Ivermectin use surges despite no evidence it treats COVID-19 — why are people still taking it?

Health News

Nevada Poison Control has reported an increase in calls concerning people who say they were exposed to ivermectin, even as doctors and government agencies warn that its usage is not approved to treat COVID-19. (KLAS)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The potential dangers associated with taking the animal deworming medication ivermectin isn’t dissuading thousands of Americans from taking the drug to treat COVID-19 — despite little-to-no evidence showing it affects coronavirus symptoms or infection in any way.


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Ivermectin is used to treat parasites in animals — and sometimes humans — but it’s not an anti-viral and more importantly, it’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 treatment. It can be taken topically or orally if prescribed by a doctor for its intended use, otherwise, potential side effects can be severe, including neurologic disorders, seizures, coma and even death.

Medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there’s next to zero data showing benefits of taking it for COVID-19 (more on that below), but that’s not stopping even doctors from prescribing it.

The FDA reports between early July and August 13, over 88,000 prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S. Pre-pandemic, roughly 3,600 prescriptions were dispensed per year. That’s in addition to the folks picking up mega doses at livestock stores, taking potentially dangerous amounts intended for large animals.

The CDC warns:

“Ivermectin is not authorized or approved by FDA for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel has also determined that there are currently insufficient data to recommend ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Nevertheless, misleading information and totally false claims about ivermectin’s effectiveness have proliferated across social media and among some right-wing news organizations.

Several notable conservative personalities have promoted the medication, including Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Last week, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul claimed researchers’ “hatred for former President Donald Trump” has kept them from studying ivermectin — despite Trump only ever promoting another drug not shown to be an effective COVID-19 treatment, the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has also promoted ivermectin, prompting the suspension of his YouTube account for violation of Google’s medical misinformation policies.

Misinformation/Disinformation

Studies on ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment do exist and some do testify to the drug’s efficacy. But right now that data is overwhelmingly considered inconsistent, questionable, and/or inconclusive. Medical experts say the data affirming ivermectin is minuscule compared to the amount indicating it’s useless.

A July review of 14 ivermectin studies concluded these studies were small and “few are considered high quality.” The researchers say they’re uncertain about the efficacy and safety of the drug and that “reliable evidence” doesn’t support using ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment outside of well-designed randomized trials.

These are their reasons:

  • Low numbers of participants in studies
  • Imprecise or even skewed methods: some studies compared use of ivermectin to other unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine. Comparisons were also made based on different criteria among the two drugs
  • Some studies had different interpretations of the results
  • The authors say that some studies were excluded from the review completely due to high risk of bias. They found about one-third of study results currently available were at a high risk of bias. Most results were ruled to have at least some concern about bias
  • Narrow confidence intervals (CIs) in findings: meaning how much confidence there was in results falling within a certain range. While findings among these studies may indicate that ivermectin may be effective, the probability is slim.

Meanwhile, an oft-cited Australian study found that ivermectin killed the virus, but several scientists have since explained humans most likely aren’t capable of ingesting or processing the amounts of ivermectin used during the experiment.

Thirty-one other ivermectin studies are underway currently, while 18 others are awaiting review.

Earlier this month, Together Trial, a large-scale ivermectin clinical trial (which is not yet peer-reviewed) ended with the conclusion that the drug had “no effect whatsoever” on whether its 1,500 patients needed to go to ERs or be hospitalized.

Other major health organizations advising against use of ivermectin for COVID-19 include: the World Health Organization, European Medicines Agency, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Additionally, pharmaceutical company Merck, a manufacturer of ivermectin, says there’s “no meaningful evidence” to support its use in this way.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Monday: “Don’t do it. There’s no evidence whatsoever that it works and it could potentially have toxicity because people have taken ridiculous dosages and they wind up getting sick. There’s no clinical evidence that indicates that this works.”

Surge in usage

Nevertheless, ivermectin use goes on — and continues grabbing headlines because of it.

Usage has spiked so much, the FDA was forced to put out a warning weeks ago reading: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, ya’ll. Stop it.”

Dr. Matthew Payne told the Washington Post he’s been meeting many patients in his Oklahoma hospital who distrusted the proven-effective COVID-19 vaccines, but trusted ivermectin.

“There is surprise and shock when they initially get sick and have to come to the hospital,” Payne said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not sure why I feel so bad. I was taking the ivermectin,’ and I will say, ‘It doesn’t do any good.’”

Due to an increase in search traffic for the drug, Amazon said it will block some autocomplete search responses for ivermectin, USA Today reports. While the retail giant will still autocomplete searches that begin with “iv” to “ivermectin for horses” and “ivermectin paste,” it will instead redirect to a message advising against human usage of the drug for COVID-19 treatment.

Last week, a judge in Butler County, Ohio, ruled in favor of a woman who demanded the hospital treating her husband for COVID-19 give him ivermectin, the Ohio Capital Journal reports. Butler County Judge Gregory Howard ordered West Chester Hospital to give 51 year-old Jeffrey Smith 30 milligrams of ivermectin every day for the next three weeks.

In her lawsuit, Smith’s wife, Julie Smith claims she offered to sign documents releasing all other parties, doctors and the hospital from all liability related to the dosage. The hospital declined.

Smith says her husband, who has been on a ventilator for weeks, has a very slim chance of survival and that she’s willing to try anything to keep him alive.

“The FLCCC”

Smith’s lawsuit references the work of Dr. Fred A. Wagshul, who is a founding member of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance — a group of doctors that are promoting the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment.

The FLCCC is behind the website “covid19criticalcare.com,” which purports to offer “prevention and treatment protocols for COVID-19.” In addition to the use of ivermectin (which the FLCCC calls its core preventative measure), it’s indicated that a person gargle with mouthwash, take vitamins and administer nasal drops containing iodine.

Chief among the FLCCC’s resources on ivermectin is a review published in the American Journal of Therapeutics. It’s co-authored by one member of the alliance and relies to some degree (at least 15.5%, according to academic journal Nature) on a non-peer-reviewed preprint that was withdrawn due to “ethical concerns.”

That paper allegedly studied a large sample size of COVID-19 symptomatic people and found that ivermectin significantly reduced symptoms and deaths. But academics and critics found issues related to plagiarism and data manipulation, Nature reports.

The FLCCC Alliance says “vaccination is part of the solution,” for ending the COVID-19 pandemic, although vaccines are not listed in its preventative protocol plan. The group does say people should follow public health authority recommendations, including “vaccinations as appropriate.”

The group’s treatment protocol for hospitalized patients reads: “If administered early, this formula of FDA-approved, safe, inexpensive, and readily available drugs can eliminate the need for ICU beds and mechanical ventilators and return patients to health.”

Nevertheless, the FDA has not approved ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment.

[Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19]

The FLCCC says its information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment plans from a licensed medical professional.

The alliance lists a disclaimer on its website, reading: “IF YOU ARE DISSATISFIED WITH ANY OF THE CONTENT OR MATERIALS ON OUR WEBSITE, OR ANY SERVICES OR INFORMATION AVAILABLE THROUGH THE WEBSITE, YOUR SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE REMEDY IS TO DISCONTINUE ACCESSING AND USING OUR WEBSITE.”

The CDC urges and reminds Americans that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer (now fully FDA-approved), Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are safe and effective, it says. Booster shots are currently underway and under discussion. While vaccines do not ensure you won’t become infected with COVID-19, they have significant real-world data confirming they prevent severe illness and hospitalization.

Follow KXAN’s Russell Falcon on Twitter @RussellFalcon or email russell.falcon@kxan.com for comments, questions and more coronavirus coverage.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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