MANILA (UPDATE)— Two lawmakers on Thursday distributed free capsules of anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to residents in Quezon City, which they believe could fight COVID-19.
Residents of Barangay Matandang Balara were required to fill up a form before on-site doctors prescribed them with the de-worming drug.
Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor and Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta proceeded with their planned distribution despite warnings from various health authorities and medical groups.
In a press briefing Wednesday, Defensor, who had recovered from coronavirus, said he would "fight" the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in court should the regulatory body stop them from giving out ivermectin.
"Legally, we are compliant. On two occasions during the hearings, they said this process can be done. If they will again block this, then the people especially the poor will not be given the drug. I will fight them in court. They are too much," he told reporters in a mix of Filipino and English.
Interviewed on ANC Thursday, FDA Director General Eric Domingo said he saw no problem with the distribution of ivermectin.
"I believe they will be sourcing it from a licensed compounding pharmacy. As long as they have doctors there who will take a look at patients and prescribe their medicines, then that's not a problem. It's the responsibility now of the doctors," he said.
Domingo said the licensed compounding pharmacy was allowed to compound the drug and it could be given out as long there's a doctor's prescription.
The Department of Health had earlier reiterated that only hospitals granted with compassionate special permit could administer ivermectin to patients as part of their COVID-19 treatment.
"Bukod po dito sa mga ospital na nakakuha ng CSP ay wala pa hong iba na puwedeng mag-distribute o puwedeng magpamigay ng gamot na ito dahil nga po hindi pa ito rehistrado,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters Wednesday.
(Aside from these hospitals that have CSP, there are no other groups that can distribute this drug because this is not registered.)
So far, the FDA has granted 5 hospitals access to ivermectin as investigational drug to treat COVID-19.
In an advisory it issued in March, the FDA said registered oral and intravenous preparations of ivermectin in the country were veterinary products.
They were approved for use in animals for the prevention of heartworm disease and treatment of internal and external parasites in certain animal species.
Meanwhile, registered ivermectin products for human use were in topical formulations under prescription use only. This is used for the treatment of external parasites, such as head lice, and skin conditions, such as rosacea.
[B] Not enough evidence for, against ivermectin use
Dr. Marissa Alejandria, member of the country's COVID-19 technical advisory group, meanwhile, said "there is insufficient evidence at this time to recommend for or against the use of ivermectin for mild or moderate COVID-19 patients."
"We are not closing the door on ivermectin. What we are saying is there is still insufficient evidence," she told reporters in an online press conference.
"It means you may or may not use the drug but it is your responsibility to explain to the patient the status of the evidence," she said.
Despite several foreign studies that suggest that ivermectin may be effective against COVID-19, experts have yet to establish its efficacy on Filipino patients, said Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Department of Science and Technology's (DOST) research arm.
"Iba pa rin 'yung trial na Pilipino ang lumalahok... para makikita natin paano ba talaga nagre-respond ang mga Pilipino sa ganiyang gamot," he said.
(It is still different when you have Filipino participants... so we can see how Filipinos respond to these kinds of drugs.)
"There might be certain adverse events na unique lang sa mga Pilipino kaya very useful po ang magkaroon ng local trial sa ating bansa (that's unique to Filipinos so it's very useful to have local trials here)," he said.
- With reports from Zandro Ochona and Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News