Speed Reads

You are not a cow

The 'truly bonkers story' of how feed-store ivermectin went dangerously viral

"A lot of people have asked me this week: Where did this ivermectin obsession come from?" NBC News' Ben Collins tweeted Thursday. "Who could possibly benefit from it? Most importantly, why did my antivaxx aunt start eating horse goo from the tractor store?" The answers, he said, is a "truly bonkers story" involving a group called America's Frontline Doctors (AFLD), an affiliated website over-promising ivermectin prescriptions, a Florida online pharmacy, and frustrated vaccine opponents who end up eating paste meant for deworming horses and cattle to try and fight COVID-19.

The CDC and FDA have issued separate warnings in the past week against ingesting ivermectin to fight COVID-19.

The human version of ivermectin, "originally introduced as a veterinary drug for livestock animals in the late-1970s," is generally safe in low doses and "useful in combating certain human diseases caused by parasites," though not viruses, NBC News reports. Interest in ivermectin as a COVID treatment started in late 2020 but remained "reasonably low until July." That's about when AFLD began promoting ivermectin among anti-vaccination groups. 

AFLD "describes itself as a 'non-partisan' group of medical professionals," Time reported Thursday. "But it originated as a right-wing political organization," founded to support former President Donald Trump's push to dial back pandemic mitigation measures. AFLD later found promoting alternative COVID-19 treatments profitable, and it's now a "leading purveyor of medical disinformation" in the anti-vaccination world, Time adds.

"They're the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen," Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, tells Time. "And in the case of ivermectin, it's extremely dangerous."

"In recent weeks, a variety of conservative figures and anti-vaccination activists have embraced the drug," NBC News reports. "Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson have mentioned it. Phil Valentine, the conservative radio host who died from COVID-19 this week, also turned to ivermectin after his diagnosis and urged his listeners to do the same. (He later encouraged listeners to get vaccinated.)"

"First it was hydroxychloroquine, then it was bleach, powerful lights, now it's horse dewormer?" Seth Meyers sighed on Thursday's Late Night. "I'm honestly terrified to imagine what's next. One day we're going to wake up and Brian Kilmeade's gonna be telling people who can cure COVID by eating kibble and sleeping in a bed of kitty litter."

Read more about the ivermectin problem at Time and NBC News