Ivermectin syringe

A syringe of of ivermectin — a drug used to kill worms and other parasites — intended for use in horses only, rests on the box it was packaged in. Health experts and medical groups are pushing to stamp out the growing use of the parasite drug to treat COVID-19, warning that it can cause harmful side effects and that there's little evidence it helps.

Just when you thought the COVID-19 pandemic would never end, a miracle appears.

That would be ivermectin, an anti-parasitic agent developed in 1975 and used for decades to treat diseases in humans and animals. Its discoverers won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. Its users have won new hope in the war against COVID — and big government.

In recent weeks, demand for ivermectin has risen more than twentyfold. Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham swear by it. Conservative podcast host Joe Rogan credits the drug with subduing his own case of COVID.

When pharmacies around the country sold out of ivermectin, people began buying the stronger version meant for animals. That prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue an unusually folksy warning: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

The FDA and other scientific killjoys declared that ivermectin has not been proven effective against COVID in clinical trials. Also, that its animal cousin can make users sick. Calls to poison control centers have soared.

Republicans are skeptical. To them, ivermectin is the best thing since… hydroxychloroquine. That anti-malaria drug showed initial promise early last year against COVID. Our former president took it himself — or so he said. The FDA approved it for emergency use. Alas, clinical trials found hydroxychloroquine didn’t really make a difference and could have serious side effects. Much like ivermectin.

Such objections often go unheard in times of trouble. For centuries, people have grasped at quack cures, long-shot remedies and protective totems. Islamic healers of the 11th century used magic bowls and necklaces to ward off disease. Christians, meanwhile, purchased images of kings and saints for that purpose. Somewhere I still have my childhood St. Christopher’s medal. Oddly, it didn’t protect me from measles, mumps, chickenpox or the Asian flu.

With the 19th century confirmation that diseases are typically caused by germs, quackery took on a more respectable veneer. Patent medicines appropriated the new language of science, including endorsements from doctors and satisfied patients.

Woodward’s Gripe Water, for instance, was an herbal formulation widely recommended in 20th century America to help babies through the pain of teething and colic. My mother likely administered it to me. Gripe Water worked, though the FDA banned it in 1993 for its high levels of alcohol. No wonder it left babies feeling no pain.

I could yammer on — about the false promises of crystals, cupping, colonic irrigation, ear candling, peach pits (marketed in the 1970s as a cancer cure called Laetrile) and urine therapy (you don’t want to know). The power of belief in such treatments is vast, and consumers without a scientific education or adequate information are at a disadvantage. All they have is desperation and hope.

So, it’s hard to blame Americans who see promise in COVID cures that turn out not to be. Their leaders are another story. Many of them support these fixes for political reasons — despite the bad outcomes, for their followers and for the country.

Consider the latest conservative favorite: Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody that does indeed aid recovery from COVID. Inconveniently, it costs $1,250 a dose, plus hospital fees, vs. $20 for a vaccine.

Like all such cures, however, Regeneron offers concerned conservatives an alternative to getting vaccinated, which they view as an infringement on freedom and a tool for enhancing government. Regeneron, like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, gives many conservatives, i.e., Republicans, the satisfaction of “owning” the libs.

That has become a major selling point for unconventional COVID remedies. If vaccination is tyranny, then miracle drugs are a convenient workaround. Importantly, they’re for use after you get COVID, not before.

That, too, scratches a characteristically Republican itch. Rather than spend wisely to prevent a problem, better to ignore it and deal with the consequences later. The party seems to apply that approach to infrastructure, climate, crime and myriad other problems. The goal is to keep government from doing much at all, even if the result may cause bigger problems.

That thinking has spawned whole industries of remediation — to run prisons and charter schools, clean up from climate catastrophes and health care shortcomings, and divert us from a host of other public failings. These businesses are pillars of the economy — with formidable lobbyists and campaign contributions.

I noticed the other day that my retirement fund owns stock in several such businesses. One of them, Kraft Heinz, is known as a leading maker of that great remedy for failed cuisine, ketchup. Did you know that ketchup can cure COVID? Pass it on.

Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and co-chairman of the advisory board. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.