Claims that India’s largest state had no new cases of COVID-19 after implementing an ivermectin protocol have been shared on Facebook and other social media sites.
The headline: “INDIA: No COVID-19 Cases In 24 Hours After Implementing Ivermectin Protocol,” comes from an article on the website Independent Side, which states: “They are hiding the truth from you … they DO NOT want you to know about Ivermectin.” The story includes a tweet that says that “Uttar Pradesh, India Announces State Is COVID-19 Free Proving the Effectiveness of ‘Deworming Drug’ IVERMECTIN.”
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
A similar headline from Gateway Pundit, a conservative U.S. site, said: “HUGE: Uttar Pradesh, India Announces State Is COVID-19 Free Proving the Effectiveness of “Deworming Drug” IVERMECTIN.”
Claims regarding the supposed success of ivermectin in preventing COVID-19 in India have been around for months, and have recently popped up again as India’s case numbers subside. India stopped recommending the use of ivermectin for management of the virus in September, citing a lack of scientific evidence of its benefits.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin for use in humans for treating such things as parasitic worms, head lice and rosacea, but advises against taking it to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s most populous state, with more than 200 million people, reported on Nov. 7 that it had just 85 active COVID-19 cases, according to the Times of India. More than 67% of the eligible population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 22% were fully vaccinated. The government has credited its success to using ivermectin as a preventive measure, according to an article in the Indian Express in May.
But is their low case count credible? And does it have anything to do with ivermectin?
We spoke with Dr. Lee Riley, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California Berkeley, who said that there is no peer-reviewed randomized control study that shows that ivermectin is the reason why cases are going down in Uttar Pradesh. Any study would have to include a placebo group, and control for other measures, such as use of masks and social distancing, which Uttar Pradesh was using, he said.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases are down in India, and in other places, Riley said, but he questioned how widely Uttar Pradesh is testing. If there are fewer tests, there will be fewer recorded cases.
Asked about claims that Uttar Pradesh’s low case numbers were due to ivermectin, Riley said that there would be no biological reason why the drug would be effective at preventing the disease, but not in treating it, as studies have shown. No other place in the world has shown that ivermectin is effective at preventing COVID-19, Riley said.
Another medical doctor has researched claims of ivermectin’s success, both scientific and anecdotal, and found them lacking.
Dr. Nick Mark, who works with critical care and pulmonary patients at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, has examined claims that ivermectin has had dramatic success in Uttar Pradesh.
“This is not even remotely the case,” he said during a lecture with other doctors on Oct. 15. While there are claims that the state began using ivermectin in May 2021, during the height of India’s COVID-19 crisis, the government actually said it began giving the drug in August 2020.
“Not only did it not hasten the end of that alpha wave, but it didn’t prevent the delta wave,” Mark said.
Mark cited research where scientists looked at data for all deaths in India, and found that certain populous districts in Uttar Pradesh had no reported deaths at all for several months.
“So either you have to believe that ivermectin prevents you from dying of everything — car crashes, cancer, homicide, suicide — or, that the data is just garbage and you can’t interpret it,” he said.
The New York Times documented problems with India’s COVID-19 data in September, and found that political considerations interfered with open scientific inquiry.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, funded by India’s government, had recommended the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 in May, but revised its guidance months later. Indian health authorities warned that the risk of bias is high in studies claiming that ivermectin is beneficial for COVID-19 patients.
A review of available research published in Cochrane Library in July found that the available reliable evidence “does not support the use of ivermectin for treatment or prevention of COVID‐19 outside of well‐designed randomized trials.”
In May, PolitiFact checked a similar claim, that COVID-19 cases dropped in India after the government promoted ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and ruled it Mostly False. The government did promote use of those drugs, and cases did fall, though the relationship between those events is unproven.
Health Feedback, a member of the International Fact-checking Network, found that there was no evidence of a causal relationship between the use of ivermectin and declining COVID-19 case counts in Uttar Pradesh. The site found that other factors likely helped reduce case counts, including immunity from previous infection, vaccination and lockdowns.
Claims that Uttar Pradesh reduced its COVID-19 case count by using ivermectin have spread on social media.
While cases appear to have fallen in Uttar Pradesh, it’s not clear why. There is no scientific, randomized controlled study showing that ivermectin led to a reduction in the spread of the virus in Uttar Pradesh. The available research regarding the drug’s use to prevent or treat the virus is either unreliable or inconclusive. Scientists have said that more study is necessary.
We rate this claim False.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.