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Ivermectin: Useless Against COVID But More Than "Horse Dewormer"
Appearing less informed about Ivermectin and its uses in humans emboldens conspiracy theorists using it in dangerous ways.
Don’t take ivermectin for COVID. Full stop. The evidence of its usefulness for treating viral infections is weak, and it is especially weak with COVID. But we should stop calling it “horse dewormer.” Don’t get me wrong: the primary way these quacks are consuming the antiparasitic drug is through apple-flavored medicated paste intended for horses sold at farm supply stores — which I have avoided in the meantime due to teeming hordes of symptomatic COVID carriers eager to get their hands on a different sort of in-demand apple product. But I am increasingly concerned framing ivermectin in such a fashion sets people up for conspiratorial spiraling.
To be clear, Ivermectin is routinely used in humans — though not for viral infections. Though it is much harder to get the dosages for humans right using paste intended for large animals like horses, it is also used as a human dewormer. Most notably, there is a parasitic nematode that has infected tens, if not hundreds of millions of people in the developing world that causes a disease known as strongyloidiasis.
Ivermectin is extremely effective at deworming these nematodes, and it is the typical treatment for it. A far more mundane example of its use is in delousing treatments like shampoos, in which ivermectin is occasionally — but not always — included, given it is extremely effective at killing lice on contact. Scabies, the relatively common mite infestation of the skin, can also be treated by ivermectin.
Of course, none of these mean it is useful for the treatment of COVID. However, given that it has a history of effective use in humans, this enables people to frame “horse dewormer” as a misrepresentation. Is it? No, because the particular product typically consumed by these COVID quacks is, in fact, intended for horse deworming. But it opens up the potential for perceived ignorance.
Conspiracy theories thrive off of what is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the phenomenon of people with little expertise or knowledge in an area overestimating how much they know, while those with actual expertise are more likely to experience self-doubt. Appearing to not fully understand ivermectin and its uses can lead to the other person to assume they are better informed than you, even if they are misinformed.
Often, people who correctly understand that ivermectin is not an effective COVID treatment point out a dewormer would not be effective against a virus. But there is evidence of ivermectin having an antiviral effect, even if there are better antivirals and its usefulness with COVID is negligible. However, talking about it as useless against viruses gives the conspiracy-minded an opportunity to say to themselves, “See! I know more about this drug than they do.” Even if some of what they “know” is false.
The fixation on ivermectin demonstrates how the complaints about the COVID vaccine being “experimental” are excuses, the throes of double standards applied to mainstream versus alternative news sources. Getting vaccinated against COVID is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you, even if breakthrough infections still exist. Vaccines are never 100% effective, but, if enough people get them, the virus will struggle to spread.
Ultimately, deradicalizing individuals from conspiratorial thinking is tricky and often fails. But the rhetoric we use when discussing these subjects can either quench or fuel the flames. Miscommunication over ivermectin and its uses can lead to people feeling like they have acquired “secret knowledge” that “they” do not want you to know about. Simply being correct about its ineffectiveness against COVID is not enough to appear informed.