Another day, another piece of viral COVID-19 misinformation. This one is a little more complicated than the usual “Pfizer is using the vaccine to turn humans into guppies” brand of Qanon shenanigans. It involves headlines about scientists in Japan finding success using Ivermectin to treat cases of COVID-19. These headlines are inaccurate — Ivermectin has not been proven effective against COVID-19 in humans in Japan or anywhere else — but they’ve been reported irresponsibly and spread by entities interested in a “haha, told you so!” moment. The news was shared by influencers with vast social media reach like Laura Ingraham and Charlie Kirk, but the simple truth is that this “news” is not news at all and you still should not rely on Ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.
If you were online earlier this week, you may have seen a Reuters report saying a Phase III clinical trial showed Ivermectin is “effective” against the Omicron variant. The headline was later corrected to say Ivermectin has an “antiviral effect” against the Omicron variant, but the damage was already done. The average news reader probably doesn’t know the difference between something being effective against a disease and having an “antiviral effect,” but it’s a big one.
A Japanese pharmaceutical company called Kowa tested Ivermectin against the Omicron variant in a test tub and found that it had an antiviral effect on it. That’s what Kowa’s press release says and, by itself, that’s not surprising. Scientists have known that Ivermectin has an antiviral effect against all variants of the COVID-19 virus. That’s how it’s picked up the reputation it has in some circles. The problem is, just because something has an antiviral effect in a test tube doesn’t mean it actually fights the disease in a human body. Lots of stuff can kill COVID-19 outside of your body without being effective inside your body (or, in some cases, doing a lot more harm than good.)
So, it’s not news that Ivermectin has an antiviral effect against the Omicron variant. In fact, it would have been stranger if it didn’t, given what we know about its effect on past variants. The reason Ivermectin hasn’t been approved as a treatment for COVID-19 is that there’s no evidence that it’s actually effective to take it. Kowa plans on conducting human trials and, should those show Ivermectin is effective in a way it wasn’t against previous variants, that might be noteworthy. But there’s no evidence right now that it will be.
As of now, CDC-approved vaccines remain the only safe way to reduce your chance of getting a severe case of COVID-19.