Did Japan Halt COVID-19 Vax Rollout Due to Ivermectin Success?

Japan has been touted as a pandemic success story.

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Claim

Health officials in Japan have halted vaccine rollouts for COVID-19 and have instead authorized treatment with the anti-parasite drug ivermectin.

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Origin

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As the infodemic of misinformation perpetuated in parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic, internet personalities continued to push unfounded claims surrounding treatments and vaccines for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. 

Through the latter half of 2021, one such claim suggested that Japanese health officials touted ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that has been at the heart of contentious treatment conspiracies, as an effective therapeutic. In turn, rumors claimed that Japan had as a result nixed rollout of its vaccine program by October 2021. 

The claim dates back to at least August 2021 when Dr. Haruo Ozaki, the chairman of the Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Association, reportedly recommended the use of ivermectin. 

And it recirculated again in late October 2021, when the rumor was described in an Oct. 27 episode of the Hal Turner Radio Show — a broadcast that floats conspiracy theories — titled, “Japan drops vax rollout, goes to Ivermectin, ENDS COVID almost overnight.” 

“By far, however, the absolute superstar among foreign nations dealing with COVID is Japan. Japan has PULLED the vaccines and substituted Ivermectin – and in one month, wiped COVID out in that country!” wrote Turner on the radio blog.

As a result, publications like the pseudo-science website Natural News ran headlines such as, “Japan ends vaccine-induced pandemic by legalizing IVERMECTIN, while pharma-controlled media pretends masks and vaccines were the savior.” 

But as other reputable fact-checking publications, including The Associated Press and PolitiFact, have reported, this claim is false. Japan has neither halted its vaccine program, nor has the country unilaterally stated that ivermectin is an approved or authorize treatment for COVID-19. 

However, it is true that Ozaki is credited with saying, to some extent, that more attention should be given to ivermectin as a potential treatment. During a news briefing on Feb. 9, he suggested that doctors should be allowed to prescribe off-label ivermectin and the anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone. On Aug. 23, he said that it was “necessary to thoroughly study the clinical trials, but it seems that we are at a stage where it is okay to have the patient get an informed consent, and get permission to use it.”

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic treatment approved in the U.S. for the treatment of certain external parasites like head lice, and as an oral tablet called Stromectol to treat some parasitic roundworm infections. It is also a key ingredient in the canine heart-worm preventative Heartguard

As we have previously reported, very preliminary evidence suggests that ivermectin may be effective in one day treating cases of COVID-19. Studies in the cultured cells of fetal pigs showed that ivermectin may be effective in preventing the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in petri dishes — not humans. It shows promise, but it is too early to claim that the drug is either an effective cure or treatment, or that it will become one soon. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its Center for Veterinary Medicine have publicly expressed concern over people who may self-medicate with ivermectin intended for animals. 

At the time of this writing, there is no approved or authorized use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 in the U.S, and that extends to Japan as well. A look at the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency in Japan showed that ivermectin is still not an approved medical product for COVID-19 (what has been approved as of November 2021 was Remdesivir, Baricitinib, Casirivimab, and Sotrovimab.) 

This isn’t to entirely rule out the potential for ivermectin use in the future. A review published in the Journal of Antibiotics that analyzed decades of research concluded that the anti-parasitic drug “could serve as a potential candidate in the treatment of a wide range of viruses including COVID-19.” By and large, experts agree that a decision surrounding the application and prescribing of ivermectin depend on further clinical testing to determine whether it is both safe and effective in human patients infected by SARS-CoV-2. 

It’s also not true that Japan stopped its vaccine rollout. A look at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website showed that COVID-19 vaccination is not only still rolling, but it is free for all residents of the nation. As of this writing, three vaccines were available in Japan: Comirnaty (previously Pfizer), Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

While Japan has not “wiped out” COVID-19, it was touted as a pandemic success story in mid-October following a significant drop in cases.

“Almost overnight, Japan has become a stunning, and somewhat mysterious, coronavirus success story,” wrote The AP on Oct. 18. “Daily new COVID-19 cases have plummeted from a mid-August peak of nearly 6,000 in Tokyo, with caseloads in the densely populated capital now routinely below 100, an 11-month low.

Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

But that success is credited largely to a “remarkably rapid vaccination campaign” and a culture of hygienic measures, public sanitization campaigns, and mask-wearing. As a report published on Oct. 1 said, 1.6 million people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, or about 1.3% of the population.

Read other ivermectin-related fact checks we have done below:

Sources

“Can Ivermectin Cure Coronavirus?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/ivermectin-cure-coronavirus/. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“Chairman of Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Association Declares During Surge, Time for Ivermectin Is Now.” TrialSiteNews, 17 Aug. 2021, https://trialsitenews.com/chairman-of-tokyo-metropolitan-medical-association-declares-during-surge-time-for-ivermectin-is-now/.

COVID-19 Vaccines. https://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/covid-19/vaccine.html. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

Drugs@FDA: FDA-Approved Drugs. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/daf/index.cfm?event=overview.process&ApplNo=204154. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“Fact Check : Greenlight For Ivermectin In Japan?” Tech ARP, 24 Aug. 2021, https://www.techarp.com/science/greenlight-ivermectin-japan/.

Hal Turner Radio Show – Japan Drops Vax Rollout, Goes to Ivermectin, ENDS COVID Almost Overnight. 27 Oct. 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20211027143650/https:/halturnerradioshow.com/index.php/en/news-page/world/japan-drops-vax-rollout-goes-to-ivermectin-ends-covid-almost-overnight.

Hal Turner Radio Show – World. https://halturnerradioshow.com/index.php/en/news-page/world?start=5. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“Japan Ends Vaccine-Induced Pandemic by Legalizing IVERMECTIN, While Pharma-Controlled Media Pretends Masks and Vaccines Were the Savior.” NaturalNews.Com, 29 Oct. 2021, https://www.naturalnews.com/2021-10-29-japan-ends-vaccine-induced-pandemic-legalizing-ivermectin.html.

“Japan Has Not Substituted Ivermectin for COVID-19 Vaccines.” AP NEWS, 29 Oct. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-079183409501.

Japan Medical Association — Board of Trustees. https://www.med.or.jp/english/about_JMA/trustees.html. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

Medicine, Center for Veterinary. “Center for Veterinary Medicine.” FDA, 7 Oct. 2021, https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/fda-organization/center-veterinary-medicine.

NewsDesk. “Japan Drops Vax Rollout, Goes to Ivermectin, ENDS COVID Almost Overnight.” Hal Turner Radio Show, https://halturnerradioshow.com/index.php/en/news-page/world/japan-drops-vax-rollout-goes-to-ivermectin-ends-covid-almost-overnight. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). https://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/seisakunitsuite/bunya/0000164708_00079.html. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

PMDA’s Efforts to Combat COVID-19 | Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency. https://www.pmda.go.jp/english/about-pmda/0002.html. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

Stromectol Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing – WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-1164/stromectol-oral/details. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“Vaccines, Masks? Japan Puzzling over Sudden Virus Success.” MSN, https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/vaccines-masks-japan-puzzling-over-sudden-virus-success/ar-AAPE6ID. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

Washington, District of Columbia 1100 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 1300B and Dc 20036. “PolitiFact – Japan Has Not Approved Ivermectin as a COVID-19 Treatment, and It’s Still Using Moderna Vaccine.” @politifact, https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/sep/14/instagram-posts/japan-has-not-approved-ivermectin-covid-19-treatme/. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“尾崎会長「全国が災害に見舞われている」と危機感:東京新聞 TOKYO Web.” 東京新聞 TOKYO Web, https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/123988. Accessed 4 Nov. 2021.

“東京都医師会、イベルメクチン投与を提言 重症化予防で.” 日本経済新聞, 9 Feb. 2021, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXZQOFB25AAL0V20C21A1000000/.