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Dr. Harvey Risch: Why Are Vaccinated People Getting COVID at Higher Rates Than the Unvaccinated?

“The vaccines have done damage to the immune system such that it makes people more likely to get COVID—over a longer term, not the short-term vaccine benefit period, but after that—more likely to get COVID infections, more likely to get other respiratory infections.”

I sit down with Dr. Harvey Risch, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.

We discuss why vaccinated individuals appear to be getting COVID-19 infections at higher rates than the unvaccinated, and how much of our policies over the last two years were based on flawed science—from lockdowns to the vaccine rollout for children.

We also reflect on the recent passing of Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, who pioneered the use of early COVID treatments. Doctors all over the country are now prescribing these sorts of treatments—mostly quietly, for fear of losing their medical licenses.

“I’m sure by now, there’s a quarter of a million Americans who have been treated successfully with these medications. They know that they were treated with these things. And they worked,” Dr. Risch says.

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Jan Jekielek:

Dr. Harvey Risch, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Dr. Harvey Risch:

Great to be with you.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to do a catch-up from our last conversation many months ago, looking at the newest information around vaccine efficacy in children. These vaccines have now been authorized in the U.S. for six months and older. Also you wrote a pretty remarkable tribute to Dr. Zelenko who recently passed away. I want to discuss your thoughts about him and his work.

Dr. Risch:

Sure.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s start with the genetic vaccines being authorized for age six months and up.

Dr. Risch:

These vaccines were not shown to have efficacy in the six-month to five-year-old children, or the five-year-olds to twelve-year-olds, for that matter. They were looked at with what’ is called immuno-bridging studies, which measure antibody levels. We’ve learned over the last two years that antibody levels are not very good proxies for immunity. You really only know about the effects of a vaccine when you study the outcomes that you’re trying to prevent, either infection or hospitalization or mortality. Those outcomes were not studied for children. They only had their antibodies measured.

As much as you think that an acute increase in antibody levels reflects immunity or a certain kind of immunity, it’s not really enough to know how well the vaccines work. So, it’s a supposition. And that supposition doesn’t stand the evidential standard for other things. But somehow in the last two years, we’ve been led to believe that you didn’t need to measure actual immunity, you can measure antibody levels instead. That is not well-established criteria or a substitution. Certainly for adults, antibody levels have not shown to be that strong of a correlate to protection from serious outcomes.

Mr. Jekielek:

Also these antibodies actually wane pretty quickly. They have been shown to wane in adults. What is the situation with children?

Dr. Risch:

We don’t know that very well yet. Of course, antibodies have to wane. If they didn’t wane, then our blood wouldn’t flow. It would be all clogged up with the antibodies of every infection we’ve ever had. So they wane, but there are memory cells in the immune system. They are the memory B cells that go into quiet rest in the bone marrow, ready to start making those antibodies when challenged with a similar infection. And so you expect them to wane over time, but that doesn’t mean a person loses immunity. That’s the point, there’s memory. T-cells have memory as well for making antibodies, and making the immune system function once again, when necessary.

Mr. Jekielek:

Is immunity from natural infection the same as immunity from the vaccines? How does that play out?

Dr. Risch:

It’s roughly similar. Natural immunity is diverse. The immune system makes antibodies for every provocative component on the surface of every offending molecule. The viruses have a number of different proteins and carbohydrate things, basically sticking out of the surface, including the spike protein. The immune system sees all that and makes antibodies for all of that. They are called neutralizing antibodies that bind to the virus and help to terminate their life and their survival in the human.

However, the vaccines only make a very narrow range of antibodies to the spike protein, because the vaccines are making the body make spike protein, which is not the same as a whole virus being seen by the immune system. So it’s a much narrower range of antibodies that is made post-vaccine. Of course, the problem with that is when the spike protein changes because of new strains of the virus, that the ability of the immune system to make antibodies that correlate to the new strains becomes reduced to the point where it may be almost ineffective over longer periods of time.

Mr. Jekielek:

How does that look right now? The vaccines that we have now were designed for the initial variants.  Now we’re at the Omicron variant, which is actually quite different.

Dr. Risch:

That’s a very good point. Up to Delta, the changes in the spike protein were relatively few. So, the antibodies that were made for the original strain had enough of a benefit against Delta. There was still some reasonable amount of immunity. For Omicron, things went haywire. Omicron started off with more than 50 changes to the spike protein, and then the sub-variants of Omicron have had at least 30 or more. So it’s a very different spike protein. It has the same overall structure, but because the way that the angles of all the different parts changed due to mutation, the antibodies don’t bind so well. In particular, the old antibodies that are made from the original strain that see the new spike protein, they bind, but not strongly enough, so they’re not neutralizing it anymore.

They become interfering antibodies instead of neutralizing antibodies. That’s the reason we have seen what is called negative vaccine efficacy over 4, 6, 8 months after the last vaccine dose. One sees that the benefit of the vaccine turns negative. It’s because the immune system is still making antibodies for the original strain, which aren’t neutralizing the new strains. Therefore, the new strains are protected from the immune system trying to make new antibodies for the new strains, because some of the places where it would bind those new antibodies are blocked by the old antibodies from the original strain that were made and are now not effective.

Mr. Jekielek:

You’re saying that the effect is negative. What does that mean, practically speaking?

Dr. Risch:

So what this means is—and one sees this in the UK public health data—that through March of this year when when they stopped reporting this, they were reporting infection rates per 100,000 population, according to vaccine status and age. They compared people who had been triple vaccinated, who had a booster, with people who were completely unvaccinated, by age group. What they showed is, for above age 18 in every age group, the rates of symptomatic infection in each age group were approximately threefold higher in the vaccinated people than the unvaccinated people.

Now, you could say vaccinated and unvaccinated people live different lifestyles, so one group may be more likely to get infections. It could go either one way or the other. You can rationalize almost anything with that premise, but that still wouldn’t account for a threefold difference. It might account for maybe one-and-a-half fold, as we epidemiologists believe.

So, there’s still a higher rate of infection after some amount of time after each dose. After the second dose of the mRNA vaccines, it looks like they provide a benefit against symptomatic infection for most people for maybe 10 to 12 weeks. After the first booster, which is the third dose, that drops to six to eight weeks. After the fourth booster, it may be as short as four weeks before the efficacy wears off and begins to turn negative.

Mr. Jekielek:

So, the bottom line is you become more susceptible to infection after the fourth booster after four weeks, is that right?

Dr. Risch:

Correct. In fact, in the first week or 10 days after each dose, you’re also more susceptible to infection, because it takes that amount of time for the immune system to process what it’s doing. The vaccines have an initial reducing effect on the immune system. It’s like the immune system goes into shock for a week after the vaccine. Then it comes out of that and the benefit occurs. That benefit lasts for a variable amount of time, 12, 10, 8, 6 weeks, depending on which dose or booster of the vaccine we’re talking about.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is very important. I haven’t talked much about this with folks on the show yet. There is the first week during which you’re actually quite susceptible to infection, not just by coronavirus, but other things too. This isn’t generally talked about.

Dr. Risch:

There has been a very strange anti-scientific publicity propaganda campaign against talking about this. The reason is that we’ve seen the idea of what’s the best the vaccine can do conflated with what the vaccine actually does in real life. When one does a randomized, controlled trial, if you know that a drug can’t possibly work for two weeks after it’s given, and you ask, “What’s the best that the drug can do?” Then you say, “I’m not going to count the first two weeks, because we know it can’t work in those two weeks.” That’s okay if you’re looking for efficacy, but if you’re looking for hazards, those first two weeks count.

You can take a drug and say, “I’m going to just hold up in my house for two weeks until it’s safe to go out with this drug.” People take that into consideration. That’s the experience you get when you take a drug or a vaccine. So, they have misrepresented the theoretical efficacy of the vaccines with the practical one and therefore have eliminated that period of time when these vaccines are actually causing increased risk of infection. And they have certainly not told people, “Stay home for 10 days after you get your vaccine until it’s safe to go out.” One sees in a lot of data that in the first seven days the benefit is slow to accrue, and there are other infections in addition to COVID that have been occurring in those people.

Mr. Jekielek:

Are you saying that they are measuring vaccination status only after that period of one or two weeks?

Dr. Risch:

Yes, depending on the study, the manufacturers are calling people vaccinated 10 days or two weeks after receiving the vaccine. 

Mr. Jekielek:

Doesn’t this create spurious data or something of this nature during that time? People will have been vaccinated, and then who knows what happens during the first week, but all those people would be classified as unvaccinated. Is that right?

Dr. Risch:

They’re classified as unvaccinated and they have higher risk of becoming infected, which spuriously puts more COVID hazard on the unvaccinated people. That is right.

Mr. Jekielek:

That’s incredible.

Dr. Risch:

We spent two years living with plausibility and it being claimed to be science. It’s a problem when lay people can’t tell the difference between plausibility and science. They believe that plausibility is science, but it’s not. Science is when you actually make the measurements and you study the people and you see in a randomized trial or a non-randomized, but controlled trial, what actually happens in people. You acquire enough studies with enough evidence, then you’ve done your science. Just saying that something should work because we have a certain biological mechanism is called plausibility.

Mr. Jekielek:

Is this concept of plausibility being used as efficacy?

Dr. Risch:

It’s being used as a substitute for evidence.

Mr. Jekielek:

As a substitute for evidence. Okay, please explain that.

Dr. Risch:

We have been told that social distancing reduces transmission risk, mask-wearing reduces transmission risk, and lockdowns reduce transmission risk. These are all plausibility arguments. What did the studies show? The only way to know whether these things do that are by actually doing good, high quality studies. Nobody’s done a study of social distancing that I know of. Certainly not a good one, because it’s very difficult to measure that in large numbers of people, with consistency, over time. How would you actually do a study like that?

With the masking studies, masking has two different outcomes of relevance. The first is, what benefit does masking have for the wearer? The second is, what benefit does masking have for source control, meaning the people around the wearer? Source control is important for us as a society, and to a government who has an interest in protecting us. If you wear a mask to protect yourself, that’s a treatment question, and that’s your individual choice. It has no bearing on the rest of society. You’re not putting the rest of society at increased risk because of that choice.

Whereas, if you’re wearing a mask to prevent the spread of infection that you didn’t know you had, that’s where the government has a potential compelling interest. However, there have been only three studies for that, and they show a very slight benefit, at most, which itself has been taken to task by a number scientists. So, at best, it looks like there is very, very weak evidence that wearing a mask helps with source control. That’s the science part. So the plausibility is you put something in front of your face to stop things getting out of your nose and mouth. It looks like it should block it, but it would be like putting up a chain link fence to block ping pong balls from going through.

Mr. Jekielek:

Okay, so we have plausibility in mask wearing. We have plausibility in social distancing. Where else do we have this plausibility?

Dr. Risch:

Lockdowns.

Mr. Jekielek:

Okay.

Dr. Risch:

Lockdowns have never been used in the history of pandemics. Quarantines have been used in pandemics. Quarantines sequester people who are sick, who are potentially transmitting the infection. With a lockdown, it locks down everybody, mostly healthy people. All this does is  delay the inevitable. Lockdowns will prevent transmission, except within the family. If somebody in the family has got it, then everybody in the household is likely to get it. But outside of that, all they do is prevent the reemergence of the infection until the lockdown is eventually lifted. Then the population is sitting there as a sponge, ready to soak up all that infection, because they have very little immunity. That’s what happened in Australia, for example.

Mr. Jekielek:

Right. We have these three areas, but now there is also plausibility in vaccines. Let’s take this to the next step, because this is what you’re talking about. How does that work exactly?

Dr. Risch:

The vaccine question requires a level of expertise. That’s not really my area as an epidemiologist, but we’ve learned a lot about how the vaccines function, in terms of how the immune system responds, in terms of whether that response is beneficial or harmful, and how that can change over time. There has been a lot of measurement and understanding of all of that. What we see is that it’s a complicated story with nuance. It depends on risk. The risk-benefit calculations depend on age. The infection itself has more than a 1000-fold difference from young to old in its risk of serious outcomes and death.

That dramatic change in risk means that what might be a positive risk-benefit equation in elderly people is not a positive risk-benefit equation in young people. All of this has to be worked out in a knowledgeable and objective way, including all the medical history for the person at hand. You need to know the age, gender, comorbidities, and chronic disease of the individual who’s considering the risks and the benefits.

Mr. Jekielek:

The viruses have changed considerably from when these vaccines were first designed. Does it become a plausibility argument for the use of the vaccines right now? Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. Risch:

At the basic level, people think vaccines save lives. We’ll use them. Period. Vaccines are good. For a lot of the childhood vaccines, that is, on average, the prevailing viewpoint. So, people accept this is just another vaccine, therefore it must be good. People forget that there were a number of vaccines that were pulled off the market. The dengue fever vaccine was pulled off the market. The SARS-COV-1 vaccine never made it anywhere, along with the MERS vaccine. These were self-limited pandemics that did not require vaccination.

The vaccinologists know about this better than I do. There are a number of vaccines that were pulled off the market, because of the adverse events that they caused, and not providing enough benefit. It’s not an all or nothing idea that vaccines are uniformly good. They have benefits and hazards like most things, especially in medicine. One has to evaluate that trade off. That’s what doctors are supposed to be for. They evaluate the trade-offs for their patients, and help them with informed understanding to figure out what the risks are, and how they could best manage them.

Mr. Jekielek:

What’s the bottom line at the moment with the state-of-the-art data  about the risks for children, and the vaccination of children to protect them?

Dr. Risch:

In my opinion, healthy children and adolescents should not be vaccinated. There are children and adolescents who have serious chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune compromise, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. That’s a different question. They require a personal evaluation in order to see what the hazards are. We know from the Italian data from studies elsewhere that unvaccinated young children, 5 to 12 years old, have about a one-in-a-million chance of dying from COVID.

The vaccines we have seen have a much greater risk of serious adverse events and death. They’re rare, it’s infrequent, but it’s not zero. The question is, which of these rare events would you choose to have? Would you choose a rare event from the vaccine that is maybe 10 to 50-fold larger than the rare event of ever getting COVID? Even though both are uncommon, one is much larger than the other.

As a public health person, I say you choose the one with a lower risk of a similar outcome, even though both are infrequent. Even though most children could probably be vaccinated without that much harm, still there are going to be some risk. If it’s your family and it happens to your child, that means 100 per cent, not zero, not one-in-a-million. Those people have to pay attention to that and make rational calculations based on the fact that dying from COVID or having a very serious outcome from COVID in very young children is essentially less likely than being struck by lightning, or being injured or killed in an automobile accident. Those are risks we take for granted in society, and put out of our mind because they are so infrequent. The same would be true for COVID. It’s in that range of things.

Mr. Jekielek:

Given all this information, and especially this element of using antibody production as a proxy for the efficacy of the vaccine, how did these things get approved?

Dr. Risch:

These various government scientific agencies like the FDA and CDC have very highly trained scientific people doing the work. However, they are in a very narrow employment field. If they want to move up in their employment pyramids, most of them won’t be able to do that. They have to go outside the government institutions, and the only place for that is Pharma. If they make decisions that are against the Pharma companies that they regulate, then they have no opportunity to move up in their employment. So, their people are reticent to do that. Sometimes it happens, but by and large, there’s a psychological force on people in these agencies to be compliant.

The second thing that we have observed is that Dr. Fauci has put many people who have conflicts of interest with Pharma in the approval panels of these agencies. No university and no IRB (Institutional Review Board) would allow an advisory committee with all that conflict of interest to make decisions. But apparently in the NIH, there’s no pushback on that, because the ethics department is run by Dr. Fauci’s wife. So, what we’ve seen is the capture of all these regulatory approval panels. EPA is another one where this has happened. There is a lot of regulatory capture in all of these scientific agencies.

It’s a problem that is going to be difficult to solve. The people who are actually doing the work are very well trained and highly efficient and expert at doing their jobs. They just don’t see that they’re doing anything untoward, with the actual evidence that’s out there. What that really means is that they are selectively looking at evidence without doing a representative sampling of all the evidence that they should be paying attention to. That’s how they can come up with decisions with evidence favoring one side or the other. They ignore evidence that they don’t want to consider by calling it weak evidence or poor quality evidence. By using these subjective methods in evaluating evidence, you can get rid of the stuff that’s inconvenient.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s interesting that you mentioned the EPA, which is affected by this recent Supreme Court decision. Is what you’re getting at? Please tell me about what you’re seeing here.

Dr. Risch:

What we have seen is the growth of the administrative state that I believe was established by Woodrow Wilson with his well-known elitism against the general population. It grew with FDR to the point where now the massive administrative state of the United States is virtually an additional arm of government.

If you read the Federalist papers, you’ll see that it was philosophically established that only Congress has the power to make laws, and Congress can’t delegate law-making to administrative people. Basically, the administrative state was set up to bring the issues to Congress, so that Congress could make the laws. But what happened is they started turning policy into law, even though that was illegal, with Congress abdicating its responsibility. That’s what the Supreme Court finally pushed back on. It said that the EPA can’t be making such wide policies that have national implications. EPA can make minor policies that are in the realm of what administrative bodies should be doing, but not ones that are tantamount to congressional law.

Mr. Jekielek:

Our mutual friend, Jeffrey Tucker, argues that this Justice Gorsuch opinion has broad ramifications well beyond the EPA. What are your thoughts?

Dr. Risch:

Not being an attorney, I can’t really tell. A lot of these things play out in the details of the case, but the general principle seems right. It seems that our administrative state has had a massive overreach in terms of making policies that are tantamount to law. You can see this with the FDA and the CDC with their recommendations for certain drugs which become de facto policy and law across an entire medical establishment. I’m hoping the court will take this up and look at it and see whether these agencies are really entitled to be making what is tantamount to law, which legally, should be done by Congress.

Mr. Jekielek:

I want to jump back to COVID. Recently, you have been critical of this JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) study about vaccination, basically about modeling and vaccination rates. Please tell me about this.

Dr. Risch:

After medical school, I started my PhD career in the mathematical modeling of infectious epidemics. This was right at the time of the toxic shock syndrome epidemic. I was trying to get data from the CDC for all the states to model this, and I started doing that. Then I was in touch with one of the state epidemiologists who told me, “By the way, about a third of the states aren’t actually submitting their data to the CDC.” So, I realized pretty quickly that with four parameters in a model, I could fit in anything. That means that what matters most are the assumptions in the model.

Now, the modeling that we’ve seen for COVID assumed a vaccine efficacy that was constant over time. We had a discussion earlier about how vaccine efficacy is zero or small for the first 7 to 10 days, then quickly rises to its peak benefit, and lasts for 12, 10, 8, 6 weeks before heading back down to zero, and then it can go negative after that period of time, depending on which dose of the vaccine we’re talking about. This is totally different than an assumed 50 per cent, or 75 per cent, or 80 per cent, or whatever per cent efficacy over all time, across all people. The assumption that the vaccine efficacy is constant is a fatal flaw in these models.

Mr. Jekielek:

How does this change the result?

Dr. Risch:

If you assume that a vaccine prevents 75 per cent of symptomatic infections over all time, what it really does is prevent 75 per cent for about six weeks, and then about 40 per cent for about another four weeks, and then zero per cent after that. It is negative after that. You can see that it greatly overstates the benefits of the vaccine. The number of people whose infections you have prevented, or whose hospitalizations you have prevented, or whose deaths you have prevented is going to be dramatically overstated with that model.

Mr. Jekielek:

Have you seen studies that look at this in what you feel is a reasonable way?

Dr. Risch:

It is very difficult to do credible modeling studies, because there is so much room for selection of these assumptions. The numerical parameters that go into these models have a lot of room for subjectivity. Some studies say, “We reviewed all the studies that measured that. We took an average of that. That’s what we used.” That adds a little bit of plausibility to it, but modeling is only suggestive. It’s not convincing evidence. So, I take issue with the claims that these models prevented 20 million deaths, when the assumptions were unverified and inaccurate, as I’ve said.

Mr. Jekielek:

Let’s switch gears and talk about  Dr. Zelenko who recently passed away. You have a lot of thoughts about this.

Dr. Risch:

Dr. Zelenko was a hero to our society. He was on the front lines, and in the trenches treating COVID patients at the very beginning of the pandemic. He lived and practiced in a community in upstate New York. When the pandemic started, patient after patient started coming to him and he really had no idea what was going on, other than that it was a potentially serious upper respiratory infection. He started investigating the literature. He found that the South Koreans had been using hydroxychloroquine, apparently effectively. He knew that zinc could work. There was some equivocal evidence about zinc lozenges and all these things that had made the rounds about flu maybe a decade ago that people had tried and didn’t work very well, but maybe would be beneficial. Dr. Raoult in France had been using azithromycin, and thought that was beneficial.

He said, “Let’s use all three at once.They can be used at the same time.” That was his initial recipe. Quite dramatically, he found that the people he treated were recovering in 2, 3, 4, 5 days when he got to them early, in this in 2, 3, 4 day period after the symptoms started. He put them on this regimen. These are what he called high-risk people, people with old age, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease, the same things we talked about before. He treated those people, and they did very well in a very short period of time. He treated 400 patients, and only one was hospitalized. That person had started the medications too late, after five days, and didn’t even finish them. 

With that kind of a dramatic record, he started telling other doctors that this was working. In fact, he sent information to President Trump, to the point that President Trump made a public statement in March of 2020 that this medication or this regimen may be beneficial. “A game changer,” as he said. This was claimed to have politicized outpatient treatment. However, that was a false claim, and a convenient claim, and again, plausibility. It was already known before Dr. Zelenko had even discovered that hydroxychloroquine works. In the fall of 2019, the French had already started taking action against hydroxychloroquine.

The Minister of Health in France, in September or October of 2019, changed the status of hydroxychloroquine from over-the-counter to prescription, citing fake genetic evidence of harm, when there was no such evidence. As an example of how safe it is, this is a medication that has been used in tens of billions of doses, for hundreds of millions of people, for more than half a century. It is among the safest medications on the planet, and then suddenly it is genotoxic? This is nonsense.

There were already moves afoot to limit this. Pharma knew this stuff worked. Some in the medical community also knew that it worked. They had to take action to prepare the field for the patented medications and vaccines that would eventually show up. This was before Dr. Zelenko would have even discovered hydroxychloroquine. However, that did not deter him. He kept treating his patients. He had treated 1,200 patients with very similar results. It got to the point where he had treated a few thousand patients, and you would send your grandpa to him, because he was the one who was succeeding. Every other doctor said, “Stay home. And if you can’t breathe, go to the hospital.” Dr. Zelenko said, “No, come here, and I’ll treat you. You will get better with a $20 treatment.”

And that’s what he did. He stuck to his guns because he knew he was right. That was the force of his personality, and his character. When we are talking about scientific truth, not personal spiritual truth, but scientific truth, nature is speaking louder than the supression and the lies that are being told. He, like I, have stuck to the same truth, that the scientific evidence shows what it shows.

If somebody had presented him with credible studies showing that it didn’t work, then he would have reevaluated just the way I would reevaluated. But that has never happened, because the medication works for this usage. He stayed with that, in spite of all of the suppression, all the deplatforming, all the censorship, and all the negative things that were said about him. The force of his personality was such that he knew he was right. He stuck to that and battled this to the end of his life.

Mr. Jekielek:

I know that you’re not doing COVID treatment, but how much of an impact did his protocol have on some of these other groups that are doing early treatment?

Dr. Risch:

Towards the end of January, Dr. Ben Marble reported on his telemedicine group, that they had treated 150,000 people with negligible numbers of deaths. There’s probably 50,000 or 100,000 people who have been treated with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin in other telemedicine groups. I’m sure by now there’s a quarter-of-a-million Americans who have been treated successfully with these medications. They know that they were treated with these things and they worked.

Mr. Jekielek:

Are you saying that it was Dr. Zelenko who originally developed this formulation that everyone else picked up? 

Dr. Risch:

He did. Peter McCullough, in his two papers on early outpatient treatment, elaborated on the Zelenko protocol. Dr. Raoult in France had a very similar protocol that was developed at the same time in parallel with Dr. Zelenko. They both have the same basic structure— hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, azithromycin, doxycycline as an antibiotic, zinc, vitamin D, maybe vitamin C, and steroids. Now we have a whole bunch of other drugs that can be used that also work in the same timeframe.

Outpatient treatment is a reality. It’s up to the clinician to use what they’re able to use based on what pharmacies will fill and what they know works. This is a remarkable state of affairs compared to two years ago, when we were searching for medications. The Zelenko protocol started things off, really.

Mr. Jekielek:

What was the impact?

Dr. Risch:

A quarter-of-a-million Americans is a big impact. It’s relatively small compared to the damage that’s been done to the country by the infection and the vaccines. But still, that’s a lot of people whose lives were saved, basically.

Mr. Jekielek:

What about these places that did lock down like Australia? New Zealand is experiencing huge surges of COVID cases. But we’ve been told not to count cases, because it’s really just symptomatic infection that matters. So, what are they in for here?

Dr. Risch:

I’ve said that, altogether, cases don’t matter. I’ve been saying this since the very beginning of the pandemic. You don’t manage a pandemic from the cases. You manage a pandemic from what happens to the cases, which is hospitalizations, mortality, and maybe long COVID. That’s the information you need in order to know whether what you’re doing is good or bad. If anything, the cases give you information about population immunity. So, more cases with no deaths is actually a good sign, because, at least for the infection strain prevalent at that time, you’re generating a large amount of immunity, which allows people to go back to normal life.

Populations like Australia, New Zealand, and places that had strong lockdowns, became available to have all these large waves of infection after they lifted their lockdowns. What this means is two things. One is that instead of getting exposed to the original strain of the virus, they got exposed to the strain in circulation at the time they lifted the lockdowns. If a lockdown is six months later, that would matter. If the lockdown is a month later or three weeks later, maybe not so much. It also allowed those populations to wait until some newer method of treatment or prevention became available.

If you lockdown for a year until vaccines became available, then you could suddenly mass market vaccines in attempt to prevent infection or damage from the infection going on when you reopen. But that really didn’t happen all that much. As we’ve seen, the vaccines are a complicated story, and not necessarily a clear benefit for many people in the way they were mass marketed to entire populations.

The gist of the lockdowns is that they were really not a strong benefit and created a lot of non-COVID harm, with economic, psychological, and educational damage to society. There were children, adolescents, and college students trying to cope with two years of no involvement with their peers, and lack of educational experiences in real world. The lockdowns have created an incredible amount economic damage to middle America and the people whose livelihoods were terminated because of government policies that were counterproductive in the long term.

Mr. Jekielek:

So, in a place like Australia, they delayed. They had very, very strict lockdown policies for a long time. They did successfully prevent the virus from circulating for a while, but now it’s circulating like crazy, right?

Dr. Risch:

Right.

Mr. Jekielek:

Given this reality, what can they expect at this point? The population has been told that we won, and we had the right policy.

Dr. Risch:

Every country says they had the right policy, because they’re in control of the microphone. Sweden is the only one that actually has some semblance of a claim to that, and maybe South Dakota, two places that didn’t really lock down. In spite of bad policy, these medications still work. People who may or may not have been vaccinated, and are getting COVID, should be treated with hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and the other medications ASAP after they become symptomatic.

You have people like Tony Fauci who got COVID after his fourth booster. A lot of good his boosters did. Of course, he didn’t run to the hospital claiming that the boosters helped. He got symptomatic COVID, and treated himself with Paxlovid that didn’t work well enough. Then he had Paxlovid rebound, which made his second bout of COVID more symptomatic and harder to get through than the first one.

Mr. Jekielek:

Very quickly, what is Paxlovid rebound?

Dr. Risch:

Between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of people who are treated for COVID with Paxlovid, if they’re only treated for five to seven days, will have recurring infection. It doesn’t completely go away. There’s still enough of the infectious virus in the person. When the Paxlovid is stopped, that virus regrows and becomes a second symptomatic infection. In many cases, it’s more symptomatic and harder to tolerate than the original one that the Paxlovid had treated.

The FDA never approved Paxlovid for a second course. It approved it for a five or seven day course, and that’s the official approval. To use it twice or to use it for 10 days is off-label. It’s not approved for that. Nevertheless, that’s what people have been doing. Whereas, had they used hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and all the other things that we know work, they could have done that from the beginning. It would have cost them $20 instead of $700 or whatever Paxlovid costs. And it would have worked as well or better. In general, it does not lead to rebound as long as those medications are used until symptoms disappear.

Mr. Jekielek:

It’s interesting that you mention off-label, because from what I understand, the vast majority of drugs are actually used off-label, but this has become some sort of anathema in the popular consciousness.

Dr. Risch:

Right. This is another plausibility argument, that off-label means unproven. Of course it’s unproven, because doctors find that lots of things work for various uses that were never contemplated originally, and never had large, randomized, $10 million trials to show that they worked. Doctors are not going to say, “Oh, I can’t use it because it’s never been proven.” They use it because they’ve had extensive personal experience in treating patients with these drugs that work. That’s how medicine works. That’s how medicine has always worked. This is how individualized medicine works—the doctor is treating the patient and not treating with policy, so to speak.

A protocol from the hospital or a medical group says you can only use these medications for this certain outcome, when doctors know what they’ve been using their whole careers. So, it’s a false assumption to say that everything must either be used on-label or not at all. The drugs are freely available to be used off-label. The doctor and the patient take the risk, and it’s mainly the doctor, because if it didn’t work, the doctor would have the risk of being sued for something that didn’t work out. But that rarely happens, because doctors have the experience knowing these things work, or they inform the patients that maybe there’s only a 30% chance that this will work. They say it’s worth a try if you want to take that risk. That is called informed consent. That’s how the practice of medicine should work.

Mr. Jekielek:

How much do you think the growth of the administrative state is connected to this complete centralization of medical procedure?

Dr. Risch:

If I could philosophize, our whole society is stuck on trying to document everything and trying to claim that everything’s objective, when in real life, and in the professions, there’s still a lot of subjectivity. Sometimes it’s very hard to be confident when you go to a doctor, and the doctor is making a diagnosis, and it is his subconscious that is telling him this looks like a certain disease. But if he really had to quantify it, he would have to run 20 biochemical tests and do these invasive procedures to prove what his hunch was. His level of subjectivity feels uncomfortable to people now. Whereas, before, we trusted doctors more. It’s a lack of trust in our society that’s causing the urge for documentation and proof of everything.

This is a problem. If you can’t trust doctors, or if you can’t trust professionals, you rely on objective proof instead. That subverts the whole body of knowledge in a field that’s gained from expertise. It is why professions are professional. It’s not because they went to school and got a degree and suddenly they’re stamped out and know how to do everything. It comes with professional experience that builds over time. Okay, there are better doctors and worse doctors. Better doctors have more nuance and understanding of their fields from long experience, and understanding which things worked and which didn’t in subtle ways that matter to patients. They provide the likelihood of better outcomes that are very hard to quantify.

Mr. Jekielek:

But it becomes a vicious cycle, because there are other reasons for this lack of trust. After these last two years, a lot of people will say this lack of trust has been earned because of all the decrees, and being told things are one way, then it turns out they’re another way. Policies change without reasonable explanation. There was a recent congressional testimony from Deborah Birx where she said, “We did it on a hunch.”  I am paraphrasing here. 

Dr. Risch:

She said, “We hoped it would work. We made a policy hoping that it would work.” With that statement, there should be a lot of institutional mistrust, government mistrust, and agency mistrust. On a personal level, say you were sick with COVID and you asked the doctor, “Would you prescribe hydroxychloroquine?” And the doctor replied, “I’d rather have you die than prescribe hydroxychloroquine.” You have a problem there. There’s a problem for this doctor in the medical field. There’s a problem for the patient using that doctor.

This is not an arbitrary thing.  Early in the pandemic, I’ve heard instances of doctors being threatened, and their careers were being threatened. They’re still being threatened. Doctors who treat patients early are being threatened by their medical licensing boards for using these medications, without any evidence of harm.

Even doctors who are not functioning as doctors, but as representatives of state agencies are not doing it voluntarily. They’re being silent about it and saying, “I can’t stand up for doing the right thing, because I would lose my job. I’d lose my career.” That might have flown in 2020. It doesn’t fly today, because I know dozens and dozens of doctors who have quit their jobs and their hospitals over these policies and have taken up telemedicine careers. They are doing just fine, and have the freedom to practice the medicine they want to.

So what was once a limitation that doctors couldn’t find a way of getting out of, is now no longer the case. Doctors may see that or may not, because some are stuck with their blinders on. They are just hoping it will all go away. They feel there’s not much they can do about it.

Mr. Jekielek:

There are a lot of doctors out there that actually believe that some of these medications which have helped a lot of people don’t work. It is because of this large scale media effort, or you could call it propaganda.

Dr. Risch:

Correct.

Mr. Jekielek:

There has been large scale media effort to demonize these things, as opposed to allowing doctors to figure things out based on the literature available to them and their knowledge of the patient, which would have been the traditional norm. 

Dr. Risch:

Through email, I know hundreds of doctors who are using these medications quietly as best they can. Their patients receive the benefit, and there’s no need for them to publicize it, if their role is to treat their patients. The problem is how do patients find out about them, and that they can get treated this way, and finding pharmacies that are willing to prescribe, and to fill these prescriptions? There are pharmacies who are willing to do that. And there are ways of getting the prescriptions filled, so that they don’t trigger all these warning bells from the chain pharmacies.

This is practicing medicine in a totalitarian tyranny. This is really what this boils down to. People are creative and ingenious and figure out ways to get around these limitations and treat their patients and basically cure their patients, and treat them properly so that the patients recover. That’s the bottom line.

Mr. Jekielek:

We’re getting back to Dr. Zelenko here.

Dr. Risch:

Yes. He was more public, because he was in the early stage where doctors didn’t know this could work, and he felt it was important to get this information out. He did not realize, like most of us didn’t realize, that there was this move afoot to suppress hydroxychloroquine.

He didn’t realize that this was going on until well into the period when he was being told and I was being told that all these non-randomized, but controlled trials were anecdotal. That anything that wasn’t a randomized, controlled trial was anecdotal. This is a science falsehood.

Anecdotal just means junk science to the people who say that. And it’s not true, because calling something junk science, is not science. If you want to take a study apart and say, “This study has a fatal flaw because it only recruited 8 per cent of the eligible people,” or any of the other myriad ways that one can distort scientific studies, that’s how you can say a study is poor quality. But you just can’t throw the pejorative label of junk science or anecdotal onto something. That has no meaning. That is not scientific criticism.

Mr. Jekielek:

Basically, it’s slander.

Dr. Risch:

Yes. It is slandering the science. That’s right.

Mr. Jekielek:

You know, it’s very interesting to think about how these methodologies are developed. Essentially, they’re developed by trying drugs that are known to be relatively safe, that have a plausible efficacy. They might work, and they’re relatively safe, and you’re just trying it out with a patient to see if it helps. That’s how it has worked, one-by-one.

Dr. Risch:

We’ve been doing that since antiquity. How do we even know what foods are safe to eat? We’ve been doing that over the duration of the whole human species. You build up a culture of institutional knowledge that accrues over time. It builds up over time with a knowledge of what works. Over a long enough time, it will become known that hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and these other things work. You cannot suppress the truth. Eventually, no matter how many billions of dollars that Pharma pours into this suppression, it eventually will become known. They will have to maintain the suppression indefinitely in order to keep it from becoming more widely known.

Mr. Jekielek:

As we finish up, I understand that the genetic vaccines are being redesigned for Omicron and these new variants. Any final thoughts?

Dr. Risch:

By the time they become available, they will already be out-of-date. The reason that flu vaccines could be redesigned every year is because influenza and other respiratory diseases follow the Northern hemisphere-Southern hemisphere difference, where the Southern hemisphere was six months ahead of us. So, the virus strains that were prevalent in Australia in their summer, we could use to make vaccines for our winter. That gave us six months lead time to be able to do that. However, with COVID, we don’t really have that so much. We’re having to use the infections now, to make the vaccines now. By the time the vaccines are out in two or three months, those infections will be gone. It will be new infections, and new strains that will be around.

Already, the original Omicron is mostly gone. The second strain of it is mostly gone. We’re now into BA.4 and BA.5. BA.5 is overtaking BA.4. Then now it’s BA.5.2, which is overtaking BA.5. It’s like you blink and there’s a new strain out. It only takes a few weeks if it’s a little more infective, and being more infective doesn’t intrinsically mean it’s more infective. It means it can escape the immunity that was created by the previous strain or the vaccine.

This is why herd immunity is a real thing, but it can be transient if the virus evolves fast enough to even escape from herd immunity. Herd immunity can be good for the current strain, but if the new strain is so radically different, it can escape from herd immunity. That’s why you can have multiple waves, even when you have herd immunity. You can attain herd immunity, and then it can also go away. That’s what you have to learn how to manage. Does getting the original Omicron prevent BA.5? Well, it does to some degree. But for BA.5.2, maybe it will be a little less and so on.

Maybe six months from now, Omicron won’t be useful anymore, but maybe people won’t get deathly ill from it. The main thing is that these new strains are not more toxic than the earlier ones. That’s by and large how we got to Omicron. This is “Muller’s ratchet,” the theory that over time viruses evolve to be more infectious and less toxic, because the viral niche where viruses multiply best is when people congregate in large groups. They can only do that when they’re not so sick that they’re staying home. That means that people have to be symptomatic, coughing and sneezing and doing whatever spreads the infection well, but not that they’re so sick that they have to stay home. There’s an optimal niche that viruses seek to achieve by being infectious, but not very toxic.

Mr. Jekielek:

What do you expect based on what you’ve seen now? The virus mutates very quickly. We just talked about that. The vaccines aren’t very effective, especially for young people. What’s the way forward?

Dr. Risch:

We’re seeing two things. Number one, and it’s my opinion. I’m not saying this based on scientific studies, but it’s my opinion based on discussions with my virology and vaccinology colleagues. The vaccines have done damage to the immune system, such that it makes people more likely to get COVID over the longer term, not during the short term vaccine benefit period, but after that. They are more likely to get COVID infections, and more likely to get other respiratory infections. That immune system damage has created a large scale environment in the population for the viruses to evolve faster into more of these strains, which is causing the pandemic to be prolonged.

It has done damage to the population due to the quality of our immune response. That’s one problem. These recurring, annoying strains will be continuing. They’re going to be relatively low level, like Omicron. They are all Omicron-derived, and they’re not likely to go very far backward into being damaging. Even BA.5, which is said to be a little more intense symptomatically, getting more into the lungs, having a little bit more people hospitalized, has not shown major increases in mortality in places like South Africa, Portugal, and the other places that have had their BA.5 pandemic waves. It has gone down after that.

I’m optimistic that these will continue, but at low-level waves and bumps over time as the thing evolves and makes its way. We have to recognize that these infections are at the level of flu or cold or other respiratory infections that we tolerate in daily life. We don’t disrupt our whole society over these things. We don’t declare emergencies over these things. If we declared an emergency over something that killed half-a-million people year in and year out, which is way more than COVID has done in the two years that it’s been with us, that level of death would be an emergency. Yet, we don’t do that. Half-a-million people die every year in the United States from tobacco-related diseases. And yet that’s not a pandemic, that’s not an emergency. The government has never done anything about that.

If half-a-million deaths per year from one cause isn’t an emergency, why are we declaring an emergency on something that may lead to 10,000 deaths per year, or even 50,000 deaths per year? Half-a-million deaths per year is similar to traffic accidents or influenza or other things that we tolerate as a society without calling it an emergency. That’s where we are. That’s where it’s likely to stay. That’s why we are not in an emergency now. And we’re not likely to be in an emergency going forward.

Maintaining it as a state of emergency is an abuse of our constitutionally defined rights. If you’re in a real emergency, a state of emergency is valid. If we were in a shooting war, you could understand that. You cannot have a state of emergency for an infection that’s causing something that’s at the same level of things that we tolerate in daily life in our society.

Mr. Jekielek:

Just before we finish up, could you just qualify what you mean by half-a-million, because the official number is more than double that?

Dr. Risch:

So the official number, the last I looked, was about 1 million or 1.1 million of COVID-associated deaths in the United States over the two years or so of the pandemic. About half of those are from COVID, and half are with COVID, according to three or four studies that have looked at that. That means half-a-million deaths from COVID over two years. So it’s 250,000 COVID deaths per year, for the two years there have been deaths from COVID in the United States.

Compare that to the half-a-million deaths from tobacco-related causes year in and year out in the United States. We don’t do anything about tobacco-related deaths. Our government and our society tolerates it for some strange reason. We think that it’s self-inflicted when people get addicted to it from factors outside of their psychological control.

Mr. Jekielek:

But in the end, you’re basically saying that early treatment can prevent a lot of those deaths anyway.

Dr. Risch:

Correct. Most, the great majority.

Mr. Jekielek:

Dr. Harvey Risch, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.

Dr. Risch:

Very nice to be with you.

Mr. Jekielek:

Thank you all for joining Dr. Harvey Risch and I on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

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