Kansas hospital leaders support study of ivermectin, favor alternative with better results

Infectious disease expert Matthew Shoemaker told Kansans to wait on the data from an ongoing U.S. study regarding ivermectin before committing to using it because past research had proven flimsy. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of University of Kansas Health System on Facebook)

TOPEKA — While a Kansas hospital’s leaders are confident about ivermectin’s ineffectiveness as an alternative treatment to COVID-19, they support a study of the drug and favor another option with more promising results.

The anti-parasitic medicine gained popularity during the pandemic after an analysis showed potential benefits in patients suffering from COVID-19. However, the largest study in the analysis proved to be poorly executed, making the data and conclusion tenuous at best, said doctors from the University of Kansas Health System.

Still, the KU Health System is teaming up with a nationwide effort to study the effects of ivermectin on COVID-19 patients to ensure there is compelling evidence backing the conclusion.

“Right now, the data is pretty clear that this is not an effective treatment,” said Matthew Shoemaker, an infectious disease expert with KU Health System, at a briefing Wednesday. “Though generally it’s a benign drug, at higher doses it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and in the setting of COVID-19 can make your disease worse and end up in hospitalization.”

Ivermectin use and alternative treatments to the coronavirus are among the most critical areas of health policy to be addressed in the Kansas Legislature this year. Bills in the Senate would provide for off-label use of drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican under investigation for prescribing ivermectin to COVID-19 patients, is hosting the Early Covid Treatment Symposium Wednesday. The event features out-of-state doctors known to have spread misinformation surrounding the pandemic.

While doctors like KU Health System’s Steven Stites are not in favor of this treatment method, a new alternative option has attracted his interest. Paxlovid, a five-day oral COVID-19 treatment produced by Pfizer, has run in short supply since its Dec. 22 Food and Drug Administration emergency authorization and new studies reaffirm its benefits.

Stites said there was good reason to believe this method could significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death among COVID-19 patients.

“The part of SARS CoV-2 that it goes after is a part of the virus that has been maintained through all the variants,” Stites said. “The thought is it should work for all variants and likely all future variants.”

The studies conducted for Paxlovid follow more sound protocols and return more convincing results, he said.

However, supplies of Paxlovid have commonly run low, which hamstrung many health care providers during a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant. During the State of the Union address Tuesday, President Joe Biden said Americans would be able to get the antiviral pills for free if they test positive at a pharmacy.

The administration plans to launch hundreds of these sites nationwide during March.

“We need access to this. This is to me the homerun, right?” said Mario Castro, vice chairman for clinical and translational research at KU Medical Center. “If we can make this treatment available to all my patients, whether or not you have the means or not, and you can get started early in the course of the disease, then we can get ahead of this.”

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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