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In America, the business of lies is winning — and killing people

We have credible proof that ivermectin does not work against Covid-19. But it's still out there.
Image: A health worker holds a bottle of Ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020.
A health worker holds a bottle of ivermectin in Cali, Colombia, on July 21, 2020.Luis Robayo / AFP via Getty Images file

Here’s a handy tip, courtesy a box of ivermectin: “Deworming depends on the right amount of dewormer getting into your horse. DEWORMER WON’T WORK IF IT ENDS UP ON YOUR SHIRT!”

This is the drug that fringe doctors and right-wing social media celebrities swore would prevent and/or cure Covid-19, a lie that led to it being in short supply last year. As incredible as this might seem, it is just a symptom of the real diagnosis. Science and credible health information have been replaced by anyone with the ability to stitch together a narrative of government conspiracies and the brainwashing of America’s doctors.

The energy exerted by the radical right filters into the mainstream by disguising itself with the label of “doctor” or “patient” or “right to try.”

Consider the actual science. A recent large, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (considered the gold standard in research) from Brazil confirmed what dozens of studies have already found. In brief: Ivermectin does not help reduce hospital admissions or emergency room visits for patients with Covid. In fact, the data is so compelling that one could argue any doctor that prescribes this medicine for a patient should have their credentials re-evaluated.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic that has been in use for animals since the 1970s and was eventually found to have clinical use in humans for treating lice, scabies and other parasitic diseases. Its use against Covid was born out of the early days of desperation during the pandemic when we were throwing any possible treatment for Covid as physicians, nurses and public health officials were trying to understand the very basic elements of the virus.

Laboratory-based studies in nonhuman subjects showed some promise in a paper that was later withdrawn. The drug’s popularity really took off in December 2020, when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chaired a hearing during which he accused the government of silencing health professionals and doctors who recommended alternative cures for Covid. The hearing garnered over a million views on social media platforms, lending instant credibility to the claims made by doctors who have no support from any reputable medical organization, including the American Medical Association and the American Pharmacists Association.

A cottage industry has since developed, with millions of dollars flowing to telemedicine companies who offer sympathetic videos that seem reasonable with no discussion of risks or benefits … all for $89 out of pocket.

There is black and white evidence that ivermectin not only does not help Covid patients, but also that when the product intended for animals is taken by humans, it can cause harm, including a dramatic increase in calls to poison control centers nationwide. But the damage is done.

Unfortunately, for now the business of lies is winning.

The real threat is not limited to ivermectin, of course. It extends to misinformation around other unproven Covid treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and targeted at actual effective strategies such as vaccines, masks and more. The energy exerted by the radical right filters into the mainstream by disguising itself with the label of “doctor” or “patient” or “right to try.”

The number of court cases compelling doctors in hospitals to use ivermectin and other treatments under force should trouble any health professional. Hospitals have been forced to administer ivermectin to patients hospitalized for Covid, creating an unusual precedent of medicating from the bench when regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have weighed in on the inappropriate use of the drug.

Preying on the vulnerability of patients who are desperate for anything to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones is an example of the exploitation of decent Americans by those disguised as courageous front-line professionals. Anyone who states otherwise should be required to present a detailed description of why the growing multitude of effective available treatments such as dexamethasone (a generic drug available for approximately $1/unit), paxlovid, remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies were not sufficient for patients.

Unfortunately, for now the business of lies is winning — politicians are proudly using their support of ivermectin as an election platform, doctors who have been under disciplinary action are making millions of dollars and considered credible, while attacks on public health officials continue to occur on a frequent basis.

The playbook is clear: stoke fear, prey on vulnerable Americans, launch social media to promote lies and attack credible officials and repeat. In the process, these charlatans stand to profit or gain power as the subjects of their con suffer the consequences. The similarities between the campaign to discredit the 2020 election and the proliferation of ivermectin are clear — both resulted in needless death and the normalization of fear and misinformation.