As perhaps the only pundit who has ever actually dewormed a horse, I keep getting a question from people who know about my career in veterinary medicine. “Is ivermectin really that bad?” My unsatisfying answer is it’s neither good nor bad, dangerous nor safe. It’s just another tool in the toolbox of MDs and DVMs.
Tylenol/acetaminophen is probably in your medicine cabinet right now. But it’s also the #1 cause of acute liver failure in America, partly because people swallow handfuls to combat hangovers. Should we ban it? No. We don’t ban deli slicers if you Rahm Emanuel a fingertip off because you got drunk and mistook it for pimento loaf. That’s on you for ignoring basic safety.
Like any tool, ivermectin may be useful for purposes other than its original design. Hammers are called the most popular screwdrivers because amateur carpenters use ‘em to drive in stubborn Phillips heads. (Hint: Drill a hole first.)
Dismissing Nobel Prize-winning ivermectin as “horse dewormer” ignores that it’s a revolutionary treatment for humans and that no less an authority than CDC is studying whether it has promise. While they write, “Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19,” that’s not case closed.
Unlike the mobs on Twitter, scientists are always searching for new data while maintaining a healthy skepticism of snake oil promising miracle cures. It’s for this reason CDC soberly urges patience, saying, “Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.”
The CDC doesn’t tell you to report a doctor who prescribes the stuff to the AMA and run screaming from the exam room. They issue the same warning that goes for Tylenol, much less a prescription drug: “Taking large doses … is dangerous [so] take it exactly as prescribed.” There’s also the standard caution, “Never use medications intended for animals…”
Translation: Don’t try this at home.
In 1981, an Australian scientist Dr. Barry Marshall had a theory far more controversial than ivermectin, claiming corkscrew-shaped Helicobacter pylori cause peptic ulcers. “Mainstream” gastroenterologists laughed, insisting stress and pizza made Oscar Madison’s stomach burn.
Dr. Marshall gave lab mice rumbly tummies by infecting them, but the scientific community remained unconvinced. (The life of lab animals can be stressful, after all.) Frustrated, Dr. Marshall decided on an Aussie act of boldness worthy of Crocodile Dundee. He guzzled down H. pylori like an ice-cold Foster’s.
Sure enough, an ulcer resulted. This, at last, convinced the doubters; the breakthrough earned him the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine and now treats untold millions.
Today, there’s very little room for such open-mindedness. Everything is either un-good or good, in the Newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984 — a language where the word “thought” itself does not exist. Prefixes like un- or anti- render topics binary, and all your thinking is done for you by Big Brother.
The real world has shades of gray. COVID-19 leaves patients desperate and doctors scrambling for unconventional solutions like TV’s Gregory House. That’s why Congress passed, and President Trump signed, the Right to Try Law in 2017, giving the hopeless a shot at unproven treatments. If you’re literally drowning in your own lungs, you have nothing to lose from a Hail Mary, much less time to wait for clinical trials.
I learned a saying in medicine from a veterinary mentor of mine, the late Dr. William J. O’Reilly. “When I hear hoofbeats, I think of horses, not zebras.” But in one case, I remember suggesting that a cat’s seizures were indeed caused by zebras. We tried an alternate treatment, and the diagnosis turned out to be right.
It was a proud moment, but medicine isn’t about Nobel Prizes or high-fives. It’s about patients. That dedication is why doctors are trying ivermectin. They’re not quacks or sadists, and they certainly shouldn’t have a Twitter consultation before picking up their prescription pad.
Ivermectin may prove to be another rabbit hole without a rabbit but politicizing it doesn’t put patients first. Paradoxically, it encourages the very people terrified by what Clay Travis calls COVID-19 “fear porn” to give it a test drive absent a doctor’s oversight.
Americans overwhelmingly distrust your track record, media brethren; when you say a thing, many reflexively do the un-thing. So, if you care about saving lives, stop making ivermectin a forbidden fruit. Let doctors do their jobs, and you do yours, meaning no more Fake News hit pieces like the one in Rolling Stone.
And who knows? Maybe Ivermectin is a galloping zebra after all and the hammer that smashes the pandemic that’s screwing us all.
• Dean Karayanis is producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer, and host of History Author Show on iHeartRadio.