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How fake research made the worm drug a 'miracle cure' for COVID-19

At one time, the drug ivermectin was considered a "miracle cure" for COVID-19. In some countries, the authorities even recommended it for use, and "anti-vaccination" stated that it could replace vaccination. But the investigation of the publication with the BBC revealed extremely serious errors in the studies, the results of which are cited by the proponents of the drug.

Photo: Shutterstock

What's this

Ivermectin is an orally administered remedy for worms, itch mites, lice, and other parasites in humans and animals. Its developers received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

With the onset of the pandemic, some people and groups began to claim that ivermectin reduces mortality among COVID-19 patients, and loudly, if not scandalously, demanding its mass use.

Medical authorities in the United States, Britain and the EU believe that there is insufficient evidence that ivermectin is effective in treating COVID-19. But proponents of the drug, among whom there are many opponents of vaccination, continue to fiercely defend their views.

They share tips on where to get ivermectin on social media, and claim that even its pet-friendly versions are suitable.

The credibility of ivermectin is due to reports of successful studies of its effectiveness, after which many people around the world began to take the drug.

Medical research

Activists cite the results of scientific research that medical authorities allegedly ignore or even hide from the public. However, the analysis carried out by independent experts casts doubt on their scientific reliability.

More than a third of the 26 trials conducted on the efficacy of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 show serious errors or signs of fraud. The rest of the research also does not provide conclusive evidence that the drug actually helps with coronavirus.

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One independent expert, Dr. Kyle Sheldrick, says that among the studies allegedly supporting the ability of ivermectin to prevent death in COVID-19, they have not been able to find "one that does not have clear signs of fabrication or serious flaws."

Major research weaknesses:

  • The clinical data of one patient was used several times, resulting in the false impression that the person involved was different.
  • Test participants were selected deliberately, not randomly.
  • Some of the numbers look implausible.
  • Interest was calculated inaccurately.
  • The local medical authorities were unaware of the research being carried out.

Dr. Sheldrick and all three of his colleagues — Dr. Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, Dr. Jace Heathers, and Dr. Nick Brown — have a history of exposing pseudoscience. During the pandemic, they volunteered to work with each other remotely to do this analysis.

Research validation

Scientists decided to test the data on the effectiveness of ivermectin after medical student Jack Lawrence discovered serious flaws in a sensational study that was conducted in Egypt. It turned out that the testing involved people who actually died before it began. The journal that published the article about the study later disavowed it.

The group then tested all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19. An RCT is that one group of patients is given a certain drug and the other is given a placebo; this type of research is considered the most accurate.

In addition, the experts reviewed six other major observational studies that tracked only patients who wished to take ivermectin. This method is not considered reliable, as study participants may be biased and it is difficult to judge whether the positive effect was obtained precisely due to the drug.

It turned out that in five of the 26 studies there are signs of data falsification, for example, almost unattainable numbers, or a whole series of identical patients whose indicators were simply copied.

In another five, there were clear alarming signals: they did not agree on the numbers, the percentages were incorrectly calculated, and the local health authorities did not know about their implementation.

Finally, the authors of another 14 studies refused to provide analysts with the collected data, which raised some suspicions of fraud.

Among the papers reviewed by independent experts were also high quality research from around the world. But it was in those who defended the efficacy of ivermectin that serious problems were found. Experts even found a pattern - the more favorable the study was for this drug, the more dubious it turned out to be.

Dr. Sheldrick, who works at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, suspects that in some cases it is about deliberate falsification of data, although it is very difficult to rule out random errors in such studies.

For example, in one study in Lebanon, 11 patients were copied into a spreadsheet using copy-paste. Most likely, this means that many of the test participants did not actually exist. The authors of this paper stated that “the original dataset was corrupted, intentionally damaged, or copied into the final file in error”; they said they had already withdrawn the study from the scientific journal that published it.

Another experiment conducted in Iran, at first glance, demonstrated that ivermectin helps prevent death from COVID-19.

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But it turned out that the data recorded by the authors on the content of iron in the blood of patients in the real world is unlikely. In addition, the participants in the experiment were selected so that patients with lower blood oxygen levels received a placebo, that is, they were more likely to die.

At the same time, people who were given ivermectin were initially in a lighter state.

A similar principle was repeated in the analysis of so many parameters: people with poor performance invariably ended up in the placebo group, and those on the mend were among those who received ivermectin. The probability of coincidence in all of these indicators is very small, says Dr. Sheldrick.

The head of the Iranian experiment, Dr. Morteza Niaye, disagrees with the analysts' conclusions and defends the results obtained by him and his colleagues. He believes that "this kind of randomization is quite normal" when there are many different factors to consider, not all of which are related to the risks of COVID-19.

However, Cochrane, an international non-profit organization that studies the effectiveness of treatments for various diseases, excluded the Lebanese and Iranian experiments from their review on ivermectin as low-proof. Overall, the organization said there was no evidence of the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19.

The same opinion is shared by the authors of the Together project, the most comprehensive and high-quality study of the properties of ivermectin to date, conducted by the Canadian McMaster University. The drug has no benefit in treating coronavirus, the study said.

Uses of ivermectin

Ivermectin is considered a harmless drug. In the United States, reports of ivermectin poisoning have skyrocketed, with 1143 reported this year and 435 last year, with most of the cases not serious. Patients complained of side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, disorientation, dizziness, and tremors of the fingers.

Experts point out that a sense of security can do even more harm. Because of the belief in this drug, people refuse vaccinations and hospitalization for COVID-19.

Dr. Patricia Garcia from Peru says that of the 15 patients she examined at the clinic, 14 had previously taken ivermectin, and all of them were "very, very seriously ill" at the time of admission.

Large groups of ivermectin proponents have emerged on social media, where people are trying to find out about ways to get the drug, some even trying to buy variants for animals. In some cases, users spread conspiracy theories that information about ivermectin is being hidden, oppose vaccinations, and urge patients to leave hospitals if they are not prescribed ivermectin.

In the Internet communities, they organize attacks on medical practitioners and scientists who do not recognize the miraculous properties of ivermectin.

Professor Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool wrote a long, positive article on ivermectin, in which he stated that the world must "be ready to find stocks of the drug and approve it." Now he changed his position under the influence of new data - and immediately began to receive vicious insults.

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Several well-respected doctors have joined the campaign for the widespread use of ivermectin. One of them, Dr. Pierre Corey, said that the results of the analysis of clinical trials of the drug, carried out by independent experts, did not convince him, and called them "superficial interpretation."

Maternity specialist Dr. Tess Lowry has founded the British Ivermectin Promotion Group (Bird) and is calling for the suspension of COVID-19 vaccination. She, among other things, made several baseless claims according to which vaccinations allegedly led to a large number of deaths.

When asked by journalists what could change her position on ivermectin, she replied: “Nothing. Ivermectin helps. The only problem with the evidence is someone's relentless attempts to distrust it. "

In other parts of the world, people are turning to ivermectin not because of vaccine bias, but because of a lack of vaccines. This drug has been approved at various times for the treatment of COVID-19 in India, South Africa, most Latin American countries, and Slovakia. Medical authorities in Peru and India later withdrew their recommendations.

In February, Merck, one of the makers of ivermectin, said it was "scientifically not scientifically proven to be effective against COVID-19."

In South Africa, where getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is quite problematic, whole battles have begun around ivermectin - doctors convince patients that it is useless, and they desperately insist on their own.

One local doctor said that her relative, a registered nurse, was not vaccinated, although she had the opportunity, and fell ill with COVID-19.

“When her health worsened, she self-medicated with ivermectin instead of seeking qualified help,” says the doctor. - She never went to the doctor and continued to take ivermectin and receive oxygen at home. When her blood oxygen level dropped to 66% [when the norm was 94%], I began to beg her daughter to take her mother to the hospital. At first they also refused, but then they still went to the intensive care unit. The patient died a few hours later.

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