Yale Doctor Harvey Risch Calls COVID Lockdown 'Counterproductive'

Answering questions about how countries have responded to COVID-19, Dr. Harvey Risch—a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of medicine—told Newsweek, "Once the virus became endemic, lockdown is counterproductive."

"In our real world, the virus will continue to spread until it cannot reach enough new or susceptible people to infect, that is, herd immunity. Thus lockdown only prolongs the inevitable," he wrote in response to Newsweek's questions. "The reason that lockdown is counterproductive is that, as I said, the pandemic ends with herd immunity."

Covid Lockdown
Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale, recently questioned the usefulness of COVID-19 lockdowns. Getty

Risch recently spoke with the Toronto Sun regarding COVID-19 and lockdowns. That article drew some attention since it quoted him as referring to lockdowns as "theater."

"Lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic was reasonable, to buy time to figure out what to do," he told Newsweek. Now, though, he feels they actually hurt more than help. "What lockdown does however is prevent the growth of natural immunity. This means that newly opening states become 'sponges' for large infection outbreaks because they have low herd immunity."

The interview with the Toronto Sun was conducted via Zoom. It included Paul Elias Alexander, who worked recently in the the Health and Human Services Department in the Trump administration and as a senior adviser on COVID-19 pandemic policy. It also included Howard Tenenbaum a professor of dentistry at the University of Toronto. Alexander told the Sun, "The present lockdown and school closures are not sustainable, illogical, and often driven by an ill-informed, sensationalized media."

Regarding the use of face masks, Risch said to Newsweek that such discussions have become "hugely oversimplified arguments into yes vs. no." He did note he feels wearing masks indoors seems to have more short-term benefits than wearing them outdoors. Similarly, he said there's no easy answer to vaccines, although the injections seem like a good option for anyone considered high-risk.

In the Toronto Sun article, the doctors are quoted making critical remarks about the pharmaceutical companies. Those statements suggest they feel these companies have an agenda of reaping financial benefits by preventing the sale of cheaper drugs that the doctors say are effective in treating COVID-19's effects.

One specific drug discussed was hydroxychloroquine. Risch had previously written about the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine in Newsweek. In an op-ed published last summer, he wrote the drug had "shown to be highly effective" in treating patients infected with coronavirus.

Last November, Risch was also one of four witnesses at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing focused on the early treatment of COVID-19 patients, where he again spoke of the benefits of using hydroxychloroquine. But other doctors and studies have indicated the drug's usefulness is inconclusive for treating COVID's effects. The FDA, after first authorizing hydroxychloroquine under limited circumstances, later revoked the emergency use authorization to use hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 in certain hospitalized patients.

Risch still feels hydroxychloroquine should be used, especially with more data and studies now available. He listed other drugs he said that could help in early outpatient treatment for COVID: "We also have ivermectin, budesonide or prednisone, doxycycline or azithromycin, zinc, vitamin D, baby aspirin, colchicine, bromhexine and favipiravir (in other countries anyway) and other medications that work well in early outpatient treatment, even for the P1 virus variant in Brazil."

"Some people think that the idea of herd immunity is 'insensitive' to people's suffering. That is untrue," he also said. "One must understand the COVID disease itself. COVID is unpleasant but generally not life-threatening for the overwhelming number of people under age say 50 and without obesity, diabetes or other chronic conditions, who are called low-risk people. Many of these people all across the U.S. have gotten the illness, by and large treated it symptomatically if they have even been symptomatic, and moved on, having gained natural immunity."