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Everyone was wrong about ivermectin


Health officials condemned ivermectin as a useless and even dangerous treatment for COVID-19. The media smeared the well-known and commonly used anti-parasitic drug as a “horse dewormer,” even though it has always been a human medicine as well. They mercilessly mocked people who thought the drug might help them.

But it turns out ivermectin can actually help certain people fight off COVID-19, according to science writer Scott Alexander.

In a lengthy blog post, Alexander took a deep dive into all available studies on ivermectin and whether it works against COVID-19. It’s worth reading in full, but I’ll highlight his main point: Ivermectin does work, albeit indirectly, especially in areas where parasitic and intestinal worms are common.

There’s a reason the most impressive ivermectin studies came from parts of the world where worms are prevalent, he says. Parasites suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for the human body to fight off viruses. Thus, getting rid of worm infections makes it easier for COVID-19 patients to bounce back from the virus.

If Alexander’s hypothesis is correct, he’s also right that everyone who hastily jumped to a conclusion about ivermectin was wrong. Ivermectin is not the COVID-19 cure that some made it out to be, but it’s also not useless in the fight against COVID-19 either. It does have some benefits — they’re just minimal and far less effective than other therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibody treatments.

“Experts” deserve much of the blame for ivermectin disinformation. Most of them refused to entertain the possibility that ivermectin might help COVID-19 patients. I’d be surprised if even one official in the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the time to evaluate the data like Alexander did before publicly declaring it didn’t work.

It is also worth considering why so many people convinced themselves that ivermectin was a COVID-19 super-drug. Alexander argues that ivermectin fanaticism is connected to anti-vax sentiment in the sense that both are wacky pseudoscience beliefs to which certain people are attracted.

But there’s a much simpler explanation: Many of the same people who were drawn to ivermectin are wary of the COVID-19 vaccines because they are skeptical of the public health consensus in general. They see health officials stressing and, in some cases, mandating vaccination and are repelled by this. They see health officials rejecting ivermectin and other COVID-19 treatments as nonsense and are drawn to them. Their beliefs aren’t so much an embrace of pseudoscience as they are a flat rejection of an authority that has failed them.

Alexander gets at this point here:

In a world where scientists seemed like hostile aliens, I would hesitate to take the vaccine. Again, ivermectin optimism isn’t exactly like vaccine denialism – it’s a less open-and-shut question, you can still make a plausible argument for it. But it’s some of the same people and follows the same dynamics. If we want to make people more willing to get vaccines, or less willing to take ivermectin, we have to make the scientific establishment feel less like an enclave of hostile aliens to half the population.

The problem with this is much of the scientific establishment seems to want to come across as, to borrow Alexander’s phrase, hostile aliens. They don’t care whether the public trust their guidance or not. If they did, it would not have taken a science blogger to get to the bottom of what was happening with ivermectin. The CDC and FDA, the people who literally get paid to research these kinds of things, should have done that months ago.


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