By Mary Beth Pfeiffer
It has occurred to us all. Somewhere in this plague-ridden world is a way to manage COVID-19 that works. Somebody must be getting this right.
Indeed, at isolated hospitals and nursing homes, in parts of India and Africa, in countries like Bangladesh and Egypt, and even in a few American doctors’ offices, COVID-19 is quietly and effectively being managed. Fewer patients in those places go to hospitals. Those admitted don’t stay as long. Fewer die, according to preliminary but impressive studies.
The typical American, however, has heard none of this — not heard that COVID can be prevented, not that it can be treated early, not that we can relieve the suffering and, potentially, the long-term damage. They have not heard that there is a drug called ivermectin.
Here’s why they don’t know.
— Politics in the United States has distorted and undermined the treatment debate here and worldwide. Recall the hydroxychloroquine uproar, which tragically made cheap early treatments a right-left, for-against issue. Two Senate hearings were partisan sideshows in which evidence was dismissed as “unverified” and “discredited” even before it was heard.
— The United States, the supposed leader in medical breakthroughs, is reluctant to follow or trust the science and data of far-off countries, where valuable research is emerging. Europe and Canada have mostly followed suit.
— But above all, the U.S. has poured $11.2 billion into vaccine development. An effective early treatment could potentially undercut demand for those vaccines, though we clearly need both.
The bar, therefore, is high for any drug that even hints at a COVID cure. Government calls such contenders unproven; declares reports of their success anecdotal, and throws arbitrary hurdles in their way. Drug companies, meantime, invest only in new and expensive treatments, among them remdesivir, which costs $3,000 (even as it fails many patients).
Put Politics, Bias Aside
I don’t suggest there is a profit-driven conspiracy to let infections fester and people die. For better or worse, this is how things work in a democratic, capitalist culture. A problem presents an opportunity. Business, government, medicine and media respond. But the grave implications of COVID-19 mean these players have acted in outsized and often counterproductive ways.
As a long-time investigative journalist, I have written about ivermectin and, before that, hydroxychloroquine, as cheap, approved drugs that could be treating COVID now. I believe the evidence should be studied in an unbiased way. But mainstream media has upheld an almost universal blackout on anything positive about these safe generics.
This fixed narrative has led YouTube, Twitter and FaceBook to practice a new and insidious form of censorship, under the dictum that emerging studies are fatally flawed and fostered by “fringe” elements. “There’s no evidence ivermectin has been proven a safe or effective treatment against COVID-19,” declared an Associated Press “fact-checking” article. Similar reports regurgitate government pronouncements that journalism, at its best, ought rather question.
Even major medical journals have gone along rather than lead, strongly preferring articles that reinforce the prevailing story. After analyzing 180 studies on hydroxychloroquine, the @CovidAnalysis website concluded: “Studies from North America are 3.8 times more likely to report negative results than studies from the rest of the world combined.” This is not random but choice. The Lancet even published a devastating hydroxychloroquine study only to retract it because of fraudulent data.
In this milieu, Americans are mostly unaware of what they don’t have and should demand: early treatment.
U.S. guidelines say there is “insufficient data…either for or against” the use of any drug for new COVID infections. Instead, patients must deteriorate and be hospitalized before getting recommended treatments, often after the damage is done. These treatments include the steroid dexamethasone and, yes, remdesivir, though the World Health Organization actually recommends against it.
This delayed-care approach violates a guiding principle of medicine, which is to treat disease as early as possible to avoid debility and death.
Exceptions to this early-care embargo, of course, are patients with stature. Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Ben Carson all got immediate high-level treatment with costly experimental therapies. None in that older, high-risk group died.
For the rest of us, there are doctors fearful of practicing the art of medicine — to try something to relieve suffering – because of controversies surrounding potential treatments.
Randomized, Controlled, Peer-Reviewed
And yet dozens of studies, mostly from other countries, are suggesting our medical bag isn’t quite as empty as it seems.
Ivermectin, the most promising COVID treatment to date, won its developers the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 and a place on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. Since the 1980s, with billions of doses given, the drug has cured crippling tropical diseases that had devastated African countries, while curbing scabies and lice and protecting livestock and dogs from parasites.
Spurred by pre-COVID studies showing ivermectin killed Zika and other viruses, Australian researchers last spring tested the drug in a petri dish, where it obliterated the coronavirus in 48 hours. Since then, more than three dozen studies have shown good results in preventing and treating COVID-19.
To be sure, some of the results sound too good to be true or are based on small patient samples. Others are available only in online drafts that have not been officially published. But 16 studies have been peer-reviewed, and 11 are randomized control trials that compared patients who did and did not get the drug.
Statistical analyses show universal benefit, albeit to varying degrees, to using ivermectin for COVID. It’s time Americans knew this.
A nursing home in France had a scabies outbreak in March and treated residents with ivermectin. The home had far fewer COVID cases than others there: just seven of 69 residents – average age 90 — became infected, and none were hospitalized or died. Other such reports have come from Cali, Columbia, Toronto and Lajeado, Brazil, where 28 doctors signed a letter urging adoption of ivermectin as a COVID treatment.
In Argentina, 788 healthcare workers took one pill a week for three months and none got COVID; meanwhile 58 percent of 407 untreated workers became infected. In studies from Egypt, India and Bangladesh, likewise, far fewer high-risk people contracted COVID after taking ivermectin. An Indian state that gave free packets of ivermectin, doxycycline and vitamins C and D saw steep drops in COVID cases and deaths soon after.
This research suggests the drug acts both as a prophylactic – for which data is strongest — as well as an early anti-viral and later anti-inflammatory. In a controlled trial of 400 patients in Bangladesh, no treated patients died compared to three in the untreated group, while 100 patients in a separate study got well within three days. A Florida study, published in the journal Chest, reported a 40 percent decline in deaths when ivermectin was added to other treatments in later-stage hospitalized patients.
A group of American doctors called Frontline Covid Critical Care Alliance knows that many of these studies are imperfect and that more are needed. But the group, including doctors who have seen the drug work in patients, maintains there is enough to justify use of ivermectin in today’s fierce medical emergency.
“All the ivermectin studies are lining up,” FLCCC co-founder Dr. Paul Marik told me. “If the trials all line up, it means the findings are reproducible and real. Reproducibility is critical in the evaluation of scientific studies.”
In a 2011 article, the scientist who discovered ivermectin in 1975 in a patch of Japanese soil, Satoshi Ōmura, called it “astonishingly safe” and a “wonder drug,” akin to penicillin and aspirin. “After more than 25 years of use,” a review in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology concluded, “ivermectin continues to provide a high margin of safety.”
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration seems bent on ignoring both safety and efficacy findings. In a Q&A on ivermectin, the agency lists side effects from nausea and swelling to neurological events and liver injury. FLCCC President Dr. Pierre Kory described the list for me as “purposefully alarmist.”
Indeed, despite more than 40 positive studies on ivermectin for COVID, the FDA seems stuck in a time warp. Its web site calls the Australian study from eight months ago “recently released” while still declaring, without acknowledging newer studies, that “additional testing is needed.” That’s fine, if only there was support. Just three studies on ivermectin are proceeding in the United States – and none is funded by the National Institutes of Health or any other U.S. agency.
Late last April, US COVID Czar Anthony Fauci decreed remdesivir the “standard of care” before even the first study was published. Failures aside, it is still the only FDA-approved treatment, suggesting a rather arbitrary yardstick for judging the adequacy of COVID drugs.
For 25 years, ivermectin has been distributed free in 19 African countries to control parasites. Is it a coincidence that those countries had 28 percent fewer COVID deaths and 8 percent fewer cases than 35 other African nations? Is it a coincidence that the 240-million-resident Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which distributes free ivermectin, has a COVID death rate that is one-sixtieth that of the United States’?
On FaceBook, a physicians’ group has mushroomed to 7,100 members who daily share the science and experience of ivermectin. Many believe the drug’s safety and science demand that now, as cases and deaths soar to 3,000 a day, we put it to work.
While doctors are told to do no harm, FLCCC’s Kory believes there are harms also of “omission,” of not trying something in a time of crisis.
“How long,” he asks, “are you going to just stand there and do nothing?”
Mary Beth Pfeiffer is an investigative reporter and author of two books. Read her other COVID articles, here. Follow her on Twitter: @marybethpf. Thanks to Data Analyst Juan J. Chamie for his workup of COVID death rates in Uttar Pradesh, India, vs. the U.S.
Mary Beth Pfeiffer