By Nick Robins-Early
Health authorities have warned there’s no proof for Ivermectin’s value in treating Covid-19. Still groups are touting the drug as the way out of the pandemic.
At the top of a Florida-based telehealth website that promises “quality meds with fast shipping”, above a menu of skin care products, erectile dysfunction medications and hair loss treatments, sits a bright orange banner with bold lettering: “LOOKING FOR IVERMECTIN? CLICK HERE,” it reads.
The telehealth site is one of numerous online providers that have moved to capitalize on the surge in demand for ivermectin as Covid-19 cases rise across the US. The drug, an anti-parasitic used in both humans and livestock, has become the latest in a series of much-hyped medications for which doctors say there is no conclusive evidence they work to treat coronavirus.
Driving the ivermectin frenzy is a cottage industry of advocacy groups, anti-vaccine activists and telehealth companies. Touting the drug as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19, these groups have rapidly risen to prominence, finding a fervent audience among conservative media figures, the vaccine-hesitant and people desperate to treat loved ones suffering from the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), put out advisories in August warning against using ivermectin for Covid-19. The February guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) state there is not enough evidence “either for or against” recommending the drug.
Still, medical advocacy groups and anti-vaccine activists have heavily promoted ivermectin online and in the media as the key to ending the pandemic and have shared lists of doctors and companies that will offer it – sometimes directing those interested to dubious medical providers. The hype has caused runs on pharmacies, with reports of people resorting to eating versions of the drug intended for horses when they can’t get their hands on its formulation for humans.
‘The solution to Covid-19’
Ivermectin has a widespread use treating parasitic diseases when formulated for humans – a discovery that won the 2015 Nobel prize in medicine. The drug is used for Covid-19 in Latin American nations as well as several European countries. But experts say there is no proven record of its effectiveness against viruses, and multiple studies have cast doubt on its uses in treating Covid-19.
“There’s really no compelling evidence it works,” said Dr Peter Hotez, a professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine who previously worked on health policy for using vermectin to treat parasitic diseases.
Medical experts have also found problems with the studies that ivermectin advocates praise. One medical journal retracted a much vaunted pro-ivermectin study after doctors raised serious concerns over plagiarism and data manipulation. A review of existing studies into the drug from an international organization that reviews medical research found a lack of reliable evidence to support the drug’s use for treatment or prevention of Covid-19 outside of clinical trials and criticized the quality of studies that do exist on ivermectin. A more rigorous, large clinical trial from the University of Oxford is currently underway to see if the drug could have any benefit.
There’s really no compelling evidence it worksDr Peter Hotez
Despite outstanding questions over ivermectin’s efficacy, several advocacy organizations have been on a nearly year-long campaign to mainstream the drug. Two of the most prominent groups backing ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment are the UK-based British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (Bird) and the US-based Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC).