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Prior to the pandemic, there were roughly 3,600 prescriptions of ivermectin, a livestock deworming drug, each week in the U.S. That number has soared to 88,000 weekly and counting as some people have been using it with the false belief that it can prevent or treat COVID-19.LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images

“You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

With that cheeky tweet, the U.S Food and Drug Administration issued a plea to Americans to stop buying ivermectin, a livestock deworming drug that far too many people falsely believe can prevent or treat COVID-19.

While the tone was lighthearted, the issue is deadly serious.

Prior to the pandemic, there were roughly 3,600 ivermectin prescriptions a week in the U.S. That number has soared to 88,000 weekly and counting. That’s a 24-fold increase in demand for the drug that doesn’t work the way people think it does.

The trend of people self-medicating with veterinary drugs is now carrying over into Canada, with feed stores and pharmacies alike reporting a deluge of demand.

So why is this happening? Why is there so much delusional grasping at straws?

First and foremost, there is the push from right-wing media and politicians, notably by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and politician Rand Paul, two of ivermectin’s biggest disciples. In Canada, there is radio host and podcaster Danielle Smith and maverick MP Derek Sloan singing from the same hymn book.

Sadly, anti-science contrarianism sells.

Demand surges for deworming drug for COVID-19, despite no evidence it works

Then there is social media, where disinformation and quackery flourish unabated. The discussions taking place in Facebook and Reddit groups range from shockingly naive to disturbingly bizarre.

There is clearly a direct link between anti-vaxxers and ivermectin boosters.

Those who are vehemently opposed to COVID-19 vaccination argue that the shots are ineffective, deadly, alter DNA, contain microchips and G5 technology and a whole other host of conspiracy-based nonsense about Big Pharma, mind control and lord knows what else.

Ivermectin, on the other hand, is touted as a safe, effective drug that is being denied to the public to ensure profits for Bill Gates, Big Pharma, their media co-conspirators and such.

The cognitive dissonance is striking: Embracing an unproven and dangerous livestock drug, while rejecting a vaccine that has been remarkably safe and effective in 5.3 billion doses so far.

Pity the feed store owners who have found themselves with a new clientele they don’t really want. It should go without saying that humans should not be taking drugs meant for horses, cows and sheep.

Even if ivermectin were helpful – and it is for many parasitic conditions, but not for viral COVID-19 – the veterinary formulations sold in paste and liquid form are 10-15 times the dose of a capsule designed for human treatment.

The dose makes the poison. In some U.S. states, like Mississippi (where vaccine rates are abysmally low), 70 per cent of poison hotline calls are now from people ingesting veterinary ivermectin.

The symptoms are nasty. You don’t need a lot of imagination to figure out how a deworming drug works, but let’s just say that filling your boots is on the menu – literally, not figuratively. Then there is the vomiting, low blood pressure, seizures, and hallucinations. It makes the post-vaccine sore arm and lethargy look good.

One of the real tragedies here is that ivermectin is an amazing drug – when used properly. The discovery of avermectins, a new class of drugs, in the 1970s was world-changing, even earning a trio of researchers the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Thanks to cheap anti-parasitics, the horrible tropical illness river blindness (onchocerciasis) has virtually been eliminated, and elephantitis (lymphatic filariasis) can be treated. There are also many other uses, like treatment of scabies, lice, rosacea and even calming the sore tummies of cows and horses.

Theoretically, ivermectin might help with viral illnesses like COVID-19, dengue and HIV, because it slows viral replication – at least in test tubes. But, in the real world, the research results have been disappointing.

So far, there have been 14 studies looking at ivermectin as a potential prevention or treatment of COVID-19, and they have all failed. That includes one highly-publicized study, which purported ivermectin could slash COVID-19 mortality by 90 per cent. Unfortunately, it was a dog’s breakfast of fudged data, plagiarism and fraud. There are 31 more studies under way.

There is no cover-up here. On the contrary.

But there is also no reason for self-described ‘independent thinkers’ to be poisoning themselves with horse medicine when there is a perfectly effective drug available to all in the form of a vaccine.

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