Ivermectin issue sows division in House, solons trade barbs over efficacy

Lawmakers engaged in heated debate Wednesday over the endorsement by some of them of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug normally used for animals, as an unproven treatment for COVID-19 patients.

“I appeal to my colleagues in the House of Representatives… Each time we talk people listen. We have to be responsible with what we say in public, we have to avoid causing false hopes, confusion, distrust [of] the government and disorientation,” Ako-Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin said.

He was clearly referring to Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, who announced the day before that he would distribute the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to COVID-19 patients and the elderly in Quezon City, despite Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings on the unauthorized use of the drug used to treat worms in animals.

“I am willing to go to jail to save lives,” Defensor said after the Department of Health threatened the public who are “dispensing” ivermectin with violation of Republic Act 9711 or illegal drug distribution, which carries a penalty of one to ten years of imprisonment or a fine from P50,000 to P5 million.

Defensor said he will consider the possibility of filing multiple homicide through reckless imprudence against the Department of Health and Bureau of Food and Drugs for the thousands of COVID-19 deaths “when push comes to shove.”

Garbin, however, said officials should not lose sight of the real issues that must be addressed amid the pandemic: the vaccine rollout, health protocols and distributing aid.

“Vaccine, health protocols and financial aid are solutions and not speculation and opinion. Second, there is a reason why we have the [Food and Drug Administration], we need to trust our institution,” Garbin said.

“Conspiracies, speculations and opinions will not help” he said. “All that we hear about ivermectin are just speculations absent credible studies by our experts.”

“Let us allow our experts to do their job. Studying the effects of certain proposed medications is not something that can be rushed even when we are in a pandemic. Our experts need to make sure that the proposed medication is really a cure and will not pose an added danger to the health of the public,” he said.

Defensor took offense at Garbin’s remarks, which were posted on a Viber group.

“I thank you for this statement and the opportunity to clarify the issues you have raised in relation to the ivermectin medication,” Defensor said.

“…I would have let your statement pass if not for your unfair accusation that we are basing our stance on conspiracies, speculation and opinion,” he said.

He said his statements in support of the drug, along with other lawmakers who support the treatment, were based on their “better understanding on the subject as shared by experts and medical studies conducted on the use of the drug.”

Defensor did not cite the names of the experts or the studies conducted on the drug, however. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is not enough data from any clinical trials on the drug to recommend its use.

Defensor cited his own experience taking ivermectin.

“I took ivermectin and I was able to survive COVID. I am sorry if you feel that way regarding our position, but I cannot in conscience allow the 13,435 deaths due to COVID to increase uncontrollably knowing that there is a possible solution,” he said.

“The point is our health officials should be pro-active in finding solutions to our problems. Doctors in other countries are allowed to prescribe. Clinical trials are being done all over the world and yet we are still thinking if we should do it. Lastly, it is a very, very safe drug and we should be allowed to make a choice,” said Defensor.

Garbin responded to Defensor’s comments by posting in the Viber group a link to a news article reporting that ivermectin’s own manufacturer said “there is no basis in using it for COVID-19.”

1-Pacman Rep. Eric Pineda, who also advocates the use of ivermectin for COVID-19 patients, said he also did his own research on the drug.

“I’m very passionate about this because I want to find hope for our Filipinos that there is this drug that maybe can prevent them from catching the virus,” Pineda told ANC Wednesday.

“If they do catch it, if you take one tablet, for three to five days you get well and it’s very, very cheap. This is what I’m fighting for because there’s no hope,” he added.

There is no scientific proof or data to support Pineda’s claims.

The WHO on Wednesday recommended that ivermectin should only be used within clinical trials to determine if the anti-parasitic drug is effective in treating COVID-19.

“The evidence has shown that there is no direct effect or any mechanism of any antiviral action against SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] that currently exists,” said Socorro Escalanta, coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies of the WHO Western Pacific.

The DOH warned that persons distributing and promoting unregistereddrugs such as ivermectin are violating the Food and Drug Administration Law.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said people who are not health care professionals cannot just dispense medicine for patients’ use.

She added that promoters of ivermectin are also violating the FDA Law.

The FDA earlier warned that the ivermectin grade that is approved in the Philippines is the one used for animals.

Despite the warning from FDA and the DOH, Defensor insisted on Tuesday that there is nothing illegal in pushing for the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients.

Senator Christopher Go, meanwhile, said the FDA should thoroughly assess and validate claims of various COVID-19 medications applying for permits, and these should be in accordance with existing laws to ensure the safety and efficacy of these drugs.

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