Ivermectin was all over the news this weekend.
Some accused media outlets such as NPR (Center) of peddling misinformation after the media outlet framed ivermectin as a treatment meant for cows, when it also has uses in humans after podcaster Joe Rogan said he took the drug after coming down with COVID-19. Meanwhile, media outlets such as Rolling Stone (Left), MSNBC (Left), and Business Insider (Center) ran with a story claiming overdoses of ivermectin were overwhelming Oklahoma hospitals — a story that turned out to be false.
The ongoing backstory behind all of this are the massively competing narratives about ivermectin’s efficacy in treating COVID-19. Major institutions such as the FDA, WHO and CDC are cautioning against its use and reporting on an uptick in cases of ivermectin misuse in August, while other groups of physicians and professors say it's safe and effective, and have issued treatment protocols that include the drug.
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We detail the false Rolling Stone story below. You can also jump to our roundup exploring claims on both sides about the use of ivermectin to treat covid-19.
Rolling Stone, Other Outlets Publish Ivermectin Story
On Sept. 3, Rolling Stone published an article (which has since been updated with a correction) quoting an ER doctor who claimed gunshot victims were being turned away from several Oklahoma hospitals because emergency rooms were overwhelmed with patients who had overdosed on ivermectin, which is an antiparasitic agent with demonstrated antiviral activity against a number of DNA and RNA viruses; it is approved by the FDA for some uses, but not to treat COVID-19. The doctor’s claim turned out to be false.
The doctor’s statements were originally covered by local Southeastern Oklahoma station KFOR. Rolling Stone ran with it, tweeting: “Gunshot victims left waiting as horse dewormer overdoses overwhelm Oklahoma hospitals, doctor says.”
In the original interview with KFOR, Oklahoma physician Dr. Jason McElyea stated: “The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated. All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in and they don’t have any, that’s it. If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call.”
Yet Northeastern Health System - Sequoyah issued its own statement, saying that Dr. McElyea “is not an employee of NHS Sequoyah” and hasn’t worked at that hospital in over two months, nor have they treated any patients for ivermectin overdoses.
Rolling Stone updated its article, stating in part, “Update: One hospital has denied Dr. Jason McElyea’s claim that ivermectin overdoses are causing emergency room backlogs and delays in medical care in rural Oklahoma, and Rolling Stone has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update.”
Freelance writer Drew Holden compiled a Twitter thread of all the media outlets that ran with the false Rolling Stone story. It includes Rachel Maddow on MSNBC (Left), Business Insider (Center), and podcast No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen (not rated by AllSides):
We’ve got to talk about the Rolling Stone invermectin article. Turns out the story about rural hospitals so flooded with ODs that they couldn’t treat other patients was made up, entirely invented.
A lot of people took the bait, and I’ve got the screenshots. — Drew Holden (@DrewHolden360) September 5, 2021
Meanwhile, writer Matthew Yglesias pointed out that “in percentage-wise terms there has been a huge increase in Ivermectin-related poison control calls but it’s from a low base,” linking to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. It shows 459 ivermectin case counts nationwide in Aug. 2021, and much less every month this year prior. Yglesias also said the numbers are going down.
Some Accuse NPR, Others of Misinformation for Framing Ivermectin as “a Deworming Drug for Cows”
Ivermectin is the subject of massive controversy when it comes to its effectiveness in combating COVID-19. The drug received widespread attention this week when podcaster Joe Rogan said he contracted COVID-19 and took drugs including ivermectin, monoclonal antibodies, Z-pak, prednisone, NAD+ drip, and a vitamin drip three days in a row. He said, “I feel great,” and that he only had “one bad day.” Many on the left see Rogan as being anti-vax, or at least irresponsible, for his previous statements on the covid vaccine, in which he said young healthy people don’t need it; the way they see it, the news that Rogan used ivermectin purportedly fuels vaccine skepticism.
Meanwhile, some accused NPR of meddling misinformation for its Sept. 1 tweet that said Rogan used a “cocktail of unproven treatments — including ivermectin, a deworming drug for cows that the FDA warns people should not ingest.”
NPR stated, “No, you should not ingest ivermectin, a drug formulated for cows and horses to treat parasites. No, it is not proven to prevent or treat COVID. The FDA is urging people to stop ingesting the livestock version, which can cause nausea, neurological disorders and severe hepatitis.”
USA Today (Lean Left) ran a similar headline, “Joe Rogan announces he has COVID and took the horse de-wormer Ivermectin.”
Critics pointed out that ivermectin is not only used to deworm animals, but has other uses in humans and is ingested or used topically to treat conditions such as rosacea, river blindness and other parasitic diseases — perhaps a case of media bias by omission, or slant.
Jessica O’Donnell, a journalist at The Blaze (Right), accused NPR of “blatant false information,” stating that “doctors are prescribing [ivermectin], and if you get it from a pharmacy, you’re not taking a livestock dewormer.”
This is blatant false information. Ivermectin is a nobel-prize winning medicine for humans. Doctors are prescribing it, and if you get it from a pharmacy, you’re not taking a livestock dewormer. — Jessica O’Donnell (@heckyessica) September 2, 2021
Talk show host Steve Deace, also of The Blaze, stated,
“Ivermectin won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for its outstanding results treating HUMANS. Anybody on here claiming this is strictly a drug for livestock, horses, or animals of any kind is either woefully uninformed or a total liar.” He linked to a press release for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded to the researchers who discovered ivermectin.
Ivermectin won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for its outstanding results treating HUMANS. Anybody on here claiming this is strictly a drug for livestock, horses, or animals of any kind is either woefully uninformed or a total liar. This has been my Ted Talk. https://t.co/TCi2Wgn5Zm — Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) September 2, 2021
Some Twitter users satirized NPR’s framing:
Me: I just drank some water.
Media: Local Man drinks chemical used to flush TOILETS! — Hernan Cortes (@CyberPunkCortes) September 3, 2021
On his podcast Tuesday, Rogan stated of CNN (Left) — “They’re making s— up. They keep saying I’m taking horse dewormer. I literally got it from a doctor. It’s an American company. They won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for use in human beings and CNN is saying I’m taking horse dewormer. They must know that’s a lie.” He also noted that in Feb. 2021, the chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki, held a press conference announcing that ivermectin is effective at stopping Covid-19, and that Emergency Use Authorization for vaccines is only possible if there are "no adequate, approved, and available alternatives," according to section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
What Health Officials and Physicians Are Saying About Ivermectin
NPR is correct that health officials such as the FDA, WHO, and NIH are warning people not to take ivermectin to treat COVID-19 due to it not being an approved COVID-19 treatment and due to the fact that over-the-counter products containing the drug are meant for animals. However, some groups of physicians, such as the FLCCC (Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care) Alliance, are issuing treatment protocols that include the drug.
Some have argued there is no good evidence that ivermectin is an effective covid treatment, with the New York Times (Lean Left) reporting, “a recent review of 14 ivermectin studies, with more than 1,600 participants, concluded that none provided evidence of the drug’s ability to prevent Covid, improve patient conditions or reduce mortality. Another 31 studies are still underway to test the drug.”
Others have argued there is good evidence that it’s effective, pointing to a paper in the American Journal of Therapeutics that concludes, “Moderate-certainty evidence finds that large reductions in COVID-19 deaths are possible using ivermectin. Using ivermectin early in the clinical course may reduce numbers progressing to severe disease. The apparent safety and low cost suggest that ivermectin is likely to have a significant impact on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic globally.”
Still others have speculated that because ivermectin is cheap to make because it is off-patent, profit-seeking institutions have an incentive to suppress it because it would “dampen vaccine sales.”
Let’s explore what people are saying on both sides.
FDA, WHO, CDC: Don’t Take Ivermectin for COVID-19
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and World Health Organization (WHO) have warned against the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 as it is not an approved treatment for the virus. The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned against taken formulations meant for animals.
The CDC issued a health advisory warning about illness associated with misuse of the drug, stating, “When used as prescribed for approved indications, [ivermectin] is generally safe and well tolerated,” yet “ivermectin is not authorized or approved by FDA for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel has also determined that there are currently insufficient data to recommend ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19.” (The NIH has since updated its treatment guidelines for ivermectin, stating that it is neither “for nor against” its use for COVID-19.)
The CDC warns that formulations meant for large animals can be highly concentrated and result in overdoses or contain inactive ingredients not evaluated for use in humans. It notes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as symptoms of overdose.
The CDC states, “Clinical trials and observational studies to evaluate the use of ivermectin to prevent and treat COVID-19 in humans have yielded insufficient evidence for the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel to recommend its use. Data from adequately sized, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.”
The FDA also tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it.” with a link to an article: “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19.” It states:
“For humans, ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses to treat some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.
However, the FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical attention, including hospitalization, after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for livestock.”
The FDA includes a list of “what you need to know about ivermectin,” stating that “currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.” It notes “never use medications intended for animals on yourself or other people. Animal ivermectin products are very different from those approved for humans. Use of animal ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in humans is dangerous.”
Some Physicians Say Ivermectin Is An Effective Treatment
Meanwhile, a group of physicians and professors, the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance), states that “we regard ivermectin as a core medication in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.” They have compiled “the scientific rationale that justifies the use of ivermectin in COVID-19” on their website. The group’s review of the emerging evidence for the use of ivermectin in the treatment of covid-19 states:
“In March 2020, the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) was created and led by Professor Paul E. Marik to continuously review the rapidly emerging basic science, translational, and clinical data to develop a treatment protocol for COVID-19. The FLCCC then recently discovered that ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medicine, has highly potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties against COVID-19. They then identified repeated, consistent, large magnitude improvements in clinical outcomes in multiple, large, randomized and observational controlled trials in both prophylaxis and treatment of COVID-19.”
“Since 2012, a growing number of cellular studies have demonstrated that ivermectin has anti-viral properties against an increasing number of RNA viruses, including influenza, Zika, HIV, Dengue, and most importantly, SARS-CoV-2.”
FLCCC states that “ivermectin is a well-known, FDA-approved anti-parasite drug that has been used successfully for more than four decades to treat onchocerciasis ‘river blindness’ and other parasitic diseases. It is one of the safest drugs known. It is on the WHO’s list of essential medicines, has been given 3.7 billion times around the globe, and has won the Nobel prize for its global and historic impacts in eradicating endemic parasitic infections in many parts of the world.”
The physician group has released treatment protocols for hospitalized patients and for early outpatient treatment that include ivermectin, stating that “all the component medicines are FDA-approved, inexpensive, readily available and have been used for decades with well-established safety profiles.” Its recommendation for hospitalized patients is 0.4–0.6 mg/kg per dose taken daily with or after meals for 5 days or until the patient is recovered.
South Africa has approved the drug for COVID-19 treatment in a controlled-access program, and a small state in India is offering it to COVID-19 patients.
With competing narratives and ideas about the efficacy of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, we will continue to see media outlets show bias for or against the drug. In order to get all perspectives, use AllSides’ balanced news feed to compare and contrast coverage and decide for yourself.
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Specialist (Lean Left) and Andrew Weinzierl, Research Assistant and Data Journalist (Lean Left).