Once described as the wonder drug that cured many of river blindness, the anti-parasitic medicine is being studied for use against COVID-19.
Yesterday, Anakalusugan Party List Rep. Mike Defensor announced on Facebook that he will give away the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin to Quezon City residents, prioritizing senior citizens and those who are sick. But this initiative, which is meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, was met with public criticism. Many pointed out that there is no strong scientific basis for using it as a treatment against the virus.
Ivermectin quickly gained traction in the past few months, and has been a trigger for fierce debates to ensue, from messenger groups to every social media platform. But many groups—including the Department of Health (DOH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO)—continue to heavily against the drug.
In an article in its website, WHO recommends that the drug be only used in clinical trials. Ivermectin, which is included in WHO essential medicines list for parasitic diseases, is used to treat conditions like river blindness, strongyloidiasis, and scabies. As clamor grew for the drug’s use against COVID grew, the organization convened an international panel of experts to analyze data of randomized controlled trials.
“They determined that the evidence on whether ivermectin reduces mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, need for hospital admission and time to clinical improvement in COVID-19 patients is of ‘very low certainty,’ due to the small sizes and methodological limitations of available trial data, including small number of events,” the article reads.
Discovered in Japan in the 1970s, Ivermectin was first introduced as veterinary medicine that kills parasites in livestock and pets. A paper published in the US National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health describes it as a “wonder drug,” which is finding success not only in animal health, but is the weapon of choice battling river blindness and strongyloidiasis, and other diseases caused by soil transmitted helminthiasis.
Even Merck and Co., the pharmaceutical that manufactures Ivermectin, clarified in a statement that they do not believe that “the data available supports the safety and efficacy of the drug beyond the doses and populations indicated in the regulatory agency-approved prescribing information.
“It is important to note that, to-date, our analysis has identified: No scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies; No meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease, and; A concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies,” the statement lays out.
In the Philippines, the FDA has so far only authorized Ivermectin’s use on animals. FDA Director Eric Domingo also has the same sentiments as Merck, saying simply that there is not enough data. While hospitals can apply for a Compassionate Special Permit (CSP) from the FDA, Domingo says that they would have to take full responsibility of the drug and its use in treatment.
Today, however, Defensor defended his initiative, saying that Ivermectin is safe and was used on him while being treated for COVID. There is also clamor from other lawmakers like Bernadette Herrera and Eric Pineda for the drug’s use. The hashtag #IvermectinWorks is also trending on Twitter.
Many health professionals in the private sector—like infectious diseases expert Benjamin Co and UP Department of Health ethics board chair Jacinto Mantaring—do believe that Ivermectin’s potential in COVID treatment is worth studying further. But, like many other tempering voices, they stress that due process must be followed.
We are all tired, angry, and scared of this pandemic, yes, but gambling with even more lives with unsound data and unfounded claims might be too big of a risk.