For several hours on Monday, January 31, 2022, a misleading article from news agency Reuters lead to many readers sharing the report on social media as conclusive evidence of ivermectin’s effectiveness against COVID-19, and proof of the alleged conspiracy of suppressed research to blame for the anti-parasite drug’s current lack of approval by the United States Food & Drug Administration.
The article cites, incorrectly, a press release from Japanese pharmaceutical company Kowa, which produces ivermectin, to claim “effectiveness” of the drug in clinical trials. This was later corrected to acknowledge the experiments were done in vitro - e.g. petri dishes in a lab - rather than in a clinical setting with human subjects. The reference to Phase III Clinical Trials was removed and replaced with a description of the antiviral effect of ivermectin in the lab.
The correction came too late to stop prominent ivermectin advocates from sharing the article and amassing thousands of likes, shares, and comments. As the topic of ivermectin trended on Twitter late Monday night and into Tuesday morning, other erroneous or exaggerated claims about ivermectin resurfaced. This included, for example, memes of over-the-counter ivermectin available in Mexico airports, purporting to be further evidence of the conspiracy against ivermectin in the U.S., while other nations deploy it against COVID-19 to great success. In reality, Mexico’s health officials have advised against ivermectin since at least August 2021, and it is no longer being included in treatment protocols, as reported by Reuters here. The idea that ivermectin use in parts of India produced near-miraculous results is likewise unsupported by evidence.
Despite the confusion caused by this announcement, it is worth noting that Kowa does have an ongoing clinical trial of ivermectin, with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2022. However, the details announced in this press release refer only to the so-called “antiviral effect” of ivermectin in a lab setting. A poorly defined concept, antiviral effect could mean that the SARS-CoV2 virus was exposed to ivermectin at concentrations that would also be toxic to humans. Furthermore, this antiviral effect has already been established with in vitro studies dating back to early 2021.
The real point of Kowa’s press release seems to be confirming that this antiviral effect is still happening against the omicron variant. This is far from conclusive proof that the drug is effective in humans as a treatment or prophylaxis against COVID-19, earning this story a rating of Mostly False.