Just days ago, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) after cagily inferring earlier in the season that he’d been vaccinated. Rodgers has since admitted to taking a protocol involving the drug ivermectin while side-stepping the actual vax.
Quarantining an NFL MVP during football season has a way of inspiring controversy, but it’s not the first time ivermectin has divided opinions. Early in the pandemic, the drug generated buzz as a potential treatment for COVID-19. However, current research shows little evidence of its efficacy, underscoring the danger of circulating misinformation around COVID-19 treatments.
As ivermectin continues to make headlines, here’s what you need to know:
What is Ivermectin?
Ivermectin is primarily used to treat certain parasites in livestock. For humans, it’s only approved to treat “infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice, and skin conditions like rosacea,” says the FDA.
Is Ivermectin an Effective Treatment for COVID-19?
The FDA has not approved ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment and has even published an advisory against using the drug. The American Medical Association, along with other organizations, also issued a statement saying they “strongly oppose the ordering, prescribing or dispensing of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial.”
“Despite its effectiveness in treating parasites, there is no good evidence showing that ivermectin works against COVID-19,” says Dr. Frank Lipman, Chief Medical Officer of THE WELL. “I would not rely on it or use it as a preventative drug or as a primary treatment.”
Why is Ivermectin Making News?
At the height of the pandemic, scientists were feverishly — no pun intended — searching for drugs that could help treat rapidly rising rates of COVID-19. News from a clinical trial that suggested ivermectin was a potential miracle drug began to spread online. That same study, however, has since been redacted amidst concerns of plagiarism and proven data manipulation.
Aaron Rodgers’ assertions that he used ivermectin as an alternative to the vaccine reinvigorated the buzz.
Does Ivermectin Have Side Effects?
While clinical trials have continued, none have demonstrated any significance as a viable COVID-19 treatment. It is, however, safe to use when taking a prescribed amount for specific parasite treatment only — not COVID-19. Still, the FDA warns: "Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans."
And just like most other drugs, “even the levels of ivermectin for approved human uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners,” according to the FDA.
There is also the danger of overdosing on ivermectin, “which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”
What is the Impact of This Misinformation?
Despite a large portion of the medical community rejecting claims of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, the demand for it continues to grow. Poison control has received an increasing number of calls from people overdosing on ivermectin.
Veterinarians are facing shortages because people are somehow getting their hands on formulations of ivermectin that are only intended for animals, despite the fact that these levels can be deadly for humans.
What is the Best Method of Prevention for COVID-19?
Currently, vaccination continues to be the safest method for preventing transmission of COVID-19. In a recent episode of American Medical Association’s Covid-19 Update, infectious disease expert Dr. John Farley, MD, MPH, urged physicians to steer patients away from ivermectin as a treatment and “encourage them to get vaccinated for prevention.”
Even as a leading functional medicine physician, Dr. Lipman agrees that vaccination is currently the best preventative treatment. (Review his take on why there should be vaccine mandates.) But Dr. Lipman is also emphatic about the need to optimize your immune system — both as a means of thwarting illness and to mitigate symptoms if you do get sick — saying, "Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels and supplementing with known immune-enhancers, such as Vitamin C, Zinc and NAC are important measures to take now and going forward."
Some studies even show that having vitamin D levels above what is normally considered sufficient may provide some protection against COVID-19. More clinical trials to test this are underway.
For more immune-strengthening tips from Dr. Lipman, read this.