Fact check: No, ivermectin did not cure COVID-19 in Japan and India

Ivermectin, an antiparasitic medication with uses in animals and humans, has been widely touted by media personalities, right-wing politicians and even some doctors as a cure and preventative for COVID-19 – despite the evidence that it does not work.

But even as bodies such as the World Health Organization and Health Canada have warned against its use for COVID-19, misinformation on ivermectin has continued to spread, including claims that the medication led to dramatic decreases in infections in Japan and India. The Star fact-checked those claims:

Japan – the Olympic ‘miracle’

In recent months, reports have surfaced online that Japan, where about 80 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, abandoned vaccines in favor of ivermectin.

First off, it bears noting that the Japanese government has never approved ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

Still, the claim that ivermectin quashed COVID-19 in Japan has been circulated by right-wing media, including Red Deer, Alta.-based Todayville and contrarian YouTubers and more. In November, British nurse-turned-COVID YouTuber John Campbell talked about the “Japanese miracle” in a video that has more than 1.5 million views.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk on a street in Tokyo this week.

As the story goes, Japan was experiencing a massive wave of COVID-19 cases right around the 2021 summer Olympics, until the chair of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki, recommended in an August 13 press conference that ivermectin be considered to treat COVID- 19. Japan, which was tracking more than 20,000 daily new COVID-19 cases at the end of August, saw a rapid decline in infections to less than 10,000 per day by mid-September.

But according to Poynter’s fact-checking site PolitiFact, the Tokyo Medical Association is a professional organization that’s not affiliated with the government; while it can make recommendations, it can not direct policy.

There’s no information about how many people in Japan took ivermectin as a result of Ozaki’s endorsement in August, and as it turns out, he also promoted ivermectin months prior in February, shortly before Japan’s cases started to increase.

At the same time, as Japan’s cases were falling in September, vaccinations were ramping up: The country’s vaccination rate went from less than 50 per cent at the end of August to more than 70 per cent at the end of October. Much of Japan was also under strict lockdown until the end of September.

The verdict: There is no evidence to suggest that ivermectin contributed to Japan’s COVID-19 decline in the fall of 2021. Much more likely, falling case counts were thanks to increasing vaccinations and public health restrictions in place around the same time.

India – the tale of Uttar Pradesh

Another alleged ivermectin success story that’s made waves on the internet as of late is that of Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state with a population of more than 240 million.

“HUGE: Uttar Pradesh, India Announces State Is COVID-19 Free Proving the Effectiveness of” Deworming Drug “IVERMECTIN,” reads a September 2021 headline on American right-wing news site Gateway Pundit.

The article claims that Uttar Pradesh and Delhi saw dramatic decreases in COVID-19 cases in June 2021 because they used “ivermectin early and preventatively.” By comparison, Kerala, a state that was described as “over-dependent on vaccines and less dependent” on ivermectin saw a steady rise in cases after an initial drop in June.

“In the end, (ivermectin) did what mountains of science said it could do. It saved lives. How do we know? BECAUSE UTTAR PRADESH IS NOW COVID-FREE, ”pro-ivermectin group the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance tweeted in September.

People wait to cast their votes during local panchayat elections in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in this April 2021 photo.

However, there is no data on how many people in Uttar Pradesh took ivermectin at any point in time, making it impossible to show any connection between ivermectin use and falling case counts.

While the Uttar Pradesh government credited ivermectin for its low death and positivity rates in May 2021, it had been giving out the drug since August 2020, far before the height of the crisis.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, funded by the government, recommended ivermectin for COVID-19 in May 2021, but reversed this recommendation in September, citing lack of evidence.

The TOGETHER trial, the largest placebo control trial for COVID in the world to date, found ivermectin offered no significant benefit against COVID-19.

Furthermore, there have been questions surrounding the reliability of India’s COVID-19 data. The New York Times reported in September that the Indian Council of Medical Research suppressed data to support a political narrative.

A group of US scientists looked at all deaths in India over the course of the pandemic and found Uttar Pradesh had no reported deaths at all for several months – not from COVID-19 nor anything else.

On Twitter, Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz suggested Uttar Pradesh’s COVID-19 success in the summer of 2021 could be due to widespread immunity from previous outbreaks, vaccines, and strong public health measures.

The verdict: There is no credible evidence to show that ivermectin contributed to falling cases in Uttar Pradesh. There have been concerns raised with India’s COVID-19 data. Immunity from past infection, vaccines and public health restrictions could have played a role.

Lex Harvey is a Toronto-based newsletter producer for the Star and author of the First Up newsletter. Follow her on Twitter: @lexharvs


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