Ivermectin: What is the controversial drug Laurence Fox and Joe Rogan claim to have taken to treat Covid?

Laurence Fox, the former actor turned “anti-woke” political provocateur, is the latest right-wing media personality to claim to be taking the controversial drug ivermectin, often used to deworm livestock, after testing positive for Covid-19.

“In other news, felt shivery and crap yesterday. Turns out I have been visited by Lord Covid at last and have the Omnicold (if the LFT is to be believed!)” he told his followers on Twitter, expressing scepticism about the efficacy of lateral flow tests (LFT).

“On the #ivermectin, saline nasal drip, quercetin, paracetamol and ibuprofen,” he continued. “More man flu than Wu-flu at the moment.”

Mr Fox has since continued to update his followers on his progress, posing with a packet of Veridex-brand ivermectin and the ingredients for a hot toddy served in a “Liberal Tears” mug while also bickering with Dr Rachel Clarke after she wished him well, saying that her “Dismissing [ivermectin] as a horse-dewormer is insulting to the people who rely on it and also the owners of horses”.

Just five days earlier, the failed candidate for mayor of London and now leader of the recently formed Reclaim Party had posted a picture on social media of himself wearing a T-shirt that read, nonsensically: “No vaccine needed. I have an immune system.”

During his campaign for mayor, Mr Fox promoted himself as a Covid sceptic, declining to wear a face mask during public appearances and declaring that he would not get vaccinated until 2023 by which point he said he would be satisfied it was safe to do so.

As with his reference to “Wu-flu”, a slur employed by ex-US president Donald Trump and his acolytes in 2020 attempting to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic given that its first cases are thought to have occurred in the city of Wuhan, Mr Fox’s invocation of ivermectin sees him once again borrowing from the playbook of the American right.

Republican congressman Louie Gohmert and senators Rand Paul and Ron Johnson called for the anti-parasitic drug to be given to humans to treat Covid last summer, as did Fox News anchors Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, while controversial podcaster Joe Rogan created a stir in September when he too said he had taken it after testing positive.

Mr Rogan had already caused an uproar by suggesting on The Joe Rogan Experience that healthy young people did not need to be given vaccines to stop Covid and who has since inspired Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to have their music removed from Spotify, the platform they shared with him, in protest at his programme spreading misinformation during the pandemic.

When the host himself was taken ill in the autumn, he posted a video on Instagram saying he had “thrown the kitchen sink” at the virus, listing ivermectin among the treatments he claimed to have taken.

What is ivermectin and is it safe?

Ivermectin is a drug developed in the 1970s that is sometimes given to humans in small doses to treat scabies and other parasites and to fight tropical maladies like river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, but which is more commonly used to treat worms and lice in animals.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), side effects can include “nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”

The FDA clearly states that “while there are approved uses for ivermectin in people and animals, it is not approved for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19”.

In response to the drug’s growing popularity last summer, the FDA tweeted a sardonic reminder to its followers, saying: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

In an attached article, the FDA said of Covid: “We’ve been living with it for what sometimes seems like forever. Given the number of deaths that have occurred from the disease, it’s perhaps not surprising that some consumers are looking at unconventional treatments.”

“Using any treatment for Covid-19 that’s not approved or authorised by the FDA, unless part of a clinical trial, can cause serious harm,” it warned, saying it has received “multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalised after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses”.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to US president Joe Biden, was equally unequivocal in cautioning against its use.

“Don’t do it,” he said, when asked about the issue by CNN anchor Jake Tapper on State of the Union. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that that works and it could potentially have toxicity, as you’ve just mentioned, with people who have gone to poison control centres because they’ve taken the drug at a ridiculous dose and wind up getting sick. There’s no clinical evidence that indicates that this works.”

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has also ridiculed the craze, commenting on her show: “Literally people won’t take the vaccine because they’re super suspicious of that, but they’re taking horse deworming medication that they’re buying at a feed store.”

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation recommends “not to use ivermectin in patients with Covid-19.”

What first prompted interest in ivermectin?

A 2020 peer-reviewed Australian study found that ivermectin could kill Covid in a lab, prompting some commentators to promote the drug as a solution for the infection in humans, despite the researchers warning against this and globally trusted public health institutions strongly advising against its use for such a purpose.

Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control and past chair of the British Medical Association Public Health Medicine Committee told The Independent that this trial was an “in vitro” study and can only tell us what might happen in a laboratory.

“In vitro findings frequently fail to translate into clinical effects; and studies have failed to find any benefit for this (potentially harmful) drug in real patients.”

Dr Shawn Varney, a toxicologist and medical director for the South Texas Poison Center, told The New York Times: “Everyone wants some cure for Covid because it’s such a devastating illness. I plead with people to stop using ivermectin and get the vaccine because it’s the best protection we have at this point. Everything else is risk after risk.”

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