SINGAPORE — The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) on Tuesday (5 October) reiterated its call for members of the public to refrain from taking antiparasitic drug ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.
The authority said in an advisory that it is aware that there are people in Singapore trying to import or use the drug, commonly used as a de-wormer for horses, for COVID-19 therapy.
“Consumers are strongly advised not to self-medicate with ivermectin and to consult their doctor for proper treatment of COVID-19,” said the HSA, which in September had issued a similar advisory.
While ivermectin has been popularised by a number of US conservative media outlets as a cure for coronavirus disease, it is a prescription-only medicine registered in Singapore only for the treatment of parasitic worm infections.
It is not an anti-viral medicine and is not approved by the HSA for use in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.
The HSA pointed out that there is no scientific evidence from properly conducted clinical trials to prove that ivermectin is effective against COVID-19 to date.
It added that while there was a local study conducted by the National University Hospital last year to assess if existing registered medicines, including ivermectin, could help reduce the spread of COVID-19, it did not find any evidence suggesting that ivermectin has any effect on the disease.
“Self-medicating with ivermectin can be dangerous to your health,” said the HSA, adding that there have been reports of patients requiring hospitalisation after taking the drug.
Side-effects from taking ivermectin can include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and neurologic adverse events such as dizziness, seizures, confusion. Individuals can also suffer from a sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalisation, and liver injury, such as hepatitis.
The antiparasitic drug can also interact with other medications such as blood-thinners.
“Only vaccines and treatments authorised by HSA have met the required safety, efficacy and quality standards. Please refer to HSA’s website for the vaccines and treatments that have been authorised for COVID-19,” the HSA said.
The HSA added that it takes a serious view against those engaged in the illegal sale and supply of medicines, including ivermectin, and will take strong enforcement action against such individuals.
If convicted under the Health Products Act, each offender can face up to two years in jail, or be fined up to $50,000, or both.
Members of the public who have any information on the illegal sale of medicines may contact the HSA's enforcement branch at 6866 3485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The HSA advisory comes two days after Facebook user Vanessa Koh Wan Ling alleged that her mother had obtained and taken the drug on the advice of fellow parishioners at Church of the Risen Christ.
According to Koh's post, the unnamed woman had suffered several ailments after taking the drug, including the inability to walk and stand, and was sent to the hospital.
The woman had believed that the MRNA technology, which the vaccines in Singapore's national vaccination drive were based on, "was against their religion. If they are allowed to take (MRNA vaccines), Jesus would reach out to them directly" and that "ivermectin will help to purge out the vaccine and COVID", according to Koh.
The incident had prompted the church’s parish priest to caution its parishioners against using such unproven therapies.
In his Facebook post on Monday night, Edward Lim called on "everyone to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus by taking officially prescribed safety measures available to them.
"Only accept vaccines approved by the authorities which are made available at accredited centres authorised to administer the jabs," he added.
He cited Archbishop William Goh, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore, from a pastoral letter dated 3 February.
Goh had in the letter shared his experience of receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and had encouraged “all the faithful to get vaccinated for the greater good of the community”.
The World Health Organization and other medical experts have recommended against using ivermectin outside of carefully controlled patient studies.
Large studies are now underway in the US and other countries to determine if the drug has any effect on preventing or blunting COVID-19.
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