I haven’t written about antihelminthic (anti-roundworm) drug ivermectin in a while for the simple reason that, although it’s still being sold as a save, “Nobel Prize-winning” miracle cure for COVID-19 (even though its discoverers didn’t win the Nobel Prize because ivermectin treated viral illnesses) that The Man doesn’t want you to know about, it just hasn’t been as big a deal this summer as it was last summer. Indeed, the last times I wrote about ivermectin, I pointed out how it reminded me of acupuncture now in that its advocates reject high quality randomized trials showing it doesn’t work in favor of lower quality observational studies full of biases, using that example to suggest that science-based medicine isn’t just good for analyzing scientifically implausible (or impossible) alternative medicine like homeopathy; it’s also good for all medicine, including implausible COVID-19 treatments like ivermectin. That was back in April. Here it is September, and now ivermectin is back, thanks to Mikki Willis, in the form of a 14-minute video entitled Ivermectin: The Truth:
Let’s go into a bit of background before I look at the movie itself. I will, however, mention that I rarely watch videos of this sort. The only reason I watched this one is because it is only less than 14 minutes long. Basically, I find that watching most YouTube videos by cranks for blog material tends to be way more effort than it’s worth, but I sometimes make exceptions for exceedingly wild or viral videos or, like this one, videos that are short.
In any event, you remember Mikki Willis, don’t you? He produced one of the first viral crank videos of the pandemic, way back in May 2020, called Plandemic. (How clever.) Willis followed up a few months later with a a “sequel” called Plandemic:Indoctornation. (Groan.) As you might recall, in both films Willis portrayed the COVID-19 pandemic as being “fake.” In the first Plandemic he cast an old school antivaxxer named Judy Mikovitz as the brave maverick scientist persecuted by the fascist thugs led by—of course!—Anthony Fauci for her prior work on a retrovirus (XMRV) that she had blamed for chronic fatigue syndrome and autism. In the second film, he portrayed a conspiracy theory in which SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, had been engineered and released into the wild as part of a plot to control the world through more restrictive and authoritarian policies and laws instituted in response to the pandemic, although in this film Bill Gates replaced Anthony Fauci as the primary villain.
So now Mikki Willis has decided to turn his filmmaking skills to ivermectin, the antihelminthic drug that’s widely used to treat roundworm-based diseases in humans and in veterinary practice and has been touted as a repurposed drug that is highly effective against COVID-19. Unfortunately, the production values of this video are pretty good, certainly better than that of the two previous Plandemic films. The narrative is very predictable, and dramatic. The film begins with a shot of Mikki Willis, looking so very, very serious, filmed against a dark background speaking so seriously directly to the camera, with the caption, “Mikki Willis, Father, Filmmaker” below him. He wants to assure that the worst misinformation is not what you think it is:
Of all the harmful misinformation spread over the last couple of years, one of the most disturbing false narratives was targeted at the Nobel Prize-winning human medicine ivermectin. What you’re about to see will reveal the motive behind the smear campaign against one of the safest and most effective medicines of this era, a medicine that, according to the numerous top scientists I’ve interviewed, could have ended the pandemic before it began.
Note how Willis emphasizes the word “human” in his narration. That’s clearly an attempt to counter the narrative that ivermectin is “horse paste,” a narrative that very much stung ivermectin promoters. It is, of course, true that ivermectin is a human drug. It’s used to treat all sorts of diseases in humans caused by parasitic roundworm species. Examples include ascariasis (roundworm infestation of the small intestine), onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness because the larvae of the filarial worm that causes the disease when introduced into the body by bites of blackflies can infest the eyes and cause blindness), and a number of other diseases. Of course, these sorts of worms also affect animals, for which ivermectin is often used to treat them. In any event, a good portion of the early part of the film involves emphasizing that the developers of ivermectin won the Nobel Prize for their discovery, which is true but misleading because they won the Nobel Prize for discovering how safe and effective ivermectin is for treating roundworm infestations in animals and humans, not discovering that it treats viral disease.
Early in the video, Willis shows a number of clips of news and late night talk show hosts calling ivermectin “horse paste,” followed by a now infamous clip of CNN medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Joe Rogan’s podcast sheepishly “admitting” that ivermectin is a human medicine and, worse, just sitting there and taking it as Rogan castigated CNN for telling a “lie” when Anderson Cooper referred to ivermectin as “horse dewormer” (which, of course, it is, among other things). I would argue that it was not unfair to refer to horse paste/dewormer, because around this time last year there were a lot of stories describing how the false claims that ivermectin was a highly effective COVID-19 treatment had led to runs on farm supply stores and leading to severe shortages of horse ivermectin. In brief, people were using the horse version of ivermectin in the false hope of preventing or treating COVID-19. That is a fact, and Dr. Gupta was basically
Willis is also apparently very unhappy about ivermectin being portrayed as “dangerous.” Indeed, Willis goes out of his way to cite an FDA Tweet begging people not to take ivermectin by saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.” Early on, there’s a shot of Dr. Paul Marik comparing ivermectin to Tylenol and stating that you are more likely to die from taking Tylenol than ivermectin, which is sort of true but again misleading. For one thing, Tylenol works when used at appropriate doses. For another thing, for Tylenol to kill your liver, you have to take a significant overdose.
While it is true that when used at its appropriate human dose, ivermectin is a very safe drug (which is part of the reason its discoverers won the Nobel Prize), again, people were using the horse formulation and taking large doses, the narrative by Dr. Robert “discoverer of mRNA vaccines” Malone that the per-weight dose of ivermectin is the same for horses as it is for humans not withstanding. Maybe so, but were people scaling the horse dose down to humans, given that horses weigh several times what a typical human does? No, some were using several times the human dose and suffering toxicities serious enough to hospitalize them. It is also admittedly true that the extent of the number of people who suffered toxicity due to ivermectin was exaggerated in the media at times, it is also true that, like all drugs, ivermectin can be toxic, which, given its ineffectiveness treating COVID-19, provides more than enough reason to discourage people from using it for anything other than actual diseases that it is known to be able to treat effectively; i.e., diseases caused by roundworm infestations.
Next come the “persecution” stories, in which the FDA advisory against using ivermectin issued about a year ago supposedly resulted in the “cancellation” of so many brave maverick doctors, such as Pierre Kory, Richard Bartlett, Peter McCullough, and others discussing how their advocacy of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 had brought a world of hurt down upon them. Naturally Dr. Kory bragged about his awesomeness as a critical care physician, and Dr. Bartlett bragged about his being a trauma doctor who taught Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). (Seriously, though, a number of surgery residents in our residency program are ATLS instructors. It’s important, but it’s not all that impressive to be an ATLS instructor. You just have to learn the algorithms well enough to be certified to teach them to others.)
Of course, these brave mavericks weren’t being “silenced” because they were wrong and advocating a unproven drug that even then didn’t look as though it would be very effective, but because they were bucking the establishment. Naturally, they brag about how many publications they had. Never mind that those publications were in areas mostly unrelated to infectious disease and antiviral therapies. Yet these brave mavericks were “cancelled,” and the film features clips of them lamenting how they had had complaints lodged against them. Particularly impressive as emotional manipulation was a clip where Dr. Marik teared up as he described how he “could not be a doctor anymore” and had to “stand by idly” and watch COVID-19 patients die. No, he was just being told that he shouldn’t use an ineffective medicine.
At this point, we had the conspiracy narrative. According to Willis, ivermectin is both safe and effective—so much so that it could have ended the pandemic before it started!—but The Man was suppressing the evidence and lying about it. Worse, The Man was even persecuting Galileo doctors who had been pioneering the use of the medication to treat COVID-19 patients! But why?
I think you know why.
Unsurprisingly, the reasons that Willis proposes for the “suppression” of ivermectin-pushing doctors are big pharma and its desire to profit off of vaccines. There is a pivot to a claim that, if ivermectin were effective, then the vaccines never would have been able to receive emergency use approvals (EUAs) from the FDA because the regulation governing EUAs require that there be no other safe and effective FDA-approved treatment for a disease or condition. Malone even claims that, if there’s a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19, then the “logic” behind issuing an EUA for an “experimental” vaccine becomes “no longer supportable.” Willis thus argues that the reason ivermectin was “suppressed” was to pave the way for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (and later others) and, of course, the massive profits those vaccines could bring in. Interestingly, one of the documents cited comes from the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), the right wing “think tank” responsible for the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), the infamous document advocating a “let ‘er rip” strategy for the virus, with vaguely defined “focused protection” for those at high risk of severe disease and death. This document, I note, was published two months before the vaccines started rolling out.
In any event, Willis features lots of interview snippets claiming that ivermectin would have “threatened” the vaccination effort, with global vaccination programs being portrayed as the mindless dogma of the public health establishment. Then, of course, ivermectin is cheap, a fact that’s used to bolster the false claim that ivermectin was being “suppressed” in order to protect the COVID-19 vaccination program. Willis also includes lots of clips about big pharma profits and influence. He even uses a clip of John Oliver talking about how much influence big pharma has on the media and medical literature.
There’s a whole section on the supposed “evidence” base for ivermectin that I won’t spend a lot of time on given how much I’ve discussed how weak this evidence base is, how fraudulent some of it is, and how newer studies demonstrate rather conclusively that ivermectin doesn’t work against COVID-19. It’s all the usual suspects, and Willis features Marik and others claiming that the ivermectin trials were “designed to fail”—by pharmaceutical companies, naturally!—and that ivermectin really is a miracle cure. Of course, if clinical trials can be “designed to fail,” they can also be “designed to succeed,” which was part of the problem with most of the examples cited by Willis. They were crappy trials, almost guaranteed to produce seemingly “positive” results. The real issue is that, the more rigorous the ivermectin trial, the more likely it was to be negative, rather like acupuncture trials. None of that stops Willis from claiming that the media ginned up coverage of every negative ivermectin study, while ignoring how right wing media ginned up every poorly designed or even fraudulent positive study of ivermectin.
Also, according to Willis, the NIH is in on it too, because of course it is. Also, to Willis, ivermectin is the “single greatest public health achievement” in our history.
Having watched enough of these films, I’ve become aware of their structure, and Willis’ film is one of the tightest, most concise versions of the conspiracy theory documentary. It has all the elements of quack documentaries going back to time immemorial and books lauding quacks:
- A miracle drug/treatment for a deadly disease.
- The brave maverick doctor or doctors who have discovered this miracle drug/treatment, who are portrayed as geniuses.
- The “persecution” of the brave maverick doctors for just wanting to help patients.
- Enemies, specifically big pharma and the government, whose profits and interests are threatened by the miracle drug/treatment and the brave maverick doctors promoting it.
- A deceptive description of the evidence base for the miracle drug/treatment that portrays it as, well, miraculous.
- The media as part of the conspiracy to shut down the miracle drug/treatment and the brave maverick doctors promoting it.
- A note of hope at the end that the public will “wake up” to the conspiracy and take back the power to use the miracle drug/treatment.
Once you become familiar with this sort of narrative and the elements, all or some of which are generally employed in such propaganda exercises, you’ll see them everywhere in science denying films and books. Indeed, Willis’ film reminds me very much of other quack and antivax conspiracy films, such as the movies about Stanislaw Burzynski from a decade ago or Del Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield‘s antivax epic VAXXED from six years ago. The narratives are very similar, but Willis distills the narrative down to an easy-to-digest 14 minutes, which makes his film peddling disinformation about ivermectin all the more insidious.
And, of course, at the end it’s revealed that there will soon be a Plandemic 3, with this movie apparently being a taste of what’s to come, because of course there will be. Marvelous.