Members Only | September 8, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
For members of Team Horse Paste, the fear is crossing the line from ‘bold independent thinker’ to ‘utter crackpot’
Grifters played on people’s hopes for a quick covid fix and their fear of vaccines, and now their fans are paying the price.
Proponents of ivermectin as a treatment for covid are now in damage-control mode after a series of stories about people overdosing on horse paste and sheep drench from feed stores.
Such luminaries as Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson, Brett Weinstein and United States Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) stoked demand for the dewormer, only to have the craze blow up in the faces when the ginned-up demand outstripped the pharmaceutical supply and people started self-medicating with horse paste.
“Bro, do I have to sue CNN?” grumbled internet tough guy Joe Rogan. “They’re making shit up. They keep saying I’m taking horse dewormer.” Narrator: He was taking horse dewormer.
The zeal of the ivermectin prophets was self-defeating. The whole point of being an Ivermectin Guy is that you can indulge in antivaxx conspiracy theories while sounding smarter than the Microchip Guys. That’s why they get so mad when you call it “horse paste.”
Internet tough guy Joe Rogan will have you know that the ivermectin he (supposedly) took for his (supposed) covid was (supposedly) from a doctor. “Bro, do I have to sue CNN?” Rogan grumbled. “They’re making shit up. They keep saying I’m taking horse dewormer.” It’s an image thing: Rooting for Team Horse Paste pushes you over the line from “bold independent thinker” to “utter crackpot.”
The Basic Ivermectin Conspiracy Theory goes like this: There’s a cheap cure for covid but Big Pharma doesn’t want you to have it, because it’s a generic drug. A more elaborate version, shared by the host of the aptly-named Dark Horse podcast on Tucker Carlson’s show, posits that the government is refusing to acknowledge ivermectin as a safe and effective treatment for covid because to do so would somehow undercut the Emergency Use Authorizations for covid vaccines.
This makes no sense, given the government is funding an ivermectin trial. But it’s not about the logic. It’s about feeding the anti-vaxx fantasy that vaccine mandates will evaporate if we go all in on ivermectin. Human prescriptions for ivermectin soared from fewer than 4,000 a week pre-pandemic to nearly 90,000 a week in August.
The hype beasts of the Intellectual Dark Web dangle a miracle cure in front of their credulous audience and pretend to be shocked when they hit up the feed store. Ivermectin boosters know that ethical doctors won’t prescribe ivermectin for covid because there’s no evidence it’s a safe or effective against the virus. Indeed, the American Medical Association strongly advises against prescribing ivermectin for covid outside of a clinical trial.
Ivermectin kills the covid virus in a Petri dish, but only at concentrations that will never be matched in the human body — even if you take enough to choke a horse. The most famous clinical trial purporting to show benefit in humans was withdrawn after it was determined the authors plagiarized the text from pro-ivermectin press releases and fabricated their data. The data are so implausible some experts question whether the trial ever happened. Pro-ivermectin trials have a funny habit of appearing as pre-prints making fantastical claims before being retracted amid allegations of fraud or conflict of interest.
Ivermectin has a good safety record when it’s prescribed by a doctor or a vet to treat parasites, but ivermectin-related calls to the nation’s poison control centers have quintupled, because people are guesstimating doses of livestock meds. It’s a fool’s game. No safe or effective dosage has been established for covid because there’s no good evidence it works. Ivermectin partisans are always reminding us that some guys won a Nobel Prize for using ivermectin to treat something else. They’re showing their ignorance of medicine. The drug, the dose, and the diagnosis actually matter.
However, the real harm of the ivermectin craze is not the relatively rare—though completely pointless—horse paste ODs. It’s the much larger group of people who are using ivermectin as an excuse not to get vaccinated, whether they’re currently taking the drug or not. If you’re on the fence about vaccination, the myth that ivermectin cures covid makes it easier to skip your shot.
Some pundits have chided irreverent commentators for poking fun at people who eschew a free, safe and effective vaccine and pay for animal drugs that won’t cure covid. Americans aren’t eating horse paste because it’s a noble rural tradition to self-medicate from the tractor supply. Grifters played on people’s hopes for a quick covid fix and their fear of vaccines, and now their fans are paying the price.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.