The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions for the economy and public health, but also spawned a pandemic of cries of misinformation, with many accusing others of spreading false narratives. COVID-19 led to much back and forth on what was true and what was false, especially when it came to the best way to prevent and treat the virus.
One of the most prominent cases of disagreement surrounds a medicine called ivermectin, which has been traditionally used to treat parasitic disease in humans and livestock. The FDA has approved the human variant of ivermectin to treat certain parasitic infections, but should it be approved to treat COVID-19 too? And if it’s not FDA-approved, can it be used anyway?
Here are claims and reports made by sources across the spectrum about ivermectin and COVID-19.
What Media and Pundits Have Said
The ivermectin debate first began in September 2021, particularly after a series of resounding endorsements from Joe Rogan starting in April of that year. Rogan has been at the center of many coronavirus debates and has been accused of spreading misinformation.
Throughout the pandemic, critics of the media, particularly on the right, accused the government, social media companies, and mainstream media of censoring vaccine alternatives. Rogan spoke on his podcast about ivermectin a few times, and accused Twitter, now called X, of preventing him from sending a message about the drug. A few months later, Rogan hosted two major proponents of ivermectin in the medical community on his podcast. Clips of the claims made on this podcast went viral, with one TikTok receiving 2.6 million views before it was removed for allegedly violating guidelines against medical misinformation.
In response, center- and left-rated media outlets began trying to debunk these claims and dissuade those who believed it, with one NBC News (Lean Left bias) article even calling ivermectin proponents a “Covid Cult.” The BBC (Center bias) also published an article disparaging ivermectin usage. The article argues, “The health authorities in the US, UK and EU have found there is insufficient evidence for using the drug against Covid, but thousands of supporters, many of them anti-vaccine activists, have continued to vigorously campaign for its use.”’
Prominent figures on the right continued to push back, mainly through social media, contributing to an already existing partisan battle on X (again, formerly called Twitter) and other social media sites. Aaron Rodgers, an NFL quarterback, joined the conversation in support of ivermectin, adding fuel to the fire. Some public officials also spoke in support of the drug. For example, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo continuously supported use of the drug to treat COVID-19.
There are distinct animal and human variations of ivermectin, and people have confused them at times, leading to an uptick in poisoning cases in some regions. This ambiguity also led to cases of media misinformation, when some outlets magnified false claims about hospitals being overrun by ivermectin overdoses.
America's declining trust in medical institutions adds to the ambiguity in this debate. A Pew Research poll from 2022 shows that public confidence in medical scientists declined from 89% in April 2020 to 78% in December 2021. For some, ivermectin was a possible “miracle cure” during the pandemic, which led to plenty of debate across the spectrum.
Right-rated media outlets mainly stayed away from directly supporting ivermectin use, but many criticized the response of the left. This back and forth bred ambiguity that still exists to this day, and many Americans are unsure whether ivermectin is safe to treat COVID-19. An October 2023 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that about one out of 20 U.S. adults reported using ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
What Health Authorities Have Said
“The evidence suggests that ivermectin does not reduce mortality risk and the risk of mechanical ventilation requirement,” according to research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2022. “Although we did not observe an increase in the risk of adverse effects, the evidence is very uncertain regarding this endpoint.”
Other research also published by the NIH last year says ivermectin’s initial impact on patients with COVID-19 were similar to the effects of FDA-approved drugs like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir. The researchers recommended that ivermectin be provided in countries where the other two drugs are not widely available.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a web page titled “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19.”
There are several cases of individual doctors advocating for using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, with one in Florida claiming to have treated thousands of COVID-19 patients with the drug.
In the summer of 2023, the ivermectin debate was revived by an FDA lawyer who said in court that the FDA allows doctors to treat COVID with ivermectin. Right-leaning pundits, especially on social media, immediately used this as evidence that the government was wrong about ivermectin all along, garnering tens of thousands of likes on various posts. Some claimed the government was covering up this evidence.
This claim is the topic of many fact checks that show claims about the FDA and Ivermectin might misunderstand the role of the FDA in medicine. While it is true that doctors can prescribe ivermectin to treat COVID, this has always been the case and is not an adjustment of what the FDA and other institutions have believed the entire time.
The FDA does not support prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID, but it cannot stop doctors from doing so. Physicians have a high degree of freedom to prescribe medicines that are not approved by the FDA. The ethics of this practice as it relates to COVID-19 has been highly debated in the medical community, but it remains legal and happens often. Whether the FDA approves of a drug or just merely allows a drug to be prescribed is a key distinction.
Should people take Ivermectin to treat COVID-19?
Short answer? Talk to your doctor.
The FDA hasn’t approved ivermectin to treat COVID-19, and says “Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19,” while “Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.”
Meanwhile, some doctors have prescribed it to their patients, and some research suggests it might have benefits as an alternative to other treatments that might be less accessible.
And as stated before, there are different versions of ivermectin for animals and humans, which has added to the confusion around the issue. This all speaks to why it’s important for people to consult multiple sources and speak to their doctor about important health matters.
Ethan Horowitz is AllSides’ News Research Assistant. He has a Lean Right bias.
This blog was reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, Content Designer (Lean Left) and Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right).