How the media fully failed us in reporting the story of ivermectin, collectively labeling a Nobel Prize-winning, safe and FDA-approved human drug that’s been saving Covid patients as a toxic “horse dewormer”
By Linda Bonvie
When the Mississippi Department of Health released a “Health Alert Network” bulletin on August 20th stating that “70% of the recent calls (to its state poison control)” were over people taking livestock versions of the human drug ivermectin, the media went wild.
Outlets such as The Hill, The New York Times, The Washington Post and scores of local news stations reported on this “crazy Covid” treatment that so many Mississippians were taking.
Only, it just wasn’t true.
Despite a retraction by the Associated Press on August 25th on this “erroneously reported” information, the Mississippi alert created a media feeding frenzy generating sexy headlines over people taking a “horse dewormer” for Covid-19 that has persisted to this day – one reason perhaps being that the Mississippi Department of Health has kept the uncorrected alert still posted and in public view.
After several freedom-of-information-act requests, it turns out that the actual number of calls during August 2021 to Mississippi Poison Control over animal ivermectin was not 70 percent, as stated by the state epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Byers, but under two percent – representing 11 inquiries related to people taking veterinary versions of the drug. If you include July in the tally, it’s down to around one percent of calls.
So why did the Mississippi Department of Health put out such erroneous information, one that still states that media-mesmerizing 70 percent number?
At this point, various print and broadcasting outlets, major, minor and even alternative, all have their own spurious slants on the supposedly grave danger ivermectin veterinary drugs pose to a gullible public trying to treat or prevent Covid-19. These range from a bogus report that doctors can’t treat gunshot victims at an Oklahoma hospital because they’re too busy handling ivermectin overdoses to claims of poison-control centers around the country being overrun with ivermectin calls to the slandering of an Arkansas prison doctor, accused of “cruel and unusual punishment” after prescribing human-grade ivermectin (referred to as “cow dewormer”) to his inmates to treat Covid.
From the extensive research I’ve done, it appears that this “horse/cow dewormer” narrative went into full swing with the issuance of that Mississippi alert.
Rather than work these facts into a story, I’ve compiled a timeline that begins on August 18.
Certainly, the amazing successes ivermectin use has achieved in treating Covid-19 patients is an integral part of this, but that is another story. This is about how one of the safest drugs you can take was rebranded into something so suspect that prisoners need the protection of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution to keep them safe from it.
Timeline of events, August 18 to September 1
August 18, 2021:
Liz Sharlot, director of the office of communications at the Mississippi Department of Health, takes a question from Keven Cooper during the weekly virtual press conference.
Sharlot: “Keven Cooper asks, are you aware of any cases in which anyone in Mississippi has been hospitalized, perhaps with liver issues, after taking too much ivermectin that they self-prescribed from the local feed store? Potentially what could these folks be doing to themselves if they are taking medication outside of a physician’s care? Dr. Dobbs? (1)
(Note: Dr. Thomas Dobbs is the Mississippi state health officer. Keven Cooper is senior VP, digital and special projects, Boone Newspapers. Cooper has not responded to my attempts to reach him.)
Dr. Dobbs replied with several warnings that it’s not safe to self-medicate, especially with the “really high concentrations” one would find in animal drugs, and that he thinks it’s “kind of crazy” to use ivermectin as a preventative, “so please don’t do that.”
He then said that he had heard rumors and checked hospitals but they “didn’t have any that they could verify,” although he did find one person who was “hospitalized with ivermectin-related drug toxicity.”
August 20, 2021:
Two days after that press conference, the Mississippi Department of Health issues an alert, marked to be of the “highest level of importance,” warranting “immediate action or attention,” stating that “at least 70% of the recent calls (to the Mississippi Poison Control Center) have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.” The alert was signed off on by Paul Byers, MD, State Epidemiologist. (2)
ABC News, Aug. 20: “Mississippi officials warn against using livestock ivermectin to prevent COVID-19 after rise in poison control calls”
August 21, 2021:
The FDA sends out a tweet saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” linking to its March 2021 page about not taking ivermectin. It was retweeted over 71,000 times.
Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 21: “Stop horsing around with ivermectin to treat COVID, warns FDA”
The Guardian, UK, Aug. 23: “‘You are not a horse’: FDA tells Americans stop taking dewormer for Covid”
(Note: On Aug. 24, I called the University of Mississippi Medical Center where the state poison control center is housed and spoke to Ruth Cummins, assistant director for media relations to ask how many people 70 percent represents in numbers. She told me that the health department “somehow” made a mistake. Calls over ivermectin were, in fact, “less than 2 percent.”
Cummins told me they would not be issuing a correction, and said she believed Dr. Byers would give the correct number during the health department press conference the next day, Aug. 25.
During that press conference, and only after being specifically asked to clarify the number did Dr. Byers say, “apologies if this was not clear…2 percent of the overall calls to the poison control center have been related to ivermectin…70 percent (of the 2 percent) were related to ingestion of livestock ivermectin.” (3)
My attempts to get the actual number of people that two percent represents were not successful, with the health department executive director of communications, Marc Rolph, telling me in an email “Sorry, we don’t have that information.” Mary Beth Pfeiffer, an investigative journalist who has been extensively covering Covid-19 and ivermectin recently managed to get data sheets from Rolph for Mississippi poison control calls for the months of July and August in 2020 and 2021. Ivermectin is not listed on that data. She was later sent a “snippet” of information from Rolph indicating that from July 31 to August 19 there were 11 inquiries to the state poison control center over veterinary ivermectin use.)
August 23, 2021:
The University of Mississippi Medical Center issues a press release headlined, “Ivermectin cures parasites in cows, not COVID-19 in humans.” (4)
The release quotes two medical professionals, one Dr. David Vearrier, a toxicologist and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Jenna Davis, a family nurse practitioner and managing director of the state poison control center. The release claimed that “there is no evidence” ivermectin can prevent or treat Covid-19 and told why it’s bad for humans to take drugs intended for animals. And then there was this:
“Vearrier and Davis advise people not to request an ivermectin prescription from their provider.”
The release further stated that Dr. Vearrier said “most physicians…know not to prescribe this medication for COVID,” and if they do, “they are increasing the risk to their patient and to the population in general who might believe it to be safe.”
(Note: Realize for a moment that here we have a doctor affiliated with the University of Mississippi Medical Center who is advising the general public that they should not discuss a valid human medication with their own physician. The University Medical Center press office refused to answer my questions about its Vearrier/Davis press release, sending me another copy of it via email, saying “We will have no further comment.”)
At this point the ivermectin horse/cow dewormer story is firmly established, and that, along with 70 percent of calls to the Mississippi poison control center being over ivermectin, has gone around the world – several times.
Washington Post, Aug. 21: “As covid-19 surges in Mississippi, some people are ingesting an unproven livestock dewormer”
NPR Health, Aug. 23: “Mississippi is pleading with people to stop using a livestock drug to treat COVID-19”
Despite a published retraction on the “erroneously” reported 70 percent Mississippi poison control statement issued by the Associated Press on August 25, (5) the story has continued to circulate, most notably in the New York Times on Aug. 30: “Demand surges for deworming drug for Covid, despite scant evidence it works,” and a Sept. 4 story from NPR, “Poison control centers are fielding a surge of ivermectin overdose calls” (the featured graphic for that article shows a box for ivomec, intended for sheep, pigs, cattle and ostriches. (6)
August 24, 2021:
Eva Madison, a Washington County, Arkansas justice of the peace enters a virtual meeting of the Quorum Court Finance and Budget Committee, sits down at the meeting table and states, “I learned today that Dr. Karis is giving ivermectin cow dewormer to inmates at the jail.” (7)
(Note: Dr. Robert Karas provides healthcare services for inmates and detainees in Washington County, Arkansas. He did not give inmates “cow dewormer” as stated by Madison, but rather prescribed the approved human drug, ivermectin.)
Daily Mail, UK, August 25, 2021: “Arkansas detention center doctor is treating COVID positive inmates with cow deworming drugs FDA warns is dangerous – as people in Oklahoma flock to feed stores to buy it”
NBC 8, Tampa, Florida, August 25, 2021: “Horse dewormer ivermectin given to inmates at Arkansas jail”
BIN Network, August 27, 2021: “Doctor prescribes ‘cow dewormer’ to COVID-19 patients in Arkansas jail”
(Note: I asked Eva Madison via email about some of her comments made during that meeting, naming my affiliation with Citizens for Health and providing her with contact information for CFH chair, James S. Turner, Esq. Her response was: “This does not seem legitimate, so I have no comment. Please do not contact me or my office again.”)
August 25, 2021:
The Arkansas ACLU writes a letter to the Washington County, Arkansas sheriff’s office addressed to Sheriff Tim Helder saying, in part: “The FDA noted that… (an ivermectin overdose) can cause seizures, coma, and even death. Corrections officials are required to give incarcerated people adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment. Deliberately disregarding the known risks of ivermectin to a detained person’s health is deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment…” (8)
The Daily Beast, August 25, 2021: “‘Like Tuskegee’: southern jail treats COVID with dangerous, unproven drug ivermectin”
Forbes, August 26, 2001: “Arkansas medical board opens probe into jail dosing covid patients with animal dewormer ivermectin”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 1, 2021: “Arkansas inmates not told they were given anti-parasite drug”
August 26, 2021:
The CDC issues an “emergency” advisory over its Health Alert Network, stating that in 2021 poison control centers had a threefold increase in human exposure calls for ivermectin compared to “the pre-pandemic baseline.” And in July a fivefold increase from baseline. (9)
(Note: On Aug. 31 I asked the CDC what the so-called “baseline” is in numbers, not “folds.” Despite numerous follow-ups the CDC has yet to respond.)
CNN, August 26, 2021: “CDC warns against use of anti-parasitic drug ivermectin for Covid-19, as calls to poison control centers increase”
Fox 5, Washington D.C, August 31, 2021: “CDC sees ‘rapid increase’ of severe illnesses from ivermectin use for COVID-19”
To try and figure out the “pre-pandemic baseline” that the CDC mentioned, I reviewed the 2019 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), which is available online. This 183-page report contains the full data set for calls (called “cases”) to poison control centers across the U.S. There was no specific listing for ivermectin. (For comparison, I found over 70,000 “case mentions” for acetaminophen with 127 fatalities, and over 13,000 case mentions for fluoridated toothpaste.). (10)
There is a line, however, on the published 2019 report called “Antiparasitics, Other Types of Antiparasitic,” but that only had 39 case mentions (and there are over 100 different antiparasitics approved by the FDA).
The 2019 report also has a listing called “miscellaneous Veterinary Drugs without human equivalent,” with 5,839 case mentions. I asked the AAPCC press office if one of those sections might be where ivermectin-related calls to poison control would be, and if so, how many that represents in numbers. (According to the FDA Green Book there are 167 drugs approved for both animals and humans and 160 drugs approved without human equivalent.) (11)
On Sept. 3, Lana Dargan, associate manager of digital content for the AAPCC emailed me saying, “I checked with my supervisor on this, and we do not provide data to organizations other than national media outlets.”
(Note: Mary Beth Pfeiffer did finally get the AAPCC to release numbers relating to ivermectin calls to poison control centers. The bulletin put out by the AAPCC and sent to her lists 1,143 “ivermectin case counts” from Jan. 1, 2021 to Aug. 31. The pie chart on the bulletin states that 1% resulted in a “major effect,” 46% were “not followed,” 20% were “no effect,” and 13% were a “minor effect.” Pfeiffer followed up with the AAPCC, asking them which of those calls were for an animal product and which were for doctor-prescribed ivermectin and if any reactions alluded to are related to “overdoses,” as mentioned in the media, or were side effects or symptoms of the disease for which the drug was prescribed. She also inquired as to the listing categories noted on the 2019 report. As of this writing she has not heard back.)
September 1, 2021:
The American Medical Association (AMA), in conjunction with the American Pharmacists Association, issues a joint statement calling for “an immediate end to the prescribing, dispensing, and use of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial,” being sure to mention that calls to poison-control centers over ivermectin have increased “five-fold from their pre-pandemic baseline.” (Ironically, this attempt to make doctors and pharmacists fearful of making the human medication available to the public, as it previously was, is bound to result in more people feeling they have to resort to veterinary versions.)
The release also says that “Use of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 has been demonstrated to be harmful to patients.” (12 and 13) When I asked the AMA exactly how ivermectin “has been demonstrated to be harmful to patients,” I was referred to the CDC “Official Health Advisory,” put out on Aug. 26. That document refers to a “rise” in poison control centers reporting overdoses compared to the “pre-pandemic baseline.” (Note that now we’re being told that rise in calls to poison control represents “overdoses,” a new angle being introduced into the poison control narrative). (14) Along with all the warnings, the CDC health advisory also states that “when used as prescribed for approved indications (ivermectin) is generally safe and well tolerated.”
MSNBC, September 1, 2021: “Misinformation sickness, Do Not Eat the HORSE PASTE. AMA calls on doctors to immediately stop prescribing ivermectin for Covid”
Certainly, a carefully crafted false narrative can leave a bigger, more lasting impression than the truth told in bits and pieces.
In this case, the “horse paste” story started with the bogus statement from the Mississippi Department of Health that scores of people were taking ivermectin doses meant for a horse or cow. The FDA (and others) duly warned against this and reported on the risks involved in ingesting that large a dose of a veterinary medicine. We were told that poison control center lines were ringing off the hook.
But not long afterward, the tale morphed. The AMA and others repeated the horse-dose warnings, but they had now somehow become related to physician-prescribed human ivermectin. The American Medical Association went so low as to refer to several transient side effects of a prescribed ivermectin dose in its September 1st press release as being “toxic effects.” Any doctor, nurse or pharmacist knows the distinct difference between side effects and toxic effects. Are we expected to believe the AMA doesn’t?
(In Oct. of 2020 the FDA approved a “switch” from prescription to over-the-counter for a topical ivermectin head lice treatment called Sklice, considered safe for use in kids and infants as young as 6 months of age.) (15)
For more about ivermectin and reports of its effectiveness in preventing and treating Covid-19, see “The Tragedy Is It’s Not Saving More”
- https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/23,23577,341,html @1:30:12
- https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/index.cfm/23,23596,341,html @49:10
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DQ4TMIWcn4 @1:23:26