By Jennifer Reich

The family of Randy Clouse, a 61-year-old Auburn, Ill., man who has been on a ventilator for almost four weeks, asked a judge last month to order the hospital caring for Clouse to give him ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that has not been shown to help those infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. As his attorney told a local TV station, “They’ve given him remdesivir, they’ve given steroids. That’s their protocol, they’re done with the protocol. We’ve asked the court to allow ivermectin.” A different court in Ohio ruled last week that a hospital there had to give the drug to Jeffrey Smith after his wife sued to allow the treatment.

Ivermectin has become the latest ground on which the battle between scientific process and misinformation is being fought. Despite consensus that there is inadequate evidence that it can cure covid and may be dangerous to the person taking it, this anti-parasite and deworming medication, like hydroxychloroquine before it, has been embraced by those who are most suspicious of vaccines and Food and Drug Administration-approved remedies. Doctors who refuse to distribute these unproven medications for the virus – who follow protocols that draw on medications with demonstrated efficacy – are widely viewed with suspicion by believers.

How have unapproved remedies that do not show signs of working and could be harmful instead come to be in high demand among people who reject vaccines and other tested preventive strategies? It’s a question of trust and distrust – and of which experts people listen to.

Rogue remedies like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are most popular among people who are skeptical of vaccines and other treatments – precisely because those treatments haven’t gone through the same process of scientific and expert review that they distrust. For people who are suspicious of mainstream scientific thought, information that appears to come from other sources often seems independent, insightful and brave. These skeptics insist that they can evaluate health information themselves, and contested claims from nonofficial sources let them feel like they’re doing so, which can paradoxically make those claims seem truer and therefore more appealing than the mainstream ones.

In my research on vaccine hesitancy before the pandemic, I often heard parents explain that they didn’t trust childhood vaccines because of the many relationships between for-profit pharmaceutical companies, the government agencies that regulate them and the physicians who administer them.

“Doctors and nurses are so overloaded with so much information, much of it drug information, that they don’t have the time in their schedule – they’re scheduled to work 12-hour days, they don’t have the energy to actually find these things out on their own,” one mother told me. “And they’re taught that if they aren’t good little soldiers and distribute this stuff the way the companies are telling them to do this, they aren’t being good doctors. And it all comes down, in my opinion, to the dollar. . . . These companies are making millions, getting governments to require these vaccines at an increased frequency; it’s just like – it’s overwhelming.”

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