Critics of ivermectin dole just citing ‘petty loopholes’: Defensor
Critics are citing only “petty, immaterial loopholes” in the prescriptions given away for the use of ivermectin to prevent and treat COVID-19 to undermine its potential to help stem the pandemic, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor, who led a mass distribution of the controversial drug, said on Friday.
Doctors and pharmacists took to social media to criticize the incomplete prescriptions written on plain paper given to about 200 people who each received 10 ivermectin capsules from Defensor and Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta at Matandang Balara Barangay Hall in Quezon City on Thursday.
They and other opponents of ivermectin use urged the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take legal action against Defensor and Marcoleta.
The lawmakers were accompanied by members of Concerned Doctors and Citizens PH, a group that advocates the use of ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, to prevent and treat mild to moderate COVID-19 cases.
Defensor said four doctors signed the prescriptions issued to the people who received the medicine. “And it’s not like you can use the prescription in a drug store because it’s not being sold there,” he added.
Duque seeks probe
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the FDA should investigate the distribution of the medicine, which had not been cleared for treatment of COVID-19. FDA chief Eric Domingo said its regulatory enforcement unit was “looking into the situation.”
The FDA, however, has given permission to five hospitals for the compassionate use of the drug.
“They are really looking for loopholes, for mistakes,” Defensor said in an online briefing. “They should be looking at how this could be of use amid the pandemic which has taken thousands of lives.”
In a text message to the Inquirer, Defensor criticized Duque’s actions, calling the health secretary the “highest-ranking general [who] is looking at prescriptions instead of proactively supporting a winning strategy that may win to save the lives of our people and emancipate us from this economic debacle.”
In a statement on Friday, the DOH and the FDA reiterated that there was no sufficient evidence to support the safety and efficacy of ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19.
The two agencies also noted reports of “alleged invalid prescriptions.” and that the DOH would officially endorse these to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) for investigation and imposition of sanctions “as deemed necessary, based on existing laws.”
‘House to house’ next?
But Defensor did not seem worried about the consequences of his actions, believing in the efficacy of the drug.
“I am very confident that it will be proven that many of our countrymen will be saved and won’t be contagious, many will be saved from getting severe infections with ivermectin, a cheap drug that we have been using for 40 years and we know to be safe,” Defensor said.
He told the Inquirer they were “discussing” a possible “house to house” distribution of the drug.
Concerns have been raised in medical circles that people who lack information about ivermectin might regard it as a “miracle drug” and shun vaccines.
But Defensor said proponents of ivermectin were not against vaccination. “Vaccination is a must in all the pronouncements of the speakers [at the mass distribution],” he told the Inquirer.
DOJ still taking a look
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the Inquirer that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would still have to look at the legal issues related to Thursday’s ivermectin distribution “before taking any further action.”
He said this would include a review of the legal basis cited by the FDA in giving special authorization to certain hospitals for compassionate use of ivermectin.
“For now, we will focus on the legal issues. Should an investigation be necessary, the identity and qualifications of the doctors involved will have to be looked into,” Guevarra said.
Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online briefing that a prescription should include the complete name of the patient, the generic and brand name of the medicine prescribed, the instructions on how to take the medicine, and the name, signature, license number and tax receipt number of the doctor who issued the prescription.
“We have said it time and again: there is no clear evidence yet to recommend ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. We have explained it already. Let’s leave it at that, let’s all move on from this issue,” Vergeire said.
The Philippine Pharmacists Association Inc. said in a statement that it “strongly opposes the irrational dispensing of an unregistered drug and the illegal compounding thereof.”
“An invalid prescription must not be served. A waiver signed by a patient cannot exonerate the prescriber or the pharmacist from the accountability in case of adverse drug reaction,” the group said. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU
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