Conspiracy theorists pushing ivermectin as a flu and RSV panacea: report

Conspiracy theorists pushing ivermectin as a flu and RSV panacea: report
image via Creative Commons.

In 2020 and 2021 — during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic — some far-right MAGA Republicans and conspiracy theorists promoted ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, as a treatment for COVID-19. And they drew a great deal of criticism from mainstream health officials, including veteran immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The FDA, in an official statement, warned, "The FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals…. Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19…. Taking large doses of ivermectin is dangerous."

But despite warnings from Fauci, the FDA and countless others, ivermectin proponents on the far right continued to insist that it was a valuable tool in fighting COVID-19. According to Washington Post reporter Lauren Weber, the ivermectin cult hasn’t gone away — only in 2023, its focus is on ivermectin as a treatment for the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

READ MORE:'We tried our best': Retiring Dr. Anthony Fauci recalls challenges of serving Donald Trump during COVID-19

Weber, in an article published on February 26, notes that the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) was formed in 2020 to, in its own words, "prevent and treat COVID." But with interest in ivermectin as an anti-COVID-19 drug having waned, the group is now focused on other respiratory problems. And the group's critics, according to Weber, are still speaking out.

One of those critics is Arthur Caplan, who leads the medical ethics division for New York University's Grossman School of Medicine. Caplan described the group's ivermectin claims as "fraud" on a "significant scale" and told the Washington Post, "Profiting from bunk and nonsense has no place in ethical medicine."

Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson, is also very blunt in her comments.

Nordlund told the Post, "Ivermectin is not recommended by CDC for prevention or treatment of influenza, and there are no data from clinical trials of ivermectin for prevention or treatment of influenza in people. It's important to note that currently, ivermectin has not been proven as a way to prevent or treat RSV."

READ MORE: Republicans are barring medical boards from punishing doctors who prescribe ivermectin: report

COVID-19 has been the world's deadliest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, COVID-19 has killed more than 6.8 million people worldwide.

COVID-19 is still highly infectious, but thanks in part to widely available vaccines, many of the COVID-19 infections of 2023 are not fatal and do not require hospitalization. And with COVID-19 killing fewer people than it was two or three years ago, people who were pushing ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment are now more focused on respiratory problems in general.

Merck is a major pharmaceutical company that manufactures and promotes ivermectin — but not as a treatment for COVID-19, the flu or RSV.

In an official statement on February 4, 2021, Merck warned that with ivermectin, there was "no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies." Nor was there, according to Merck, any "meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease."

Merck, two years later, has not changed its position. Merck representative Julie Cunningham told the Post, "Our company statement remains the same: The use of ivermectin is not supported beyond the doses and populations indicated in the regulatory agency-approved prescribing information."

In an op-ed published online via New Zealand on February 27, Dr. Siouxsie Wiles — a microbiologist at the University of Auckland — stressed that there is still no scientific evidence that ivermectin works as a COVID-19 treatment.

Wiles warned, "Get the dose wrong, and ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, dizziness and seizures. It can even put people in a coma…. In the U.S. state of New Mexico, two people died. Meanwhile, more and more studies were being published showing ivermectin is useless as a treatment for COVID-19. The latest study came out just last week…. Ivermectin still didn't work. It would have been fantastic if the results of that early lab study had translated into an effective medicine for COVID-19. But it didn't. Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped people pushing ivermectin as a cure or people believing it is one."

READ MORE: Ivermectin-pushing doctor attacks CNN and Sesame Street for 'collusion' over vaccine information

Read the Washington Post's full report here(subscription required).

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