By Chris Savage
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug that was discovered in 1975. It was initially used in veterinary care for the prevention and treatment of heartworm and acariasis. In 1987, it was approved by the FDA for human use and, today, is widely used to prevent and treat various parasitic infestations including head lice, scabies, river blindness, strongyloidiasis, trichuriasis, ascariasis, and lymphatic filariasis. It is a drug that can be taken orally or applied to the skin, depending on the nature of the infestation.
This important medication was such a game changer that, in 2015, William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for its discovery.
USE FOR THE TREATMENT OF COVID-19
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, laboratory research suggested that ivermectin “inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro”. However, subsequent clinical studies failed to prove that it was effective. As Dr Jorge Caballero, co-founder of Coders against Covid, an organization that analyzes Covid data, put it, “If Nobel Prizes were handed out for curing life-threatening diseases in a petri dish, then I (and virtually every translational research scientist) would have one.”
This did not stop vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine activists from heralding ivermectin as an effective treatment, negating the need for COVID-19 vaccines. They pointed to studies which showed that the drug worked but, by late 2021, BBC News was able to show that many of these studies either showed no effect or were flawed:
The BBC can reveal that more than a third of 26 major trials of the drug for use on Covid have serious errors or signs of potential fraud. None of the rest show convincing evidence of ivermectin's effectiveness. Dr Kyle Sheldrick, one of the group investigating the studies, said they had not found "a single clinical trial" claiming to show that ivermectin prevented Covid deaths that did not contain "either obvious signs of fabrication or errors so critical they invalidate the study".
As a result, the FDA has not approved or authorized ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19. The World Health Organization also discouraged its use outside of clinical trials.
Nonetheless, anti-vaxxers along with anti-lock down extremists continued to promote ivermectin and other unproven “treatments” in their efforts to discourage people from getting vaccinated. Scientific American found several phony “doctors” groups promoting it:
Derived from a compound discovered in a soil microbe in Japan, ivermectin has been called a “miracle drug” and “the penicillin of COVID” by Pierre Kory, a critical care physician in Madison, Wis. Kory is president of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC), a group of physicians and scientists who champion ivermectin, along with other drugs and vitamins with dubious efficacy against COVID. The organization, along with two others called the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) Group and America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS), have drawn criticism from many other physicians and scientists. Yet treatment protocols, links and videos from these groups are sweeping through social media, promoted by vaccine skeptics.
These groups were so effective at spreading disinformation about ivermectin that it became in short supply by the summer of 2021. That, along with the difficulty in getting doctors to prescribe the medication for them, led some people sick with COVID-19 to turn to the veterinary version of the drug.
This led the FDA to issue warnings, starting with a tweet saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.
Seriously, y'all. Stop it.”
Despite this, use of the veterinary version of ivermectin surged:
Livestock supply stores in the US and in Canada have faced runs on veterinary ivermectin. Iceland’s directorate of health told citizens in August not to eat a topical cream containing ivermectin after one patient was hospitalized. Authorities in South Africa, Northern Ireland and other nations seized millions of dollars in illegally trafficked ivermectin intended for sale on the black market.
Due to the increasing scarcity of the drug, some veterinarians resorted to rationing the drug or prescribing more-expensive alternatives.
Off-label ivermectin use, fueled largely by online disinformation, led to serious medical repercussions in humans:
Ivermectin-related calls to poison control centers this year have more than tripled compared to the same period last year, with 1,440 calls through Sept. 20, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. July, in particular, saw a five-fold increase in ivermectin calls compared to the “pre-pandemic baseline,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some cases have been fatal, with New Mexico reporting this week two deaths from misusing ivermectin as a COVID-19 medication.
PROFITEERING FROM IVERMECTIN DISINFORMATION
Pushing the use of ivermectin as a “treatment” after someone gets sick with COVID-19 as an alternative to getting vaccinated beforehand to avoid infection entirely isn’t just something drummed up by the anti-vaxxers. For one group, in particular, it was a profitable grift. America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) used the anti-parasitic drug to raise enormous amounts of money in what can only be called a monumental scam.
Started in 2020 as a way to give former president Donald Trump cover for his botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AFLDS began to spread disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines and pushing for more expensive “treatments” like ivermectin.
Over time, AFLDS developed a network of healthcare companies to cash in on their efforts. People with COVID-19 were directed, most often on social media, to set up a consultation via the website SpeakWithAnMD.com which, at the time, used the telemedicine platform of Cadence Health. There, for a fee, they would have a consultation with an AFLDS doctor to get a prescription for ivermectin or some other drug. The prescription would then be filled, for an additional fee, by the online pharmacy ravkoo.
After a trove of hacked data exposing this network as a scam was revealed by The Intercept, both ravkoo and Cadence Health severed their connections with AFLDS/SpeakWithAnMD.com.
TIME magazine revealed the extent of the scam in a piece titled “How 'America's Frontline Doctors' Sold Access to Bogus COVID-19 Treatments—and Left Patients in the Lurch”. In their reporting, they found that hundreds of patients had paid the fees but never received a consultation and/or the ivermectin or other treatments they were seeking. In some tragic cases, patients became sicker and needed to be hospitalized as they waited for ineffective drugs that never arrived.
The hacked data revealed by The Intercept showed that 72,000 people sought the services of SpeakWithAnMD.com. At $90 per consultation session, AFLDS appears to have made millions of dollars from their scam.
In late October of last year, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, opened an inquiry into AFLDS and SpeakWithAnMD.com, saying he was “deeply concerned that SpeakWithAnMD.com is profiting from the provision of questionable treatments and dangerous prescriptions, which may be putting American lives at risk and setting back our nation’s efforts to end the pandemic.” Speaking to ABC News, Clyburn said, “We think there are millions of dollars being made by various groups selling misinformation. [We're] doing what we think is necessary to try to get to the bottom of this."
Despite copious amounts of evidence that ivermectin is ineffective for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, it continues to be promoted by anti-vaxxers and those who are profiting from it and, although the House inquiry is ongoing, SpeakWithAnMD.com remains online as of the publication of this piece.
What is very clear is that the nexus between medical disinformation and monetizing that effort for profit is a powerful combination that has dangerous implications beyond simply scamming people out of their money. And this harm will continue without pushback by medical professionals like the all-volunteer team of doctors and nurses from the Committee to Protect Health Care (CTP), self-regulation by the medical community, and, ultimately, regulation by the government.
Different groups are working to combat the in non-virtuous cycle of profit and disinformation.
No License for Disinformation is working to urge state medical boards to take action against doctors who spread disinformation and to fight against legislation that has been proposed in multiple states to prevent doctors from being held accountable for this type of behavior. You can follow their efforts on Twitter HERE.
Meanwhile physicians from CTP are holding the purveyors of disinformation accountable in the court of public opinion. Doctor Dr. Frederick Southwick, an infectious diseases specialist in Gainesville, Florida, released the following statement slamming legislation intended to empower promoters of disinformation in Florida:
Physicians and nurses are dedicated to improving the health and welfare of their patients. One of the critical conditions for achieving these goals is trust. Floridians should be able to trust the information coming from their doctor or nurse as accurate and safe, but this legislation would allow the few health care providers who choose to spread disinformation to continue endangering lives without penalty. All physicians ascribe to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Providing harmful recommendations betrays this sacred oath. Just as a medical professional who provides substandard treatment and injures a patient should be held accountable, so should they be responsible for spreading disinformation that could gravely harm those who trust them. This legislation is yet another attempt by some Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis to politicize health care, and I fear there could be deadly consequences for Floridians.
This post was originally published on the membership portal for the the Committee to Protect Health Care. If you are interested in content like this and want to join efforts like these, please consider becoming a member HERE.