Have you heard about the “miracle” in India? Since the start of the Pandemic, India has been featured in a lot of doomsday discussions. It’s the second-most populous nation on Earth, with a vast number of poor. India could be devastated by COVID. They night suffer more deaths than the rest of the world combined. Or so the discussion goes.
Unexpectedly, in the most populated state in India… Uttar Pradesh, with over 200 million citizens… the rising level of infections drops to almost zero. COVID infections and deaths just stop. Yet in other states, infections continue to rise. COVID cases in Uttar Pradesh are less than 1% of other Indian states. And that, dear readers… is miraculous! If it’s real.
If the numbers are true, and they do appear to be, something very important is happening. The “problem” is that many, including officials responsible for managing the COVID crisis in Uttar Pradesh, attributed the miracle to Ivermectin. That’s right the “horse paste” that kills parasites. So, we have believers on one side that are now sure that Ivermectin is a cure for COVID and skeptics on the other side that say it will take a miracle for them to believe this story. Let’s dive in and see what’s really going on.
The Internet is filled with stories about miracles, which often prove to be false or missing key information. Yet, there are cases where the most unlikely explanations are true. If there is even a slight chance that there is a super cheap and effective drug that is available today, then we should be at least testing it. The problem is that there are a lot of ethical concerns about giving patients an untested medicine. Even if it does not harm them, it may stop them from taking approved medicines, like a COVID vaccine. But in India where the potential of death from COVID is so immense… should the rules be a bit different?
This was the thinking in Uttar Pradesh. They don’t have a big budget for the Pandemic. They don’t have enough vaccines for everyone. And Ivermectin is well known, well understood, and legitimate medical treatment for parasites (worms, lice, scabies). It may or may not help, but it’s not likely to kill. And the same is true with some other possible miracle cures. So the government of Uttar Pradesh sent around a box of miracles to everyone in the state, and one of the miracles in that box was Ivermectin. What else was in the box? We’ll get to that in just a little bit.
Just to be clear, there is no evidence, not a single legitimate study that shows that Ivermectin can help COVID patients. There is one study that looked like it could support claims that Ivermectin was a legitimate therapeutic drug for Invrmectine, but it was withdrawn earlier in the year when it was found to have been faked.
Is the lack of data for Ivermectin a problem? Not necessarily. For decades, universities and Pharmaceutical companies have examined studies on older and established medicines to see if they can do… more. This practice, called drug repurposing, can be cheaper and quicker than traditional drug development for developing breakthrough drugs. Researchers examined notes from old studies on heart medicine. Patients were reporting interesting side effects, which led to Viagra, the world’s best-selling drug for erectile dysfunction. Minoxidil (Rogaine) began life as a treatment for heartburn. But buried in the notes were reports of hair growth.
We should also note that modern healthcare is HIGHLY dependent on “off label” use. Have you been told by a doctor, “While it’s not one of the official uses, this is frequently used by patients like yourself. It’s not toxic. It has few side effects. And other patients tell me it really works. Would you like me to write up a prescription?” As much as 20% of all prescriptions Americans use are off-label.
A medical researcher I know developed a database that shows the research behind every medical procedure and drug used in America. It shows which treatments are off-label (no official research), which are “double-blind” (the gold standard), and which fall somewhere in-between. Only 10% to 20% of treatments in the US are supported by double-blind studies. Telling Ivermectin supporters to go away and spend a few years doing a double-blind study does seem just a bit hypocritical. It’s good advice, but it may not be reasonable advice for any family that contracts COVID.
You can’t fault researchers for digging around for new ways to use existing drugs. Especially if it can save millions of lives. But you also can’t fault medical regulators for not prescribing medicine for 7 billion people, when no one even knows what dosage they need. In the past, there were accidents in medicine that were so horrifying that we created all of these rules about testing.
For example, Thalidomide was a popular sedative in Europe after WWII. Taking advantage of a strong dollar, many Americans honeymooned in Europe. Newly pregnant American women took Thalidomide to calm morning sickness. Months later, a wave of armless and legless children was born in America. Imagine the horror and the guilt of the mothers of those children. If they had known the result they might have just taken some other prescription, or suffered through their morning sickness. A cure for COVID just might justify some pretty dire consequences.
What did happen in Uttar Pradesh? There is a lot of missing information, a lot of assumptions, and a ton of bad and misleading statements. Normally, I’d footnote the key facts, but the sources are too fragmented and there are too many contradictions. So, this is my attempt at a reasonable reading of the facts…
- The Miracle In Uttar Pradesh: On May 12th (2021), India Express (along with other newspapers), reported that Uttar Pradesh was free of new COVID cases and death. The local government credited the results to the “prophylactic and therapeutic” use of Ivermectin. On November 8th (2021), the same officials reported that rates of infection were still low. But, they no longer attribute the reduction to Ivermectin, and no longer advise the use of Ivermectin for COVID.
- No Miracle In Goa: Goa is India’s biggest vacation spot. The governement feared that vacationers would spread COVID around India. So, Goa officials gave Ivermectin to everyone in the state… a year before Uttar Pradesh. The result? Nothing. The miracle in India only happened in Uttar Pradesh. If Invemectin failed in Goa, why should we assume that it will work anywhere else?
- The Magic Box: Ivermectin was just one thing in the “magic box” that was sent out in Uttar Pradesh. Along with the Ivermectin tablets, there was Doxycycline (an anti-biotic), multi-vitamins, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. What about those multi-vitamins? Millions of people believe that suceptability to COVID comes from chronic undernourishment. And then there’s…
- Doxycycline: This is an antibiotic that some beleive treats COVID. Yet, medical officials haven’t found any link between Doxycycline and COVID. Since antibiotics have no effect on viruses, Ivermectin supporters dismiss it. But Ivermectin is only proven to kill parasites; shouldn’t it too be dismissed? If a single drug that can’t kill a virus can be dismissed, should we instead take TWO drugs that can’t kill a virus? That’s what supporters of Ivermectin PLUS Doxycycline believe.
- Gloves and Masks?: Uttar Pradesh had an ample supply of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Why not credit this combo for the lower infection rates? Just by giving these to everyone, behavior may have been changed. Like social distancing. Americans prefer a personal space of 1-2 feet (or more). In India, people stay closer together. That’s perfect for spreading COVID. But masks and gloves might remind people to stay apart.
- Vaccines Rates: Ivermectin failed in Goa but succeeded in Uttart Pradesh. What could have been different? Maybe it’s the high vaccination rate a year later in Uttar Pradesh. More than 50% of the population is vaccinated. And they use a mix of vaccines – one created locally, one from Europe, and the Sputnik vaccine from Russia. The mix of vaccines is constantly changing, depending on avaiability and cost. Maybe Ivermectin only works if you’re already vaccinated?
- Invemectin Experts: Have you heard that William Campbell, one of the discoverers of Ivermectin, said that it was effective against COVID? It’s all over the Internet, but this is false. Campbell has repeatedly said that it is a fake and has never recommended that the drug he discovered can be used for COVID.
- MERCK: Merck is the company that makes Ivermectin. Needless to say, Merck has sold a LOT of Ivermectin recently. What does Merck say about using their drug for COVID? They say that there is no scientific evidence that it does anything for COVID, and that we shouldn’t use it.
- Uttar Pradesh Speaks (again): Months after officials in Uttar Pradesh announced their support for Invemectin they recanted their support. They’ve found no evidence that it reduced infections or provided any other benefit. Instead, local officials believe the Miracle is a result of intense monitoring. Devoting a large amount of resources to identifying the infected, following up with vaccines, quarantining the sick, educating families, and providing enough masks, gloves, and sanitizer… results in far fewer COVID infections. That’s the miracle.
When information is sketchy everyone can (and will) believe what they like. Ivermectin just doesn’t have the facts to support its claims. It failed in Goa, authorities that once supported it have abandoned it, its inventor says “wait for the research”, the manufacturer says it has no proof that it works, and there are no theories as to how an anti-parasite drug can explain the Miracle in India.
Repurposing existing (and inexpensive) drugs is not a crazy idea. But as in all drug development, most drugs fail to perform somewhere during the testing process. Drug repurposing is a powerful tool, but when drugs appear just when we need them to do just what we need… be skeptical. When it looks too good to be true, it usually is.
What do you think? Are you holding off on vaccination because you’ve heard of a better solution? Has Big Pharma made so many mistakes in recent years that you can’t trust them? Do you see mainstream medicine as the best way to deal with COVID and future global health issues? Share your opinions with us!