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Ivermectin: Australian regulator bans drug as off-label Covid treatment after sharp rise in prescriptions

The rise in prescriptions is believed to have been driven by anti-vaccine media personalities

Lamiat Sabin
Friday 10 September 2021 16:07 BST
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Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug often used to de-worm livestock
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug often used to de-worm livestock (Shutterstock / HJBC)

Ivermectin has been banned for most off-label use in Australia after the number of people using it as a controversial and unproven “treatment” for Covid has spiked.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has banned the anti-parasitic drug from being proscribed for illnesses not described in its licence because it is concerned people are taking the medication instead of seeking approved treatment or having the Covid vaccines.

The regulator said numbers of people getting prescriptions for the drug, which is also used as a livestock de-wormer, increased between three and four times in recent months.

The drug has become prominent in some anti-vaccine circles in recent weeks, following unfounded claims on social media it is an effective treatment for coronavirus.

The TGA said that there were concerns over possible shortages for the drug’s intended uses, such as TGA-approved conditions including scabies and certain parasitic infections.

It added that it had acted on advice from the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling to ban the drug for most off-label use over concerns that people would overdose, saying that high doses are linked to effects as serious as seizures and coma.

Specialists, including infectious diseases physicians, dermatologists and gastroenterologists, will still be able to prescribe the drug for off-label use if they believe it to be appropriate for a particular patient.

Multiple major health organisations, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organisation have issued statements stating that ivermectin is not authorised or approved to treat Covid.

The TGA said: “These changes have been introduced because of concerns with the prescribing of oral ivermectin for the claimed prevention or treatment of Covid-19.

“Ivermectin is not approved for use in Covid-19 in Australia or in other developed countries, and its use by the general public for Covid-19 is currently strongly discouraged by the National Covid Clinical Evidence Taskforce, the World Health Organisation and the FDA.”

“The doses of ivermectin that are being advocated for use in unreliable social media posts and other sources for Covid-19 are significantly higher than those approved and found safe for scabies or parasite treatment,” it added.

Last week, Westmead hospital in Sydney reported that a patient was admitted after overdosing on ivermectin and a mixture of other claimed Covid “cures” found online.

Some doctors and clinics in Australia have been willing to sell prescriptions for the drug.

A clinic in a Tier 1 Covid exposure site in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs has been advertising online consultations for ivermectin for £45 ($85 AUD), The Guardian reported.

The clinic said it had received an “influx of ivermectin enquiries”. The enquiries are believed to have been driven by media personalities, such as podcaster Joe Rogan, who claimed that he had treated his Covid infection with the drug.

Dr Karen Price, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, said patients seeking ivermectin should “ignore recommendations from anti-vaxxers, get yourself vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as you can, tell your friends and family to do the same and abide by any Covid-19 restrictions in place”.

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