‘I have championed maintaining open academic discourse, including what some may view as unpopular voices,’ dean says
The dean of Yale’s public health department, Dr. Sten Vermund, has come out in defense of his colleague’s right to explore and promote hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment for coronavirus.
Yale epidemiologist and public health professor Dr. Harvey Risch has come under heavy fire recently for arguing that hydroxychloroquine, if used to treat coronavirus, could save up to 100,000 lives.
In a statement published Wednesday by Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health within the Ivy League university’s School of Medicine, he said he champions “maintaining open academic discourse, including what some may view as unpopular voices. The tradition of academia is that faculty may do research, interpret their work, and disseminate their findings.”
The dean flagged Risch’s article in May in the American Journal of Epidemiology that cites evidence to support Risch’s belief that hydroxychloroquine is good to “use for out-patient infection with SARS-CoV-2.”
Vermund noted that if “persons disagree with Dr. Risch’s review of the literature, it would be advisable to disseminate the alternative scientific interpretations, perhaps through letters or other publications with alternative viewpoints to the American Journal of Epidemiology, Newsweek, or other outlets.”
“My role as Dean is not to suppress the work of the faculty, but rather, to support the academic freedom of our faculty, whether it is in the mainstream of thinking or is contrarian,” Vermund stated.
The controversy began after Risch appeared on Fox News’ Ingraham Angle where he told host Laura Ingraham that doctors are being unfairly targeted by state medical boards for using the anti-malarial drug to treat patients with coronavirus.
Risch told Ingraham that releasing the stockpile of hydroxychloroquine could save “75,000 to 100,000 lives.”
He said if President Donald Trump and the FDA allowed broader use of hydroxychloroquine that the results would be “game-changing.”
All the discussions and planning about how to move forward with reopening plans in the fall and into 2021 could be completely changed with the use of hydroxychloroquine, Risch said during the July 21 Fox News interview.
“There is prevention and treatment that works and that’s available and safe…but no one wants to hear it,” he said.
He also advocated that some front-line healthcare workers take the drug as a prophylactic against the disease, a policy that has been implemented in India.
In a July 23 column in Newsweek, Risch also defended his support for the drug and blasted the politicization of its use.
He wrote: “Physicians who have been using these medications in the face of widespread skepticism have been truly heroic. They have done what the science shows is best for their patients, often at great personal risk.”
“I myself know of two doctors who have saved the lives of hundreds of patients with these medications, but are now fighting state medical boards to save their licenses and reputations. The cases against them are completely without scientific merit,” Risch wrote.
Furthermore, since Risch first published an article on the drug’s use on May 27, “seven more studies have demonstrated similar benefit.”
The use of hydroxychloroquine has been controversial mostly because President Trump has touted its benefits.
More recently, a video from a group calling itself “American’s Frontline Doctors” has been removed from Twitter and Youtube. The video consisted of doctors touting hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus.
A retracted study in the Lancet originally found that hydroxychloroquine was not effective and could even cause death. That study led the World Health Organization to halt trials of the drug’s use for treating coronavirus. However, that study was retracted due to problems verifying the data.
The drug has been approved for use in treating malaria and arthritis for over 60 years. The FDA has not approved hydroxychloroquine for its “off label” use to treat COVID-19.