A website and GoFundMe page for the anti-lockdown campaign group Back to Normal, seen on 12 August 2021:
a. The website www.backtonormal.org.uk, made a series of claims for the effectiveness of the drug ivermectin in treating COVID-19. Text stated, “The evidence is clear ivermectin prevents and treats Covid 19 it breaks the chain of infection”. Under the sub-heading “What is ivermectin and why we should use it against Covid 19”, text stated “Ivermectin is a well established, WHO approved, anti-parasitic drug with anti-viral properties. Early in the pandemic it was given to covid patients with very positive results, later confirmed by numerous studies … when used on patients with Covid 19 there is a 75% reduction in mortality … for healthy people studies suggest it reduces the risk of infection by 89% … 100% of the first 46 studies report statistically significant positive effects …”. At the bottom of the page there was a link to the GoFundMe page, with the word ‘contribute’.
b. The GoFundMe page www.gofundme.com, asking for donations to help the campaign achieve its goal to “… deliver 1 million leaflets to the public outlining an alternative approach to COVID-19”. Text in the updates section of the campaign stated, “… I remain completely convinced that ivermectin is the covid killer and all that is needed to end this covid nonsense completely”.
IssueThe complainant challenged whether the claims in ads (a) and (b), that ivermectin could prevent and treat COVID-19, were misleading.
Back to Normal said that they believed ivermectin to be beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19. They provided links to three websites which they believed supported the claims made for ivermectin in their advertising.
Back to Normal also sent us links to two YouTube videos by Dr John Campbell, a retired nurse and academic. In one video, posted in June 2021, he discussed the results of a meta-analysis of ivermectin COVID-19. The other, posted in May of 2021, saw him discuss ivermectin with a proponent of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.
They also sent us a link to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in which Mr Rogan discussed the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand the claims made by Back to Normal - that ivermectin “prevents and treats Covid 19”, “breaks the chain of infection” and that “… when used on patients with Covid 19 there is a 75% reduction in mortality … for healthy people studies suggest it reduces the risk of infection by 89%” - would mean that ivermectin was an effective and reliable option for the treatment of those with COVID-19 and prevention of COVID-19 in those who were not infected.
At the time of the investigation, ivermectin was not approved in the UK for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all advised against the use of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19. Merck, one of the companies who produced ivermectin, also advised that there was no scientific basis for showing that it had any potential therapeutic effects against COVID-19.
Back to Normal provided links to three websites for the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC), the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) and www.c19ivermectin.com (a website with links to alleged ivermectin medical trial results). None of these sites, however, contained information that was in line with official guidance on the use of ivermectin, and we were not provided with full versions of specific studies to support the ad’s claims.
The YouTube videos Back to Normal provided links to, involved Dr John Campbell, who had a non-medical doctoral degree in nursing education. They discussed the results of a meta-analysis of alleged trials involving ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, and talked to a proponent of ivermectin for this use. We did not consider that those videos, which contained individual opinions on the results of a study, constituted adequate evidence to substantiate the claims.
Back to Normal also provided an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, in which ivermectin was discussed as a treatment for COVID-19. We did not consider such a podcast was adequate evidence to support the claims.
Because Back to Normal did not provide adequate evidence to support the claim that ivermectin was an effective and reliable option for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, we concluded that the ad was misleading and therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Back to Normal to ensure that their future marketing materials did not make claims around the effectiveness of ivermectin, or similar medicines that had not been approved for the treatment of COVID-19.