British Columbia

B.C. feed stores see increased demand for livestock dewormer falsely touted as COVID-19 treatment

"They want to buy ivermectin because they're all convinced that it's somehow a treatment for COVID," said Buckerfield's farm product store CEO Kelvin McCulloch.

Farm product stores say more people are asking to buy ivermectin, believing it will prevent or treat COVID-19

Empty ivermectin boxes sit on the shelves of Lone Star Tack & Feed Inc., located just outside of Calgary, in late August 2021. (Lone Star Tack & Feed Inc.)

On the heels of U.S. health officials reissuing warnings about people using the livestock dewormer ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, some animal feed stores in B.C. say they too are seeing an uptick in demand for the drug.

Four stores contacted by CBC said there has been a spike in requests for ivermectin in recent weeks. The stores asked not to be identified out of concern it would affect their businesses.

The CEO of Buckerfield's, which operates nine farm product stores across British Columbia, said the first run on ivermectin happened at the beginning of the pandemic last year and almost cleaned out their stock of the drug.

"There has been a number of customers coming into more than one of our stores," said Kelvin McCulloch. "They want to buy ivermectin because they're all convinced that it's somehow a treatment for COVID."

Ivermectin can be used to treat parasites like lice and intestinal worms in both livestock and humans, but the animal formulation — most often used in cows, horses and sheep — differs greatly from what a doctor might prescribe to a patient.

"First of all, there's no science behind any of that and we're not going to be a part of it. Secondly, my understanding is ... it needs to be prescribed by a general practitioner and it needs to be sold through a pharmacist who is licensed to sell prescription medicine," McCulloch said.

Between March 1 and Aug. 30, the B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre received nine reports of people taking veterinary-grade ivermectin in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19 — up from zero reports in the previous two years.

No serious adverse effects were recorded, according to a spokesperson.

Last week, the United States Food and Drug administration reissued warnings about ivermectin in response to a growing volume of misinformation on social media and reports of people poisoning and even killing themselves with it. 

"You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it," said a tweet from the U.S. FDA.

Neither Health Canada nor the U.S. FDA has approved ivermectin as prevention or cure for COVID-19, and no clinical studies have proven whether it can slow or stop the spread of novel coronavirus in humans.

One published study supporting the use of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment had to be retracted after concerns were raised about data fabrication, plagiarism and ethical breaches.

Still, misinformation continues to drive demand for ivermectin, including in Alberta.

According to McCulloch, Buckerfield's has been forced to change how it sells the dewormer with staff now ensuring that any potential buyer actually owns livestock by checking store records to see if they also purchase feed at the store.

"Other people who show up in a completely different sort of mode and want ivermectin, our staff is on to them," he said. "We're not doing that because we want the product for the animals."