Wed | Aug 4, 2021

Michael Abrahams | Is Ivermectin an unsafe drug?

Published:Tuesday | June 22, 2021 | 12:06 AM

If the potential benefits of a therapy outweigh its risks, people should not be denied access to that therapy. The principle is not difficult to understand. So, it is perplexing why our Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) is not only being resistant to the idea of doctors using a drug that has been shown by multiple studies to be useful against COVID-19, but also being obstructive, by not facilitating its availability in this country to at least give patients with COVID-19 an option.

Currently, if someone in Jamaica is diagnosed with COVID-19, they are told to stay home, isolate, and monitor their symptoms, including temperature and breathing. While doing this, however, those infected by the virus are playing a waiting game. They may remain asymptomatic or only develop mild symptoms, or they may worsen, developing fever, weakness, and shortness of breath as the virus multiplies in their body, causing inflammation and wreaking havoc. Many studies have shown that if Ivermectin is administered soon after diagnosis or at the onset of symptoms, it can decrease viral load (the amount of virus in the body), and by doing so provide symptomatic relief and decrease the risk of hospitalisation and the need for oxygen.

Recently in Parliament, Minister of Health Christopher Tufton voiced safety concerns about Ivermectin. However, these fears are unfounded. Ivermectin is a safe drug that has been around for about 40 years. In fact, it is on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, a list published by the World Health Organization that contains the medications considered to be most effective and safe to meet the most important needs in a health system. Not only that, it is also on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for Children, meaning it is safe for children too.

Detractors often delight in referring to the initial study, performed in Australia in 2020, that showed that Ivermectin destroyed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in vitro (in a laboratory), and say that large doses were needed, and that these doses are unsafe for humans. But, subsequently, researchers found the drug to be effective against COVID-19 in human subjects, in therapeutic doses, in dozens of studies. In fact, Merck Pharmaceuticals, the original manufacturers and patent holders of the drug, published a study confirming its safety at 10 times the recommended dose.

DISINGENUITY

Expressing concerns about Ivermectin’s safety while simultaneously encouraging massive uptake of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine also smacks of disingenuity. Indeed, for those who are vulnerable, the evidence suggests that the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19 outweigh its risks, and that populations that have high vaccination rates demonstrate better containment of the virus. However, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is not without risk.

Over 40 years, almost four billion doses of Ivermectin have been dispensed, with very few serious adverse events. According to the World Health Organization and Uppsala University VigiAccess database for pharmacovigilance (updated March 1, 2021), 16 deaths had been reported for Ivermectin since 1992: about one every two years. On the other hand, less than six months after its launch, and after less than half a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been dispensed, the UK reported 49 deaths up to April 28 this year, Taiwan has reported 29, and deaths have been reported in other countries as well. Paracetamol and aspirin are available over the counter and are considered to be safe drugs. However, paracetamol kills over 400 people a year, and aspirin 3,000. In other words, any drug has the potential to cause adverse effects, or even death, but as far as pharmaceutical products go, Ivermectin is very safe.

APPLICATION DENIED

Earlier this year the National Health Fund (NHF), a division of the MOHW, imported Ivermectin from a supplier in the United States. However, despite assurances from the minister of health that if suitable applications are made, the drug can be brought into the country by official channels, when a large, well-known, private company applied to import Ivermectin, from the very same supplier the NHF used earlier this year, the application was denied by the Standards and Regulations Department of the MOHW.

The reality in Jamaica today is that our vaccine roll-out and uptake have been woefully inadequate. Our population is almost three million and, according to the site ourworldindata.org, on June 11, 2021, only 31,106, a mere 1.1 per cent of our population, had been fully vaccinated, and as the prime minister himself admitted, we are running low on vaccines. All this as we await the inevitable arrival of the delta variant of the virus, which has the potential to create another spike of infections in the country. The majority of our population is vulnerable. We are like sitting ducks. To deny us access to a safe drug whose potential benefits outweigh its risks is unjust and cruel.

For more information on ivermectin and research on its use for COVID-19, please check the following sites:

• ivmmeta.com

• covid19criticalcare.com

• bird-group.org

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or Twitter @mikeyabrahams.