The Latinx and Hispanic communities both in the U.S. and abroad have been bombarded throughout the pandemic with bogus claims that ivermectin can effectively treat COVID-19. Conflicting health guidance and the unique geopolitical standing of the Latinx community have aided the rampant spread of ivermectin misinformation online, especially on unmoderated platforms like messaging site Telegram.
Media Matters has monitored misinformation about ivermectin in Spanish and found that Telegram is a cesspool for these narratives, which were shared with hundreds of thousands of users over the course of just three months. Further aggravating the situation, contradictory public health messaging at a global scale — often driven by the lack of vaccine availability or other professional treatment in countries with developing health care systems — has facilitated the spread of misinformation about ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment in Latin American countries since the beginning of the pandemic.
Some health institutions in Latin America have continued to recommend ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment even though major health groups like the World Health Organization advocated against using it. Fundamentally, the Latinx diaspora at large is receiving confusing messaging from health authorities and/or blatantly false information from questionable online sources about ivermectin — and by extension about the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccine.
Media Matters has reported before on the Anglo-American right-wing media’s obsession with the ivermectin debate, highlighting the right’s relentless attempts to promote the drug as a COVID-19 treatment. Ivermectin remains a dominant COVID-19 misinformation narrative championed by vaccine opponents in both English and Spanish language media, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and ivermectin manufacturer Merck against the use of the drug as COVID-19 treatment.
Social media users also continue to hype ivermectin and frequently exchanged tips on how to access the drug in order to avoid taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Other users erroneously claimed that Pfizer’s new pill to treat COVID-19 is just ivermectin repackaged — which has been debunked by infectious disease experts who stated that ivermectin and Pfizer’s antiviral drug are structurally different. The online spread of COVID-19 misinformation has cost people their lives, and it will continue to do so across the Americas. A Pan American Journal of Public Health study found that Latin American countries with “less use of social networks as the sole means for obtaining information and less trust in social network content” also had a lower COVID-19 mortality rate. In the U.S., Latin Americans are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for or die of COVID-19 compared to white non-Hispanic persons in the country.
On Telegram, a messaging platform known for spreading misinformation, a number of Spanish language accounts have inundated users with false or misleading claims about ivermectin, including far-right conspiracy theory channels, channels of far-right influencers and anti-vaccine doctors, and those dedicated specifically to disseminating COVID-19 misinformation. Channels like Noticias Rafapal and La Quinta Columna TV have well over 100,000 followers each and regularly peddle ivermectin misinformation narratives.
We found that more than 100 misleading posts about ivermectin circulated on Spanish-language Telegram channels between the months of July and early October of 2021 alone. Some of the more common claims on these channels include that ivermectin can or should be used to treat COVID-19, that Pfizer or another pharmaceutical company is going to make a pricier version of ivermectin, and that global elites are lying about ivermectin to dissuade people from taking it. Below are some examples, grouped by the specific claim.
False claim: Ivermectin can or should be used to treat COVID-19
- [Translation] No! to the new normal: Dr. Patricia Callisperis. Trauma doctor and pediatrician, a specialist in congenital malformations. “Vaccinating children is genocide.” Chlorine dioxide, ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine are valid treatments for COVID.
[Translation] COVID-1984 👁: 👁George Orwell in his novel 1984: The lie is the truth. War is peace...🤔JUST THINK!!! Do you know which are the only three drugs that have been banned by the WHO to treat coronavirus? IVERMECTIN, HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE and CHLORINE DIOXIDE.
Dr. Pierre Kory’s hearing in the U.S. Senate: IVERMECTIN is not only 100% effective as a prophylactic to prevent coronavirus infection, but it also cures 100% of those infected with C0VID-19. We have scientific evidence in several countries.
- [Translation] The Fifth Column TV: TREATMENT BASED ON IVERMECTIN AND OTHER ANTIOXIDANTS.
- [Translation] Dr. Natalia Prego Cancelo, official broadcast channel: Treatment with ivermectin by Dr. Victor Villa. ROME INTERNATIONAL COVID SUMMIT.
- [Translation] Trikooba.com: 📰 3 ways ivermectin can combat COVID-19.
False claim: Pfizer or another pharmaceutical company is developing a COVID-19 treatment that’s the same as ivermectin but will cost more
- [Translation] Spanish Resistance: ⚡️[#TheStorm]☠️[#Pharmaceuticals]🦠[#Coronavirus] 💊[#Cure] In other news, Pfizer is testing ivermectin, now renamed PF-07321332, to help with Covid. They have done this to make this drug more expensive than Ivermectin, even though they are the same drug…. /sarcasm.
- [Translation] COVID-1984 👁: 😁 Covidiots, maskidiots and vaccidiots, you're in luck!!!! PFIZER is going to launch its new early treatment for COVID19 that looks a lot like IVERMECTIN. They will sell it to your governments, without realizing it you will pay for it with the taxes that your government will be raising, AT THE LOW PRICE OF JUST 5.000 EUROS, IT’S NOTHING FOR A BOX OF TWO PILLS😂 Because you are covidiots and cannot see, it is believed with almost complete certainty that the brand at the worldwide level will be PFIZERMECTIN 🤣
😁 In case you didn’t know, for decades in pharmacies in Spain you’ve been able to buy IVERMECTIN (usually without prescription if it’s said that it is for animal use as it is an anti-parasitic), and it costs just 6 euros, much less than a meal.
- [Translation] COVID 1984 👁: 👁 OPEN YOUR EYES!!! The WHO and the globalist financial elite (BLACKROCK) who own pharmaceutical laboratories WANT TO KILL YOU.
😡The MERCK lab is developing a new experimental oral pill to cure coronavirus in early treatment called MOLNUPIRAVIR. It says it cures only 50% of mild infections at home (our Immune System without drugs usually cures 95% of mild cases), the treatment is 10 pills, costs $700 and does not exempt you from also having to get vaccinated.
➡️HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE and IVERMECTIN in early treatment at home cure 100% of those infected (but both are prohibited by the WHO), they cost $6 and $2 respectively, and since you get antibodies for life, you do not have to be vaccinated, as it would be counterproductive and you could develop the disease again.
False claim: Global elites are lying about ivermectin to dissuade people from taking it
- [Translation] The Investigator: FOX NEWS (Video in English): BIG TECH (Facebook, YouTube, etc) are working together with BIG PHARMA to silence any dissenting narrative.
To the point of censoring effective early treatments against Covid19 such as IVERMECTIN and HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE.
- [Translation] Rafapal News: While they prohibit ivermectin treatment for the population, it turns out that several hundred American representatives have acquired this medicine to cure themselves or their relatives from Covid. Recounted by General Flynn.
- [Translation] BLes.com News: 💊 “We have an incredibly positive message: ivermectin treats and prevents COVID,” says group of doctors and experts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been issuing public service announcements and radio announcements across the country to dissuade people from using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
Hispanic and Latinx audiences have been the target of mixed messages about ivermectin, and misinformation has flourished as a result
Throughout the pandemic, health organizations across the globe have engaged in confusing and often contradictory public health messaging about ivermectin that has aided in the spread of misinformation. For example, the governments of El Salvador and Brazil have included ivermectin in their “COVID kits” to be used as a preventative or after-the-fact treatment for COVID-19 — even though there is no conclusive scientific evidence that ivermectin is effective for treating or preventing COVID-19. The kit given out in Brazil in the early stages of the pandemic also included the Trump-endorsed antimalarial hydroxychloroquine.
Further, English language actors on both fringe and mainstream platforms have peddled anti-vaccine rhetoric by emphasizing Latin American countries recommending ivermectin. For instance, a widely circulated video in English and Spanish claims that the U.S. does not care about its citizens because it doesn’t recommend ivermectin.
Although Brazil’s health ministry has scaled back on ivermectin after finding that the drug was doing little to help Brazilians beat COVID-19, other countries like El Salvador are still recommending the drug, and right-wing actors elsewhere like in the U.S are still relentlessly pushing ivermectin as an alternative treatment for COVID-19.
The initial and continued push for alternative medications like ivermectin in some Latin American countries could be attributed to the lack of vaccine availability, highlighting the global health inequities that have long affected Latin Americans. According to the World Health Organization’s regional branch for the Americas, 75% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean had yet to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of August end. Disparities in global vaccine distribution, in addition to vaccine hesitancy, are a driving factor behind low vaccination rates in these countries.
The Latinx diaspora is particularly vulnerable to the rampant spread of misinformation due to its inherent transnationality. Misinformation in Spanish can start off as narratives localized to specific regions or countries and then circulate through various Spanish-speaking communities around all of Latin America and the U.S. Often, U.S. right-wing COVID-19 misinformation in English is translated to Spanish, expanding its reach.
And some Spanish misinformation narratives tap into culturally specific fears. Latin Americans have lived through a variety of authoritarian regimes over the past 50 years and are weary of political institutions as a result. During the 2020 presidential election, claims that President Joe Biden was a “radical socialist” inundated social media networks. One can imagine this was particularly salient with the Latinx voter base, some of whom lived under repressive socialist regimes and may oppose the ideology.
Similarly, the anti-communist or anti-socialist sentiment and generalized fear of centralized government are fueling distrust in health authorities and facilitating the spread of COVID-19 misinformation narratives. Vaccine skeptics often allude to vaccine requirements or mandates as political tactics for totalitarianism, as seen in this article by a Spanish-language far-right conspiracy site.
Additionally, a quick look at the lack of platform moderation efforts in the Spanish language reveals a stark picture. For starters, there is a data void in the Latinx community about U.S. politics, partly attributed to the lack of variety in Spanish language traditional media outlets in the U.S., which could lead more Latin Americans to turn toward online sources. A Nielson study found that Latinos were 57% more likely to use social media as a primary source for COVID-19 information than non-Latinos. While there is little to no platform moderation on Telegram, other sites like Facebook flag only 30% of misinformation in Spanish, compared to 71% in English.
The supposed “war on ivermectin” peddled by right-wing actors has a disparate and deadly impact on Latinx communities. Latinos are already at much higher risk of dying and contracting COVID-19, and narratives claiming that ivermectin is some miracle drug can deter people from getting the potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine.