Reuters Corrects Report That Ivermectin Has Anti-Viral Effect Against Omicron in Humans

News agency Reuters has corrected a report incorrectly stating that the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin was shown to be effective as an anti-viral against the Omicron variant in phase III clinical trials, which fuelled false claims that it should be used to treat COVID-19.

Ivermectin has been touted as a COVID-19 treatment despite a lack of clinical evidence to back this up.

The drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in humans to treat COVID-19.

In fact, the FDA has explicitly warned against the drug being used in this way, citing multiple reports of people requiring hospital treatment after self-medicating with doses intended for farm animals.

Ivermectin is only approved for human and animal use in treating certain parasitic infections, though the type given to people is different to the type given to animals.

On Monday, Reuters reported that ivermectin had been shown to have an "anti-viral effect" against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in phase III trials—which are conducted in humans—citing a press release from Japanese pharmaceutical company Kowa.

However, Reuters later published a correction to this report, explaining that this statement was not true and what Kowa had actually found was that ivermectin had an anti-viral effect against COVID-19 in non-clinical research.

Kowa told Newsweek that "we sincerely apologize" for any confusion associated with the press release, adding: "The press release announced that ivermectin was effective against [the] Omicron strain on in vitro study (i.e. non-clinical study), not in the clinical study. Presumably the original content was replaced with incorrect information in the process of translation.

"Our Phase III study for treatment of COVID-19 with ivermectin is still in progress and the results have not been available yet."

A Reuters spokesperson told Newsweek: "The original Reuters story misstated that ivermectin was 'effective' against Omicron in Phase III clinical trials, which are conducted in humans. We corrected this to clarify it had an 'anti-viral effect' against Omicron and it was shown in joint non-clinical research. After being made aware of the error, we corrected our story immediately."

This anti-viral effect in non-clinical research is not a groundbreaking development. Reports suggesting that ivermectin could be useful as a COVID-19 treatment based on non-clinical in vitro research—essentially test tube studies—date back to early 2020.

However, in vitro research cannot capture the complexity of a clinical human study and results based on such research do not always translate well into human use.

Despite some positive in vitro activity, clinical trials have still not found sufficient evidence supporting the use of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment. Some trials have suffered from limitations including small sample sizes or a lack of consistency in the ivermectin doses studied.

Dr. Alastair McAlpine, a South African pediatrician, tweeted that in vitro ivermectin studies had "not translated into meaningful data in humans" and that the Kowa report "changes nothing."

Some people continue to tout ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment despite this lack of clinical evidence—and many saw the mis-interpreted Kowa report as vindication.

Candace Owens, a conservative political commentator who has expressed skeptical views on vaccines, tweeted: "We have known ivermectin works, and the FDA has blocked it … They want people to die."

Joe Rogan, the podcaster currently embroiled in a row about vaccine misinformation, reportedly shared the incorrect claims about Kowa's trial on Twitter, but since appears to have deleted his tweet.

Charlie Kirk, another conservative political commentator, also referred to the untrue claim about invermectin trials in a tweet.

Newsweek has contacted Owens, Rogan and Kirk for comment.

Update 02/02/22 5 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add statements from Reuters and Kowa.

A health worker holds a box of ivermectin medicine in Colombia in July 2020. The medicine has been touted as a COVID-19 treatment by some vaccine skeptics, despite the lack of clinical evidence. Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty