Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdown was still something of a novelty and we spent our days making sourdough bread rather than sitting at home in stained sweatpants we’ve since been living in for the greater part of six months, researchers around the world were united in the quest to find a vaccine. But while testing was underway, other solutions were posited, including the drug ivermectin which some doctors tested to see if it could be repurposed as a Covid-19 treatment.
As CNet reports, ivermectin is an “antiparasitic medicine that cures diseases such as river blindness and scabies by paralysing and killing the parasites. It can also inhibit some viruses from infecting cells, thus preventing the virus from spreading.” While it’s not a particularly common drug in the US, it’s more commonly used in developing countries where parasites are often more common and also more deadly.
The antiparasitic was found to offer some kind of positive effect on patients, but as more studies on its effectiveness were conducted, it soon came to light that it had little effect for treating Covid itself. While this has been known in medical circles for some time now, it’s concerning that a new study in Japan is being used as proof of ivermectin’s effectiveness, despite the fact it comes from those known for spreading misinformation about Covid.
The study from Japanese trading and pharmaceuticals company Kowa found ivermectin did have an “antiviral effect” on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a report from Reuters. This was later corrected as it was not made clear in the initial story that the effect it referred to was already known and limited to “joint nonclinical research.” In other words, this effect was produced in test tubes, with no evidence to support the theory that ivermectin has any effectiveness in treating Covid.
It’s important to stress that the US Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, the World Health Organisation and other agencies do not suggest using ivermectin to treat Covid-19. Aside from lack of data, they also credit the trials as being randomised when it comes to confirming the effectiveness of treatment. Despite this, a handful of doctors citing smaller studies and firsthand experience lean the other way, claiming that it does in fact work to prevent people from developing symptoms of Covid-19 and can also shorten recovery time for those already infected. These studies however, have numerous gaps in the research including the small number of participants, poor methodology and flawed data.
As CNet suggests, compounding the issue of misinformation is social media, which has seen discourse around ivermectin as Covid-19 treatment intensify. “While those in support of the drug appear to want an end to the pandemic, their arguments in favour of ivermectin have become fodder for anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists,” reports the publication. “Covid vaccines have been shown to decrease the chance of hospitalisation and death. According to the CDC in January, individuals who received a booster shot were 68 times less likely to die than those unvaccinated.”