corona marginalia: ivermectin disinfo

Earlier this week, BBC News put out a “reality check” report entitled “Ivermectin: How false science created a Covid ‘miracle’ drug”. Authors of the piece, Rachel Schraer and Jack Goodman, aim to convince us that although, as they quietly concede, ivermectin has been “recommended by health authorities in some countries”, including “in India, South Africa, Peru and much of the rest of Latin America, as well as in Slovakia”, claims to the drug’s efficacy in the treatment of covid are actually misplaced. In establishing this claim they turn to the work of a single group of scientists – Dr Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, Dr James Heathers, Dr Nick Brown and Dr Kyle Sheldrick – who “formed a group looking deeper into ivermectin studies after biomedical student Jack Lawrence spotted problems with an influential study from Egypt.”

In common with journalists Rachel Schraer and Jack Goodman, I have no specialist training in medicine. Unlike them, however, I was trained in a scientific discipline, and do have a fairly good eye when it comes to spotting bad science and sloppy scientific reporting. So I am immediately alerted whenever I read any media report that casts doubt on a wide range of earlier research studies, and especially when it relies on a single new study; still more so when the study in question is unreferenced and strangely peripheral.

Of course, had the new work represented the largest or latest meta-study of its kind, close attention to it would be perfectly understandable, but in this case again the new study is neither the largest nor the most recent (more on this below). Moreover, the group behind the study – a group that formed over Twitter and whose lead author, Jack Lawrence, remains a student – have not yet published even a research paper together, but just a letter; one that advocates for changes in clinical trial methodology.

Without providing clear references, the authors of the study claim to “reveal that more than a third of 26 major trials of the drug [ivermectin] for use on Covid have serious errors or signs of potential fraud.” Yet, even if verifiable, this represents fewer than ten trials, which is a comparatively small fraction (less than 15%) once all major trials are taken into consideration rather than this apparently arbitrary sample – again, more on this below. Importantly, the entire BBC article is framed as if the scientific debate over ivermectin is all just a fight between “anti-vaccine activists” who “hype” the use of a “miracle” drug, versus this dispassionate “group of independent scientists”. This again is gross distortion.

Like me, Dr John Campbell is not an “anti-vaccine activist”. Unlike me and BBC journalists Rachel Schraer and Jack Goodman, he is a highly trained medical professional who holds a PhD in nursing and has decades of experience both as a medical practitioner and as a teacher. Throughout the last two years, John Campbell has tirelessly sifted through volumes of medical research papers in order to present the latest findings about covid on his Youtube channel. By virtue of the clarity and integrity of his almost daily content so assiduously collected and analysed, his small channel has grown rapidly and now enjoys over a million subscribers.

One of the treatments John Campbell has regularly discussed is ivermectin, and in his latest upload (embedded above) he tries to understand why the BBC has bothered to produce this article, which is devoid of references to any of the allegedly discredited studies (making it hard to check the veracity of these claims), while failing to reference a far larger real-time meta-analysis [click here] based on 64 fully referenced studies (as opposed to the mysterious 26 – and with the flawed Egyptian study already excluded) that indicate clear benefits of using the drug to treat covid patients:

[Quoted directly from the study linked above.]

Another reason why John Campbell has over a million subscribers is that he takes a fully detached and thus scientifically-informed position and is only very seldom sidetracked by politics, preferring to stick to what published research shows. However, the determination of the effectiveness of any drug relies on large-scale trials and these are generally overseen by the pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves. Unfortunately, no such large-scale trials have yet been conducted to test the efficacy of ivermectin in the treatment of covid.

As the BBC piece mentions in passing: “In February, Merck – one of the companies that makes the drug – said there was ‘no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against Covid-19’.”

But of course, this puts the cart before the horse. So John Campbell is understandably dismayed to learn that Merck & Co., the company given the original approval for the manufacture and sale of ivermectin, has said that it has absolutely no intention of conducting clinical trials. Could it be, as he tentatively suggests, that ivermectin is so cheap and easily available that there is just a lack of profit motive to carry out such further trials? Without genuine investigation journalism this will likely remain a rhetorical question.

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Additional:

Last month, John Campbell also looked into and deconstructed the Australian Government’s frankly bizarre excuses for imposing restrictions on the prescription of ivermectin for the treatment of covid-19:

And last week he provided a very in-depth comparison of the cost, safety and efficacy of ivermectin to the new antiviral drug, molnupiravir:

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Update:

In a presentation uploaded on November 9th, John Campbell provided details of how ivermectin could act as an effective treatment against covid-19. Specifically, he explains the mechanism in which ivermectin appears to work as a SARS-CoV‑2 3CL Protease Inhibitor, and draws attention to a range of published studies that support this conclusion:

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Please note: I have not been trained as a medical professional and do not claim to have expert knowledge of this subject. This article is in no way intended to provide medical advice of any kind.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Australia

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