“If It Can Save Lives, the World Needs to Know”

David O’Reilly, award-winning former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, says ivermectin deserves more research and balanced media coverage.

Editor’s note: David O’Reilly was an award-winning reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who covered the religion beat, among many other things, and twice won the Templeton Prize as the best religion writer in the United States. As the Inquirer’s religion writer for 22 years he traveled the globe covering Pope Francis, interviewed the Dali Lama, and reported in Africa and South America on poverty and the complex changes confronting families and the Catholic Church worldwide. His reporting on abusive priests led to a new law in Pennsylvania to protect victims. Today we publish his first story for RESCUE, which you can read here: “A Lifeline from Buenos Aires,” about Dr. Hector Carvallo of Argentina, who discovered ivermectin’s power to prevent COVID-19. In the following author’s note, O’Reilly discusses how he came to write one of the first profiles by a mainstream journalist about Carvallo’s historic contribution. ~Michael Capuzzo

Author’s Note

During my thirty-five years at The Philadelphia Inquirer I don’t recall ever appending an author’s note to any of my articles. But since my profile of Dr. Hector Carvallo is my first submission to RESCUE, and because ivermectin is so controversial, I will here share some thoughts on this divisive topic and explain why I’m weighing in.

What motivates my writing about ivermectin is the enormous amount of misinformation and disinformation being heaped on this drug’s apparent life-saving potential in the fight against Covid. I want to be clear that I personally believe vaccines are the best resource available against this deadly virus, and I urge everyone to be vaccinated. That said, there is also an abundance of evidence that ivermectin: A) has virucidal properties; B) safely provides some protection against contracting Covid, and; C) appears to be efficacious in the treatment of Covid infection when used with other medicines.

In order to satisfy myself that the above statement is correct, and to prepare for my Carvallo article, I have read a good number of reports on ivermectin trials that have appeared in medical journals. I’ve also pored over several meta-analyses of those trials. (For readers unfamiliar with the term meta-analysis, these are surveys of dozens of papers on a particular topic in an attempt to determine the broad pattern of findings.)

Most medical papers are highly technical, of course, and as a non-medical layman I found myself struggling to grasp terms like “polycyclic lactones” and mystifying word-strings like the “interaction of sulfated polysaccharides with positively charged domains on the glycoprotein envelope involved in binding with protein glycans on the surface of the host cell.”

But here’s the deal: the great majority of these studies report that ivermectin does indeed provide some protection against Covid and some mitigation of symptoms for those who’ve contracted it. And yet many of the world’s leading health agencies continue to scoff and pour doubt on ivermectin’s safety and efficacy, mocking it as a “horse medicine,” or a “deworming medicine.” Or they say the study trials have been too small, or too informal, or “observational” when only double-blind randomized controlled trials with placebos can validate a drug’s value.

My profile of Dr. Carvallo concludes by noting the unfortunate scorn that’s been heaped on ivermectin as an anti-Covid drug, and it briefly cites a recent BuzzFeed story criticizing Carvallo’s methodology in his drug trials. Well, okay. I agree with the authors of that article that his trials had an informal, seat-of-the-pants quality to them. But they were conducted with virtually no funding, urgently compelled by the fact that the death toll from Covid was rising exponentially when there were no vaccines on the horizon.

So here’s something I’d like the authors of the BuzzFeed article, and anyone else critical of Dr. Carvallo’s trials, to chew on. Just weeks into the Covid pandemic researchers in Australia discovered that ivermectin killed 99.98 percent of the Covid-19 virus in laboratory tests.

Now please ask yourself this: what was an appropriate response to that news? Ignore it? Or test it?

Carvallo and his colleague, Dr. Roberto Hirsch, urged the American Medical Association to test it, and quickly. It was only when the AMA showed no interest in their plea that they hastily confected their own unfunded trials, starting at their own hospital. The results, as noted in my RESCUE article, were overwhelmingly positive, and the doctors announced them to the medical community. What else should they have done? All evidence suggests that Carvallo and Hirsch were motivated by compassion, with no self-interest. They did not claim to have settled the ivermectin question. They believed their trials should precipitate further study—and fast. 

So when I read complaints that certain Covid trials of ivermectin are methodologically inadequate or imperfect—and therefore inconclusive and worthy of disdain—my response is: Stop it. Let’s fund whatever massive, robust, randomized controlled trials it takes to make a conclusive decision about ivermectin’s role in the battle against Covid.

As noted above, I believe vaccines are safe and effective and the ideal prophylaxis against Covid where available. But in parts of the world where vaccines are not available, the preponderance of research suggests to me that ivermectin is the safe and efficacious alternative. To tell doctors and hospitals not to prescribe it is like telling people in a burning building not to use the fire escape. “Please wait for the elevators,” they say. Only the curtains are on fire, the rooms are filling with smoke, folks can’t breathe, and the elevator doors aren’t opening.   

If the first principle of medicine is to “do no harm,” it’s incumbent upon the medical community to respect the sincere drug trials of ivermectin that have appeared thus far, and to conduct robust trials of ivermectin. If it can save lives, the world needs to know.

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