, it has shown to be highly effective," Risch argues in the column. 

Hydroxychloroquine has been the subject of a bitter and protracted political argument for the past several months, after President Trump in mid-March said the drug was showing promising effects in treating COVID-19. Media outlets and commentators shortly thereafter began touting numerous stories of the drug's alleged fatal dangers as well as its reported ineffectiveness in treating the disease.

Risch, at Newsweek, argues that multiple studies over the past several months have demonstrated that the drug is a safe and efficacious treatment method for COVID-19. 

Among the successful treatment experiments, he writes, are "an additional 400 high-risk patients treated by Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, with zero deaths; four studies totaling almost 500 high-risk patients treated in nursing homes and clinics across the U.S., with no deaths; a controlled trial of more than 700 high-risk patients in Brazil, with significantly reduced risk of hospitalization and two deaths among 334 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine; and another study of 398 matched patients in France, also with significantly reduced hospitalization risk."

Risch says the drug is most effective "when given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control."

Though according to Risch the benefits of the drug are clear, he nevertheless concedes that the subject "has become highly politicized."

"For many, it is viewed as a marker of political identity, on both sides of the political spectrum," he said. "Nobody needs me to remind them that this is not how medicine should proceed."

He also argues that "the drug has not been used properly in many studies," and that delays in administering the drug have reduced its effectiveness. 

"In the future," Risch says in the column, "I believe this misbegotten episode regarding hydroxychloroquine will be studied by sociologists of medicine as a classic example of how extra-scientific factors overrode clear-cut medical evidence."

"But for now," he adds, "reality demands a clear, scientific eye on the evidence and where it points."