We’ve been in this pandemic long enough to recognize a few patterns, and one unfortunate one is grifting. Every few weeks, another batch of social media influencers and cable news talking heads start touting the alleged benefits of a so-called miracle drug that “the government doesn’t want you to know about.” First it was hydroxychloroquine, which was quickly dropped as soon as it was clear its alleged COVID-fighting benefits were bogus. Now it’s ivermectin, and the FDA is begging people to stop taking it.
Feed stores across the country have reported running low on ivermectin, because the drug itself is most popular as a dewormer for animals like horses and dogs. The FDA has approved it for human use to treat certain parasitic worms and head lice, but far-right pundits like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham are insisting it can also cure COVID-19. Perhaps its most prominent proponent, former biology professor Bret Weinstein, has amassed a large following on YouTube, where hurls skepticism of vaccines and touts the benefits of ivermectin.
There is no evidence of this. There’s no proof that ivermectin is even safe for humans, let alone effective at treating COVID-19. While you might think that Merck, the manufacturer of ivermectin, would be enjoying the spike in sales, they’re actually discouraging people from using it to treat COVID. Now, there are multiple reports of people being hospitalized after taking large quantities of ivermectin, and the FDA is begging people it cut it out.
“You are not a horse. You are not a cow,” they tweeted. “Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
Not the most sympathetic of entreaties but, well, sometimes a little tough love might be necessary.
That’s because ivermectin is far from a safe gamble. Early studies did not find the drug to be anywhere as close to effective as the vaccine for protecting against COVID-19. But entreaties from social media influencers and quack doctors have nevertheless compelled people to give it a shot — people who don’t have any idea how much to take or what it might interact with in their own bodies. Poison control centers are seeing an uptick in calls as the drug grows in popularity. The side effects, which include bad diarrhea and something called “rope worms” (probably bits of intestinal lining), seem hardly worth taking a chance on unproven claims of COVID defense. Especially when a rigorously tested vaccine is freely available.
And getting vaccinated is extra important now, as a fresh wave of cases fueled by the Delta variant has made the pandemic as bad or even worse as it’s ever been in many parts of the U.S. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina, daily hospitalizations and deaths are at or near their highs of 2020. In Florida, it’s worse than it’s ever been.
The FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine would seem to be the sign many people have been waiting for. It’s certainly better than ivermectin.