The media is struggling with ivermectin stories (Update)

You’ve probably noticed lately that the media is going all in on stories about people using ivermectin to treat themselves for COVID. Last Wednesday, a local station in Oklahoma published a report in which a doctor named Jason McElyea claimed so many people were using the drug without prescriptions that the emergency rooms in parts of the state were clogged with people experiencing serious side effects.

Dr. McElyea said patients are packing his eastern and southeastern Oklahoma hospitals after taking ivermectin doses meant for a full-sized horse, because they believed false claims the horse de-wormer could fight COVID-19.

“The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated,” he said…

“All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in and they don’t have any, that’s it,” said Dr. McElyea. “If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call.”…

“The scariest one that I’ve heard of and seen is people coming in with vision loss,” he said.

As you can imagine, this story went viral on Twitter. Rachel Maddow sent it to her 10 million followers:

Fox News points out a list of other progressives also highlighted the story:

MSNBC left-wing anchor Joy Reid also promoted the story during her show on Friday, repeating McElyea’s claims.

“An emergency in one rural Oklahoma town is being overwhelmed by people overdosing on ivermectin, the horse deworming medication. It’s gotten so bad that gunshot victims, gunshot victims are having to wait to be treated,” she said.

The story was also shared by New York Daily NewsNewsweekThe Guardian and Insider.

But Saturday, a hospital in eastern Oklahoma where Dr. McElyea has worked issued a statement saying that nothing like what he had described was happening in their ER.

Hospital administrator Stephanie Six said today that this is simply not the case in Sallisaw.

“We at NHS-Sequoyah have not seen or had any patients in our ER or hospital with ivermectin overdose,” Six said. “We have not had any patients with complaints or issues related to ivermectin.”…

Six stated that Dr. McElyea has treated patients in the Sallisaw emergency room but not in the past several months.

“I can’t speak for what he has witnessed at other facilities but this in not true for ours,” Six said. “We certainly have not turned any patients away due to an overload of ivermectin related cases. All patients who have come into our ER have been treated as appropriate.”

At first glance it definitely appears that what Dr. McElyea claimed to be the case wasn’t actually happening. However, there is a wrinkle here which is worth mentioning. I verified that Stephanie Six is a real person and is an administrator at NHS-Sequoyah as you can see here. Also, Dr. McElyea has worked at this hospital in the past. The wrinkle is that the original report about this never said where this was happening.

Although Dr. McElyea never specified a hospital by name he did say that it was something he’d seen himself. So presumably this is happening at a hospital where he has worked. The other hospital where he apparently works is Integris Grove Hospital. I made a call to Integris and left a message for someone there to see if they had any comment about the claim that people with ivermectin side-effects were clogging up their ER. I haven’t heard back yet. All of that to say, it’s still possible there is some truth to this story and that still needs to be ruled out. If I get a response I’ll add it below.

As I was looking into all of this yesterday I noticed that it wasn’t the first time that a story suggested widespread ivermectin side-effects which later had to be corrected. Two weeks ago, the Associated Press published a story claiming that 70% of calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center were from people who’d taken ivermectin. Two days later the AP ran this correction:

In an article published Aug. 23, 2021, about people taking livestock medicine to try to treat coronavirus, The Associated Press erroneously reported based on information provided by the Mississippi Department of Health that 70% of recent calls to the Mississippi Poison Control Center were from people who had ingested ivermectin to try to treat COVID-19. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Wednesday the number of calls to poison control about ivermectin was about 2%. He said of the calls that were about ivermectin, 70% were by people who had ingested the veterinary version of the medicine.

Oops! That’s a big difference.

So the bottom line seems to be that there really are some people in rural areas who are taking ivermectin without a doctor’s prescription, though it’s not clear how widespread that is. But we do know it’s happening because of stories like this where the owner of a farm supply store says the ivermectin he usually keeps in stock for horses has been selling out. “It’s for livestock; we’re not livestock,” he said.

Update: Integris Grove Hospital just got back to me with a statement. The person I spoke with told me they’d received a lot of requests for comment about Dr. McElyea’s statements.

Jason McElyea, D.O., is an employee of an agency that staffs many emergency departments throughout the United States. He has privileges at INTEGRIS Grove Hospital. He also works in several other emergency departments in rural Oklahoma.

There is a lot of media attention surrounding remarks reportedly made by Dr. McElyea. While we do not speak on his behalf, he has publicly said his comments were misconstrued and taken out of context.

What we can confirm is that we have seen a handful of ivermectin patients in our emergency rooms, to include INTEGRIS Grove Hospital. And while our hospitals are not filled with people who have taken ivermectin, such patients are adding to the congestion already caused by COVID-19 and other emergencies.

Obviously a handful of cases is not at all what Dr. McElyea seemed to be describing in his interview with KFOR. Patients are not packing ERs with ivermectin side-effects. There are some cases but this is not the reason Oklahoma hospitals are short on beds. I’m still looking for the story where Dr. McElyea has claimed his comments were misconstrued.

Okay, KFOR has released more of their initial interview with Dr. McElyea. He’s definitely talking about ER’s backing up and not having enough beds. He’s also talking about not taking ivermectin without a prescription, but it’s not clear if he’s connecting the two. It’s hard to tell because we’re only getting his answers and not the questions that prompted them.