Doctors fighting COVID-19 should be supported by their profession and their government, not suppressed. Yet today physicians are smothered under a wave of censorship. With coronavirus variants and vaccine hesitancy threatening a prolonged pandemic, the National Institutes of Health and the broader U.S. medical establishment should free doctors to treat this terrible disease with effective medicines.
For centuries, doctors have addressed emerging health threats by prescribing existing drugs for new uses, observing the results, and communicating to their peers and the public what seems to work. In a pandemic, precious time and lives can be lost by an insistence on excessive data and review. But in the current crisis, many in positions of authority have done just that, stubbornly refusing to allow any repurposed treatments. This departure from traditional medical practice risks catastrophe. When doctors on the front lines try to bring awareness of and use such medicines, they get silenced.
I’ve experienced such censorship firsthand. Early in the pandemic, my research led me to testify in the Senate that corticosteroids were life-saving against COVID-19, when all national and international health care agencies recommended against them. My recommendations were criticized, ignored and resisted such that I felt forced to resign my faculty position. Only later did a large study from Oxford University find they were indeed life-saving. Overnight, they became the standard of care worldwide. More recently, we identified through dozens of trials that the drug ivermectin leads to large reductions in transmission, mortality, and time to clinical recovery. After testifying to this fact in a second Senate appearance — the video of which was removed by YouTube after garnering over 8 million views — I was forced to leave another position.
I was delighted when our paper on ivermectin passed a rigorous peer review and was accepted by Frontiers in Pharmacology. The abstract was viewed over 102,000 times by people hungry for answers. Six weeks later, the journal suddenly rejected the paper, based on an unnamed “external expert” who stated that “our conclusions were unsupported,” contradicting the four senior, expert peer reviewers who had earlier accepted them. I can’t help but interpret this in context as censorship.
The science shows that ivermectin works. Over 40 randomized trials and observational studies from around the world attest to its efficacy against the novel coronavirus. Meta-analyses by four separate research groups, including ours, found an average reduction in mortality of between 68%-75%. And 10 of 13 randomized controlled trials found statistically significant reductions in time to viral clearance, an effect not associated with any other COVID-19 therapeutic. Furthermore, ivermectin has an unparalleled safety record and low cost, which should negate any fears or resistance to immediate adoption.
Our manuscript conclusions were further supported by the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) Panel. Following the World Health Organization Handbook of Guideline Development, it voted to strongly recommend the use of ivermectin in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, and opined that further placebo controlled trials are unlikely to be ethical.
Even prior to the BIRD Panel recommendations, many countries have approved the use of ivermectin in COVID-19 or formally incorporated it into national treatment guidelines. Several have gone further and initiated large-scale importation and distribution efforts. In the last month alone, such European Union members as Bulgaria and Slovakia have approved its use nationwide. India, Egypt, Peru, Zimbabwe, and Bolivia are distributing it in many regions and observing rapid decreases in excess deaths. Increasing numbers of regional health authorities have advocated for or adopted it across Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa. And it is now the standard of care in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities.
It’s time to stop the foot-dragging. People are dying. The responsible physicians of this country, and their patients, need to be able to rely on their government institutions to quickly identify effective treatments, rather than waiting for pristine, massive Phase III trials before acting. At minimum, the NIH should immediately recommend ivermectin for treating and preventing COVID-19, and then work with professional associations, institutions, and the media to publicize its use. If it doesn’t, the organization will lose credibility as a public institution charged with acting in the national interest — and doctors will ignore its guidance in the future.
My story is not unique. Physicians across the country are fighting a pernicious campaign to denigrate all potential treatments not first championed by the authorities, and others have faced retaliation for speaking up. Sadly, too many of our institutions are using the pandemic as a pretext to centralize control over the practice of medicine, persecuting and canceling doctors who follow their clinical judgment and expertise.
Actually “following the science” means listening to practitioners and considering the entirety and diversity of clinical studies. That’s exactly what my colleagues and I have done. We won’t be cowed. We will speak up for our patients and do what’s right.