There’s a YouTube video called “Ivermectin Horse Paste” that was published in January of this year and now has nearly 160,000 views. In it, a woman who goes by Self Sufficient Momma demonstrates how to portion out horse paste in order to make it a suitable dose for humans, depending on weight.
“I’m going to be adding in slides from the Front Line Covid Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC),” she tells her audience. “So, they’ve done a lot of trials and have data on the people that they’ve tested ivermectin on.” An official FLCCC slide fills the screen, outlining treatment protocols.
Mixed in among blueberry mini muffin and potato clam chowder recipes are a variety of original videos by Self Sufficient Momma that show an intense study of ivermectin — with one breaking down the differences between all the horse paste brands — as well as a close watch of the FLCCC, name-checking them as her primary source.
In recent months, untold numbers of Americans have ingested ivermectin after seeing it hyped by the likes of Joe Rogan, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) with the false hope it would treat or prevent COVID-19. The drug is primarily known for deworming animals, and there is little medical support that a pill form for humans works on treating anything but parasites, which the coronavirus is not. In the process, people have wreaked havoc on their intestinal tracts — you don’t want to know — and worse, gained a false sense of confidence as the pandemic numbers once again crest and intensive care beds in several states fill up.
This didn’t happen overnight: A HuffPost review of social media channels and YouTube reveals that the FLCCC played a central and previously unreported role in this infodemic. Though other groups have become instrumental in promoting ivermectin, “it ultimately began with the FLCCC,” said San Francisco-based ER Dr. Graham Walker, who has treated COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic and has closely watched the growth of ivermectin misinformation.
Users in Facebook groups with thousands of members like “IVERMECTIN MD TEAM” will post about updates to the FLCCC protocol, or ask if the group has made any statements to verify new ivermectin information, according to screenshots reviewed by HuffPost. The groups are largely used to share tips for how to procure ivermectin, often referring people to SpeakWithAnMD.com, a telemedicine platform propped up by right-wing, anti-vax group America’s Frontline Doctors.
That group’s role appears incidental to many experts. “I never associated America’s Frontline Doctors with ivermectin specifically. I’ve always thought of them as a fringe, anti-mask, pro-Trump group with anti-vax rhetoric versus actual medical advice,” said Walker.“The FLCCC introduced ivermectin to the world as a potential cure for COVID and has also promoted it heavily.”
But somewhere along the way, the group’s quest to make the human version of an anti-parasite medication the standard of care for COVID merged with the anti-vaccine crusade, with many people flocking to their local tractor supply store in lieu of getting vaccinated, and leading to dangerous side effects.
Forming An Alliance
In the very early days of COVID, months before ivermectin entered the picture, Dr. Paul Marik, Dr. Pierre Kory, Dr. G. Umberto Meduri, Dr. Joseph Varon and Dr. Jose Iglesias — all critical care specialists with various concentrations — came together to swap ideas about how to tackle this unknown virus. Their first major hypothesis was that corticosteroids would reduce mortality in severe COVID patients.
This was in no small part thanks to Meduri, who helped create the alliance. He’s “the guru of corticosteroids in lung disease,” as Dr. Eric Osgood, a New Jersey-based hospitalist and former member of the group, put it. That’s when they formulated and distributed their first hospital protocol called MATH+, initially treating patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 cases with a combination of the steroid methylprednisolone and other drugs and supplements. This went against the conventional wisdom at the time that steroids would do more harm than good in treating a virus. Osgood caught wind of the MATH+ protocol, and began using it at his hospital before the FDA approval, witnessing a noticeable slowdown in mortalities.
And after the RECOVERY trial, a large U.K. patient study released in June 2020, showed the tangible benefits of steroids for COVID-19, the protocol was greenlighted for official use in the U.S. This early vindication of the group’s work served as encouragement in its abilities to be adaptable and find new ways to treat COVID as the pandemic rapidly unfolded.
“When I came out and I told the world that corticosteroids were critical to save lives, I got crushed for that,” Kory told HuffPost Friday in a phone interview. “Until the RECOVERY trial came out and it became the standard of care worldwide overnight.”
The original FLCCC goal was to find treatments that worked until vaccines were widely available. In October 2020, the doctors took note of a number of small, successful trials using ivermectin pills to treat and prevent COVID, though the data were considered low-quality in the wider medical community. They jumped at what they saw as an opportunity to stem the pandemic, soon adding ivermectin to the MATH+ protocol, as well as to their new prevention protocol called I-MASK+.
The horseplay began when people started hearing buzz about ivermectin in late 2020, but were largely unable to get a doctor’s prescription, since it wasn’t approved for use to treat or prevent COVID. Ivermectin was originally introduced in 1981 primarily to treat parasites in livestock and pets, and by 1988, it was improved to treat river blindness in humans. But now that people couldn’t get their paws on the pills, they turned to the next best thing: ivermectin in the form of paste for horses.
But what should be obvious — that livestock medicine is not safe for human consumption — has been ignored by people desperate to find a vaccine alternative for preventing COVID. As a result, the CDC was forced to issue an alert on Aug. 26 about a spike in poison control calls, and warning that taking ivermectin for large animals can be “highly concentrated and result in overdoses when used by humans.”
Overuse of human ivermectin comes with hazards of its own, especially taking an improper dose and without close supervision of a physician. The CDC warns that improper use of the drug can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension, decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma and death.
In January 2021, the National Institutes of Health changed its guidance on ivermectin for COVID treatment from “against” to “neither for nor against” after Marik and Kory, along with World Health Organization consultant Dr. Andrew Hill, presented their data to the NIH Treatment Guidelines Panel. That same month, Kory, along with his FLCCC founders and a handful of other doctors, released a study that they thought would finally convince the CDC and other major health organizations that ivermectin was indeed the miracle Kory claimed it was.
It was set to be published in Frontiers, an open-access platform for peer-reviewed scientific journals. But after investigating the study’s integrity, Frontiers announced on March 2 that it was rejecting the article because of “a series of strong, unsupported claims based on studies with insufficient statistical significance, and at times, without the use of control groups.” Meanwhile, vaccines were more and more accessible in the U.S. with each passing day, and the FLCCC had still not updated its protocols to include vaccination.
Kory had gained fame among anti-vaccine activists after a Dec. 8, 2020, hearing for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where he testified about the use of ivermectin for COVID, saying, “We have a solution to this crisis. There is a drug that is proving to be of miraculous impact.”
A clip of his testimony racked up millions of views on C-SPAN’s YouTube channel, and was subsequently taken down nearly two months later for what the video site called “COVID-19 misinformation.” That led Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin who has publicly supported using ivermectin to treat COVID, to write a Wall Street Journal op-ed called “YouTube Cancels the US Senate,” using Kory as his first example and adding fuel to the conspiratorial fire.
Kory, for his part, admitted his testimony was not helpful to the cause at the time, but then added, “I still stand by it, and I think history will prove it to be [true].”
Despite being invited by Johnson, a staunch Republican and the Senate’s most vocal anti-vaxxer, Kory, who was at the time the Medical Director at the University of Wisconsin’s Trauma and Life Support Center, told HuffPost he has traditionally been more of a Democrat — though the pandemic has cast doubt on everything, including his political views.
Kory’s and the FLCCC’s stars began to rise after that. Controversial figures like Bret Weinstein, a popular anti-vaccine podcast host, and tech giant Steve Kirsch, who has put many of his millions toward clinical trials of various medicines over the years and has spread misinformation about the COVID vaccine causing infertility, were taking note of their work and promoting ivermectin themselves.
Shortly before the Senate hearing, Osgood himself referenced ivermectin on the “Michael Brooks Show” podcast, mentioning his belief that it would prove effective in COVID treatment and referring to the FLCCC doctors as “folk heroes.” The next day, he received a call from Kory, in which he reportedly told Osgood that the jury was still out on ivermectin, but from what he could tell in the small studies he’d reviewed so far, he felt confident in its ability to ameliorate the most severe effects of COVID. And, coupled with its low price tag, it was worth continuing to push it.
Osgood called himself and Kory “kindred spirits” and, after their first conversation, felt, “If we found out in a year that this worked, that would be quite a tragedy. You don’t want to leave people to die when you could’ve done something that was very safe.” So he joined up with the alliance and began prescribing ivermectin to his patients who were hospitalized with severe COVID cases, knowing it could be months until a vaccine was widely available.
In his mind, once every American had access to the jab, ivermectin would take a backseat in the FLCCC guidance. He was wrong.
Horse Paste Goes Mainstream
It didn’t take long before scattered news reports indicated people were indeed taking the horse paste to both treat and prevent COVID. In a February local news segment, a Midland, Texas, woman describes how she learned about ivermectin back in October from the internet, and she and her family had been taking it — the animal form — ever since. Though she wasn’t taking the tablets for humans, as the FLCCC recommends, in a way she was taking it as intended: as a bridge to the vaccine. “I just got my first vaccine shot a few days ago, so no more horse paste!” she told the reporter.
Though ivermectin has been used and prescribed by some doctors for the better part of a year now, the FDA noticed a recent uptick in the amount of prescriptions being filled by SpeakWithAnMD.com and others, as well as the animal version flying off shelves at livestock and tractor supply stores. The agency issued a tweet on Aug. 21, writing, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” linking to its own post reiterating its earlier guidance that ivermectin in any form is not approved for use to treat and prevent COVID.
With more than 10 percent of adults 18 and older hesitant to get the vaccine, according to US Census Bureau estimates, online misinformation can fill a dangerous trust gap.
Kory claims to be distraught that his organization’s protocols have been misconstrued — ”I am literally deteriorating watching what’s happening,” he told HuffPost. But he but feels the FDA’s failure to approve the use of ivermectin for COVID is what’s driving the hysteria, not the FLCCC protocols.
“We don’t need their effing approval to prescribe during COVID. It’s called off-label use,” he said. “And now by saying this, you’re injecting the fucking idea of taking animal ivermectin into the population? Now more people are going to run at it. And I’m sorry, but I am not responsible for this fucking insanity. And I can’t correct it.”
But any survey of anti-vaccination communities online clearly showAmericans started using horse paste to create their own COVID treatments long before the recent FDA tweet — and with intellectual support from the FLCCC.
And as the delta variant continues to infect the nation, even Kory admits that ivermectin (the human kind) is no match for it, tweeting on Aug. 9, “I have experienced and am getting reports from FLCCC Alliance members that Delta variant patients crashing into ICU’s ... are not showing responses to MATH+. We are demoralized and frightened. Early treatment is CRITICAL. Every household should take I-MASK+ upon first symptoms.”
Yet despite ivermectin’s reported weakness against the delta variant, the FLCCC doctors continue to recommend it.
After Julie Smith’s husband was hospitalized with COVID-19 in July, she came across Ivermectin on the internet and connected with Dr. Fred Wagshul, another founding member of the FLCCC, who wrote a prescription for her husband, Jeffrey. When the hospital refused to fill it, Smith filed a lawsuit, and just this week, a Cincinnati judge ordered the hospital to administer ivermectin to her husband despite its lack of approval. Wagshul alleges this delay is a “conspiracy” by the FDA and CDC to provide cover for vaccines.
Merging With The Anti-Vaxxers
Meanwhile, the FLCCC has still refused to take a firm pro-vaccine position.
“Most of what we feel — and especially me — is that the data on vaccines is moving so fast and it’s non-transparent,” Kory said. “I just really don’t know what to say about these vaccines. I just don’t feel comfortable with the kind of data that we’re getting.” Kory himself took ivermectin for eight or so months preemptively, recently caught and recovered from the delta variant, and will not be getting vaccinated because he believes he now has “natural immunity.”
Vaccines, of course, remain the best available precaution against severe COVID outcomes. “At this point we literally have mountains of data on the ultimate outcome and endpoint of clinical trials: death,” said Walker. “The vaccines prevent people from getting COVID sick enough to die from. I don’t know a harder, more binary outcome than dead-or-not.”
But nearly a year after ivermectin’s introduction into the COVID conversation in the U.S., and with vaccines now readily available to all who seek them, doctors like Osgood and Walker see it as unconscionable that the FLCCC hasn’t changed course. That was the final straw for Osgood, leading to his departure from the organization in late August.
“[Ivermectin] shouldn’t have been promoted as a vaccine alternative or a miracle cure,” he said. “People are drinking sheep drench! If that’s not a call to use your clout and influence to say, ‘Enough is enough! Get your shots!’ then I just don’t know.”
And people like Caleb Wallace, a former state coordinator of right-wing anti-vaxx West Texas Minutemen, are learning the hard way that unlike the vaccine, ivermectin will not save you. Wallace, who was not vaccinated, began experiencing COVID symptoms on July 26. He self-medicated with a cocktail of Vitamin C, zinc, aspirin and ivermectin. On Aug. 28 he died. He was 30 years old.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.