NORFOLK, Va. – Ivermectin, a drug widely used to treat worms in horses and cows, is now at the center of a controversial debate over COVID-19 care. A Norfolk doctor is leading an effort to make a controversial drug a standard treatment for COVID-19 patients, even though government health agencies strongly warn against it.
Dr. Paul Marik, a critical care doctor at Sentara Norfolk General and professor of medicine and chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, believes ivermectin helps kill the COVID-19 virus.
However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health say there’s not enough data to prove ivermectin works against the virus.
“Ivermectin is not a recommended treatment for COVID- 19. It is not a recommended drug to prevent COVID-19,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Marik, who’s received national attention for his treatment protocols for sepsis, believes the data he’s reviewed on ivermectin designed for humans proves it can put a dent in the pandemic. He shared his views in a YouTube video viewed more than 200,000 times.
“It’s safe,” he said in a video on the Drbeen Medical Lectures YouTube channel. “That way we'll eliminate [COVID-19]. It will be gone.”
A disclaimer on that video says it’s for educational purposes and is not intended to provide medical advice.
“There's a lot of passion about this, but the thing we need most is really data,” said Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease expert who’s guiding a major study about ivermectin, funded by the NIH.
The World Health Organization joins the NIH, CDC and FDA in warning against the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients, saying there’s not enough data from rigorous trials to prove it does more good than harm. Even Merck, the drug company that makes ivermectin, said, “There’s no meaningful evidence” to make ivermectin treatment for COVID-19 infections.
The buzz over ivermectin began with the study “The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro,” released in June 2020. The study’s authors found ivermectin stopped the virus from replicating inside the lab and that it warranted “further investigation for possible benefits in humans.”
Another study of 280 COVID-19 patients in Florida found, “Ivermectin treatment was associated with lower mortality during treatment of COVID-19." However, the study’s authors warned, “Randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings."
In December 2020, Dr. Pierre Kory, who co-founded the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance with Dr. Marik, testified about the benefits of ivermectin according to studies he reviewed. YouTube removed the testimony, labeling it misinformation.
A News 3 investigation found the recording of Dr. Kory’s testimony on the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs website.
“There is a drug that is proving to be of miraculous impact,” testified Dr. Kory. “Mountains of data have emerged from many centers and countries around the world showing the miraculous effectiveness of ivermectin."
A few months later, in February 2021, the NIH said data from trials with favorable outcomes about ivermectin were small, administered various doses of the drug and patients were often on other medications along with ivermectin.
“Don’t do it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci warned. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that that works, and it could potentially have toxicity.”
Even with Dr. Fauci’s word of caution, faith in ivermectin fueled a 24-fold increase in prescriptions for the drug since the pandemic began, reaching more than 88,000 prescriptions by mid-August, according to the CDC.
Others are taking matters into their own hands, easily getting ivermectin meant for large animals over the counter or online.
“The dosing for a person who might weigh 150 pounds is very different than the dosing that might be given to a horse or a cow, who, you know, can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds,” said Dr. Brandy Darby, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.
Poison control centers across the country are reporting a three-fold increase in calls about ivermectin, including hallucinations and tremors, according to the CDC.
The fight over ivermectin treatments is showing in courtrooms across the country, too. The wife of a hospitalized and incubated COVID-19 patient in Ohio sued the hospital because they wouldn’t treat him with ivermectin. The judge initially ruled in the wife’s favor but later revered his decision.
News 3 Investigates tracked down the ivermectin policies at some of our local hospitals and urgent care centers.
Riverside Regional does allow their doctors to treat COVID-19 patients with ivermectin. So does Patient First.
Bon Secours didn’t expressly say yes or no, but they did point us to the FDA and NIH guidance not to prescribe ivermectin for COVID-19 patients.
Chesapeake Regional declined to comment.
Velocity Urgent Care does not allow its doctors to prescribe ivermectin for COVID-19 patients.
CHKD officials said, “We do not recommend it and do not prescribe it.”
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where Dr. Marik treats critical patients, doesn’t allow him or any of the doctors in the Sentara network to prescribe ivermectin for COVID-19 patients, citing the FDA, CDC and NIH’s guidance.
News 3 Investigates reached out to Dr. Marik several times for an interview about ivermectin. Our team never heard back. We did, however, find a widely viewed video online of Dr. Marik questioning public health agencies for their guidance on ivermectin.
“Hopefully the WHO, the CDC, the NIH will listen to us,” said Dr. Marik. “They can only be deaf and dumb for so many months.”
Dr. Marik and his group of doctors wrote a paper analyzing the data from trials favorable to ivermectin use in COVID-19 patients, but Frontiers Medical Journal pulled it from publication, saying, “The article made a series of strong, unsupported claims based on studies with insufficient statistical significance, and at times, without the use of control groups.”
“The gold standard is sort of a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial,” said Dr. Boulware. “People volunteer to be in a study and they're randomized to either get the medicine or not get the medicine, and they don't know what they're getting. And investigators don't know what they're getting either. Such that it's sort of a fair like assessment of like, okay, what is the actual benefit?"
In August 2021, the initial findings of the Together Trial – with all the rigorous standards Dr. Boulware outlined – were shared with the NIH. Dr. Boulware said it casts doubt on ivermectin as an effective treatment for COVID-19.
“Over 700 people where it didn't have any benefit over placebo kind of puts a little bit of a question mark, in my mind,” Dr. Boulware said.
Dr. Boulware is advising another randomized, double blind placebo controlled trial aimed at determining the effectiveness of ivermectin. He hopes the data will add evidence to the ivermectin debate.
“If ivermectin is highly effective, then everyone should be using it. And the same time, if it's really proven not to be effective, and [doesn’t] have any benefit, then people should not be using it and they should really move on to something else,” said Dr. Boulware, who stresses vaccines are the best way to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19 infections.
Dr. Marik’s group shared a disclaimer on their site, explaining they are not against vaccinations. Dr. Marik revealed in a YouTube video that he is vaccinated. The group’s site also says the information they share is “not intended as a replacement for diagnosis or treatment by your doctor.”
Unrelated to the ivermectin debate, News 3 Investigates learned Dr. Marik was reprimanded by the Board of Medicine for prescribing drugs like oxycodone to people who were not his patients. The Board ordered him to complete continuing education on prescribing controlled substances.
Dr. Marik complied with the order, and the Board closed the case.