Ivermectin, a drug used in humans to treat parasitic infestation and in equines to de-worm, has received increased attention in the era of COVID-19 as an alternative treatment to the virus. Federal, state, and local health entities have decried the treatment warning of dangerous complications while skeptics of the vaccine and pharmaceutical industry have hailed it.
Regardless of ivermectin’s efficacy to treat COVID-19 symptoms, the phenomenon has come home to roost in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties with major agricultural supply stores reporting a rise in purchases, potential shortages, and fears the public’s interest in the drug could result in it being pulled from agricultural store shelves obstructing backyard animal husbandry practitioners from caring for their livestock.
Lory McAsey, the livestock salesperson of Ukiah’s Rainbow Ag, told us in the previous two weeks, store employees have fielded at least a half dozen calls per day inquiring whether ivermectin paste was in stock.
McAsey explained customers who come to Rainbow Ag for an equine/animal husbandry know what ivermectin is and what it is used for. In contrast, customers purchasing the product use a different “verbiage,” as McAsey put it, and she will actively work to explain the purpose of the product and the reality that the form of ivermectin sold in agricultural supply stores was formulated for horse consumption, rather than human.
Another tell-tale sign a customer is interested in ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment rather than equine use is when they request ivermectin tablets, McAsey told us.
She described standing in the store aisle, attempting to dissuade a customer from purchasing it, when “I had three people step in front of me and grab the product.”
Rainbow Ag has displayed signage on the shelf warning customers of the potential dangers in using a form of ivermectin formulated for horse consumption and McAsey said she will actively work to deter customers from purchasing it.
Most customers will not divulge their intended use for the product, McAsey explained. She remembered a mother and daughter coming into the store, purchasing the product, and overhearing the daughter ask her mother as they left, “So, Mommy, are we sick.” The mother reportedly replied, “We’re not sick yet. This is just in case.”
McAsey provided context on the importance of ivermectin and de-worming products in the equine care world. She described these medications as being vital when caring for horses and there was a standard of three different chemicals used to de-worm. Horse owners will rotate those three treatments, approximately one every two months because consistent use of one builds tolerance and they must be cycled through to remain effective.
Customers of Rainbow Ag began to reach out to McAsey and management reporting social media content encouraging ivermectin as an alternative treatment for COVID-19 and to expect a run on the product. McAsey said at this point, they have “ran out of product.”
With this run on ivermectin, McAsey expressed concern they would not have IverCare, a specific brand of the horse de-worming paste favored by practitioners of animal husbandry, till December or January.
Ultimately, McAsey fears these trends could result in directives from the State of California to pull ivermectin from their shelves requiring a prescription from a veterinarian to access the drug. Livestock owners have long practiced what McAsey called “backyard animal husbandry” approaching the health care of their animals with a do-it-yourself mentality, hence these sorts of medications’ availability in agricultural supply stores. If ivermectin was to be pulled from the shelves, McAsey expressed concern about the financial burden of seeking a veterinarian for the medications.
An employee at Redway Feed and Garden Supply said they too have seen an increase in the sale of products containing ivermectin. The employee told us the store has experienced an influx of calls regarding their stock of the medication.
Most of these customers actually request a liquid form of ivermectin, possibly similar to this product, but when told Redway Feed and Garden Supply exclusively carries the paste form of the product, the customers “don’t seem interested in that.”
Nathan Nilsen, a fifth-generation co-owner of Eureka agricultural supply Nilsen Company, said currently it is difficult to secure stock of ivermectin due to the increase in demand.
Nilsen recounted speaking with a customer who was purchasing the product asking, “Is this for a horse?” The customer simply replied, “No, it’s for me.”
Regarding concerns for customers ingesting the ivermectin products sold at his store, Nilsen said, “It’s a paste designed for horses, not humans. Only 1.2% of the tube is ivermectin. It’s the other ingredients that could get you in trouble.”
Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren spoke to the rise of ivermectin and the medical concerns of using it to treat COVID-19.
Providing the current medical understanding of ivermectin, Dr. Coren explained the drug is used for its anti-parasitic properties in humans and used in the veterinary field for de-worming. He added, when being used to treat humans, ivermectin is often a drug of last resort due to a significant amount of risks associated with using it.
Common side effects of the ivermectin, Dr. Coren said, are “rashes, itching, fever, swollen glands, headaches, muscle aches, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, conjunctivitis, and eye inflammation.” More serious and uncommon side effects include, “hepatitis, bleeding in the eye, vision loss, asthma, a skin reaction in which the skin dies, internal allergic reaction, Steve Johnson’s syndrome, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, and seizures.”
As to the rise of ivermectin in the era of COVID-19, Dr. Coren said the drug is sought “out of fear.” He went on to say users of ivermectin “are afraid of COVID, but they are more afraid of the vaccine and they want some protection against COVID.”
Underpinning this push for alternative treatments to COVID-19 is a culture of internet research, and a politicized news media that fuels distrust of institutions like the Federal Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control.
He specified that the risks assumed by users of ivermectin “far outweigh the risks associated with vaccines.”
Except for claims within “misinformation and disinformation”, Dr. Coren said there is no medical evidence that ivermectin is beneficial when treating COVID-19 nor in its use as prophylactic against the virus.
Dr. Coren did give ground that pharmaceutical companies have historically “pushed things they shouldn’t push” and behaved in a way that would diminish the public’s trust. That being said, he argued that proponents of Ivermectin and other alternative medicines are using this suspicion to discount the totality of the FDA, which he asserts “performs a vital role in protecting the citizens.”
“The effective medicine against COVID is vaccination,” Dr. Coren said, and “the side effects from bleach to ivermectin are extremely high.”
For those that claim the FDA is expediting COVID-19 vaccinations without ensuring their safety, Dr. Coren reminded the public that the agency has “taken a long time to make a decision regarding children’s vaccinations and boosters” gathering research and data to inform their guidance. He also pointed towards the FDA not initially accepting Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine and gathering more data and research before emergency approval.
Dr. Coren’s ultimate recommendation was for anyone hoping to protect themselves from the complications of COVID-19 to get vaccinated: “The only way to avoid this illness is vaccination. It worked with chickenpox, diphtheria, and tetanus. The COVID-19 vaccine is more effective and safer than any vaccine in history.”