Horse deworming medicine not a safe replacement for COVID vaccine

By Shanna Cummings

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Some people looking for an alternative to the COVID vaccine have turned to the horse deworming medicine ivermectin, at the encouragement of dubious online sources and even some elected officials.

This problem has two parts: first, ivermectin doesn’t prevent contraction of COVID; and second, self-medicating with animal medicine is dangerous.

Ivermectin is used to treat parasites, not viruses. Though clinical studies showed some effectiveness of ivermectin in slowing replication of COVID in lab conditions (i.e. petri dishes, not humans), attaining the same effectiveness in a human would require amounts up to 100 times the safe human dosage.

Side effects of ivermectin include headache, dizziness, muscle pain, nausea and diarrhea. In some cases, people who overdose on ivermectin have suffered neurological damage, coma, seizures, lung and heart problems.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID, and does not include ivermectin in the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program. Some doctors may include ivermectin in their standard mix of medicines to treat some symptoms of COVID-19, but not in a preventative way in lieu of a vaccine.

More urgently, though, humans shouldn’t take animal medicine. 

According to the FDA, “People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they are labeled.” Drugs like ivermectin should only be taken for their approved purposes – including intended species – and under the direction and care of a trained medical professional. 

Self-medicating using substances intended for use in animals can be life-threatening, especially substances in doses intended for large livestock like 1250-pound horses, which can tolerate higher doses than humans. Self-medicating with animal medicine can also cause dangerous interactions with medications or exacerbate conditions like asthma.

The dangers posed by human use of animal ivermectin products for treating or preventing COVID has caused local Tractor Supply Company stores to take various precautions with products containing the substance. One store in El Paso has the product locked up, requiring employee assistance if a customer wants to buy it. Other stores post warning signs that the products are neither intended nor safe for human use.

If you are concerned about contracting COVID, please continue to practice safe social distancing, wear your mask and wash your hands often with soap or use hand sanitizer when out in public. Discuss use of any medicinal substances with your doctor before use.