Goa Health Minister Viswajit Rane announced on May 10, 2021 that the state government will be starting prophylactic or preventive treatment of people above 18 years of age by administering Ivermectin among COVID patients, irrespective of symptoms.

The announcement came at a time when the Phase III of vaccination for 18-44 age group was expected to have been delayed till the third week of May owing to vaccine shortage in the state.

After Goa, the Uttarakhand government also decided to distribute the tablets among residents of the state as a preventive drug. The state's Chief Secretary Om Prakash issued the order saying the decision was taken on the recommendation of the state-level clinical technical committee.

The move can mislead people as the World Health Organization, a manufacturer of the drug Merck and the three experts FactChecker spoke to warn against it.

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of WHO, tweeted that the WHO is against the use of Ivermectin for COVID patients, except for clinic trials.

A WHO guideline development group, after conducting 16 randomised control trials in both in-patients and out-patients suffering from COVID-19, determined that the evidence on whether Ivermectin reduces mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, need for hospital admission and time to clinical improvement in COVID-19 patients is of "very low certainty".

About the drug's safety and efficacy, an analysis by Merck & Co. Inc, a New York-based company that manufactures Ivermectin, showed:

  • No scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies
  • No meaningful evidence of clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease
  • A concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies

Dr Madhu Pai, Professor and Canada Research Chair of Epidemiology & Global Health at McGill University, tweeted:

"For preventive medication, the evidence is even insufficient. Ivermectin being advised by general practitioners and also for home-care across the country has compounded the problem further. That is undesirable. Even if a doctor says that any of his patients have improved after being prescribed this drug means nothing more but a condition where the patient would any way have improved without Ivermectin," Dr T Sundararaman, former Executive Director, National Health Systems Resource Centre, told FactChecker.

Virologist Dr T Jacob John echoed his view when he said, "It is beyond evidence that Ivermectin can be helpful for COVID patients. The only medication that is known to help in COVID treatment is convalescent plasma, that too only if effectively administered within 24 hours of diagnosis. It is mainly helpful for aged COVID-positive patients and for patients with co-morbidities."

Recently, media reports covered how doctors were being pressured into prescribing drugs that are not supported by evidence elsewhere. "I am prescribing once in a while because of the pressure… We are under so much pressure in the ICU that sometimes patients or family and friends call and say, he has been prescribed Ivermectin and I say okay, go ahead and take it. I really don't have the mind-space to argue. But not in the ICU, I have never prescribed [it] in the ICU," Sumit Ray, head of the department of critical care at Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi, told IndiaSpend in an interview.

Ivermectin in tablet form is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness), two conditions caused by parasitic worms in animals. It is also used to treat scabies, according to the WHO guidelines. But FDA has not approved Ivermectin for COVID treatment since it is not an anti-viral drug. It can be toxic for human beings since it is used in large animals in a highly concentrated form.

"Ivermectin needs to be given to the patients in a much higher dosage, if at all it is administered, in which side effects are likely," added Dr. Sundararaman. Taking a drug for unapproved use can be dangerous, the FDA consumer update report added.