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Finnish vaccine opponents stocking up on ivermectin

Demand for ivermectin, a deworming medicine, is growing in Finland.

Some people are pinning their hopes on fighting Covid with ivermectin, which anti-vaxxers have touted as a pandemic cure. Image: Sasha Silvala / YLE

The pandemic has increased demand in Finland for ivermectin, a trend also witnessed in other parts of the world, despite research showing no significant impact of the anti-parasitic drug on treating Covid.

Some ivermectin studies have even been downright fraudulent, according to The Guardian (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

"If ivermectin wasn't available, I’d probably take the vaccine," Sami Antinniemi told Yle, adding that he's not opposed to vaccines, saying, "I believe in science."

Ivermectin has been used to cure animals and people from worms and lice since the 1980s. Finnish pharmacies sell the drug under the brand name Stromectol, produced by US drug maker Merck.

The University Pharmacy, Finland's largest pharmacy chain, has reported demand for Stromectol growing by 30 percent within the past year. A survey this past August by the Association of Finnish pharmacies (AFP) also reported increased interest in the drug.

The University Pharmacy, however, noted that people are also illegally ordering the drug from outside the EU.

Finnish Customs have reported a slight uptick in seized volumes of ivermectin. In 2020, customs officials intercepted three shipments of the drug, whereas by August of this year that number rose to eight, with packages containing a few dozen to several hundred pills.

Petri dish vs real life

Finnish scientists have studied the impact of ivermectin, along with thousands of other existing drugs, on treating Covid. The results were disappointing, according to Olli Vapalahti, a University of Helsinki virologist.

"The main problem is that ivermectin's beneficial effect is only achievable with doses too big to administer to patients," Vapaalahti explained of the drug's ability to prevent the virus from multiplying in a petri dish.

Väänänen said he did not believe ivermectin pills on the market could shield people from the virus.

"My understanding is that we don't have any proof of positive outcomes for ivermectin tablets taken orally. I recommend people get vaccinated," he said.

Turku-based company Therapeutica Borealis is, however, developing an ivermectin-based drug to treat Covid. It reaches the body through the nose, and not the mouth, as is the case with pills like Stromectol.

Kalervo Väänänen, one of the company's founders, said Therapeutica Borealis' drug is designed as a nasal spray.

"Our hypothesis is that the spray coats the nasal membrane in a protective layer, preventing the virus from multiplying. This would reduce the viral load to the point that everyone infected with the virus doesn't necessarily get sick," he explained.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) do not recommend ivermectin for use in routine management of Covid patients. In the United States, where ivermectin sales have soared, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said it has not authorised or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating Covid-19.