Despite the claims of Joe Rogan and Donald Trump supporters, studies show that the antiparasitic drug doesn't reduce the risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
A fake "miracle drug"
Ivermectin is believed by many to be a treatment against COVID-19, but study after study has found otherwise -- and according to an investigation, the few studies that do advocate its use contain serious errors. Now, a study from Brazil adds to the evidence against the use of ivermectin versus COVID-19.
The study looked at more than 1,300 people infected with the virus. A double-blind, randomized trial was carried out -- in other words, the participants were randomized into two groups, some received a placebo and some received ivermectin, but neither the patients nor the doctors knew who was in what group until the end of the study. This was done to control the effects of placebo and prevent biases coming from the expectations of patients, a hallmark of quality studies.
The results showed that taking the antiparasitic drug does nothing to prevent hospitalizations.
"Treatment with ivermectin did not result in a lower incidence of medical admission to a hospital due to progression of COVID-19 or of prolonged emergency department observation among outpatients with an early diagnosis of COVID-19," the researchers conclude in the study.
To put it another way, there was no significant difference between ivermectin and placebo.
"We did not find a significantly or clinically meaningful lower risk of medical admission to a hospital or prolonged emergency department observation (primary composite outcome) with ivermectin administered for 3 days at a dose of 400 μg per kilogram per day than with placebo," the researchers also explain.
A waste of resources to keep trying
As the NYT quoted Paul Sax, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, continuing to carry out ivermectin trials is looking more and more like a waste of time and resources.
"I welcome the results of the other clinical trials and will view them with an open mind, but at some point, it will become a waste of resources to continue studying an unpromising approach," the researcher told NYT.
In the earliest days of the pandemic, people were trying out a lot of potential treatments against a novel coronavirus that was sweeping the world. Among the many potential treatments that were peddled, ivermectin (commonly used as a horse dewormer) stood out -- not necessarily because it appeared particularly promising in treating COVID-19, but because it received almost a cult following. While scientists remained very skeptical about its potential use, misinformation flowed and some groups embraced the drug even with lackluster evidence.
Anti-vaccine groups in particular embraced the drug, and it essentially became more a political debate rather than a scientific one. Joe Rogan also famously popularized the drug, implementing it in his "kitchen sink" approach that included monoclonal antibodies, prednisone, and a Z-pack.
Initially, ivermectin was noted as a potential treatment by lab studies. From the very start, some researchers pointed out that this only worked because of the high concentrations of the drug -- far beyond what is safe for humans. A lot of drugs kill a lot of viruses in the lab, but doing so in the human body is a completely different matter. Some doctors even started prescribing ivermectin for COVID-19, despite warnings from the FDA and almost every regulatory body in the world.
Some quick, small studies also claimed to show some benefits of the drug in combating COVID-19, but several studies were found to be based on fabricated data or flawed analysis -- while the reliable, randomized studies showed no benefits of ivermectin.
When Andrew Hill, a virologist at the University of Liverpool in England, carried out a review of existing studies on ivermectin vs COVID-19, he initially concluded that the drug seems to have the potential to help against the disease. But many other researchers pointed out that his review was based on faulty studies, and Hill retracted his original study and carried out a new review, which concluded that "the results suggest that the significant effect of ivermectin on survival was dependent on largely poor-quality studies."
Thankfully, we're much better prepared for the virus now than we were one or two years ago. We have a bunch of working, effective, and safe vaccines, and we even have several real treatments.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.