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Ivermectin, the New Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19

Many who do not accept the CDC’s evidence-based recommendations about vaccinations and face masks are turning to other ways to prevent and/or treat COVID infections.  Hydroxychloroquine was the first of these. Now it is ivermectin, a drug used to treat certain parasitic infections in the intestines, like pinworms and strongyloides

Like hydroxychloroquine, there are clinical studies assessing the effect of ivermectin on SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) infections. Also like hydroxychloroquine, none of the well-done trials have shown definitive proof that it is effective. However, poorly done studies show possible benefits, and anecdotal experience from providers and those who have taken ivermectin for COVID proclaim the benefits; although many of these testimonials are biased and could be due to the placebo effect.

The weak evidence showing a benefit for ivermectin and the 31 ongoing ivermectin studies are encouraging some to take ivermectin to prevent and/or treat their COVID infections. The politicians recommending ivermectin are also contributing to this unfounded use. It is interesting to note that these are the same individuals that deny the compelling evidence that vaccines and face masks work. For them, scientific evidence appears to only be valid when it supports their positions.

That’s the opposite of how science works. In fact, every scientific study begins with the assumption that what you are trying to prove (such as a drug effectively treating a disease) is not true. The purpose of the study is to collect enough evidence to show — with at least 95% accuracy — why you were wrong to think this (i.e., that the drug actually works).

On the positive side, unlike hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin has a good safety profile when used at recommended doses. However, ivermectin is more readily available since it is widely used to treat or prevent parasites in livestock, and unsupervised use can result in dangerously high doses. Mississippi recently reported that at least 70% of their recent Poison Control Centers calls were about possible ivermectin toxicity. Not surprising if people are taking doses meant for large animals, such as cows or horses. Ivermectin toxicity/overdose can cause rash, headache, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurologic disorders, and occasionally severe hepatitis.

There is all the misinformation on social media — predominantly from anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists — that has convinced many that the currently accepted measures are unsafe, ineffective, an intrusion on individual rights, or any number of other myths perpetuated on the internet (check back for upcoming blogs debunking misinformation surrounding the COVID vaccines).

Although the conflicting evidence and misinformation make the issue seem cloudy, there are five things that should clarify things and convince you to avoid ivermectin.

1. Ivermectin is neither approved by the Federal Drug Administration (outside of clinical trials) nor recommended by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, public health officials, and the majority of healthcare providers. 

2. The evidence of ivermectin’s effectiveness is not strong enough to support using it. In fact, carefully done research shows no benefit at all. Since so many studies are pending, the jury is still out and we need to wait for the verdict. Even with the good safety profile at recommended doses, taking ivermectin before it is certain it works is not worth the risk.

3. Unsupervised ivermectin use has become a major safety issue, especially those using agricultural products.

4. There are measures such as the COVID-19 vaccines that have been clearly shown to very effectively reduce the spread of COVID and prevent severe covid disease. In addition, they are longer lasting, safe, and available for free. 

5. There are better studied, more widely accepted, and effective COVID treatments such as remdesivir and COVID-19 specific monoclonal antibody treatments.

COVID-19 is and will remain a moving target, as evidenced by the Delta variant. Although it took a while for science to catch up to the pandemic, the currently recommended measures have the benefit of being scientifically sound, highly effective, and very safe. The addition of unproven and potentially dangerous medications like ivermectin can only make the situation worse and should be avoided.

The saddest aspect of the entire covid experience in this country, including ivermectin, is that it has become a political issue for too many people. The COVID-19 pandemic is a medical and public health issue pure and simple, and we need to begin treating it as such and trust the science.
The NeedyMeds website has a database of over 100 nationwide resources for those who have been impacted by COVID-19. For those looking for information on receiving a coronavirus vaccine, all adults and children over 12 years old can receive the vaccine free of charge. There may be options for children ages 12-18 to get vaccinated even if their parents don’t grant permission. Search online for your state’s requirements, area’s locations, and appointment availability.