NASHVILLE — A Republican-backed bill that allows Tennessee pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the anti-parasitic-drug ivermectin for human patients for COVID-19 — which also contains a provision shielding pharmacists and physicians from getting sued over it — is headed to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration.
The House on Thursday approved the bill on a 66-20 party-line vote with bill sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, stating it is an effective alternative to COVID-19 vaccines — even though a double-blind, randomized study of 3,500 COVID-19 patients last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found people who took ivermectin fared no better than those receiving a placebo.
Senators passed the bill, sponsored there by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, on Wednesday along mostly partisan lines with proponents also citing its effectiveness. The vote was 23-6.
The drug's manufacturer, Merck, states on its website there is "no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19," based on pre-clinical studies.
Two Republican senators who are physicians took opposition positions. One of them, Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, voted no, citing the new study among other criticisms of the bill. Sen. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician, said he has used ivermectin, which is used to fight parasites in horses and has been found effective in treating a river blindness disease in Africa.
"This bill as amended would allow Tennesseans to have a solution for early at-home care in the event they get a virus such as COVID or something like that," Lynn said in presenting the bill in the House on Thursday.
She said the bill allows a pharmacist to provide ivermectin to a patient who is 18 or older pursuant to a "collaborative pharmacy practice agreement" containing a non-patient specific prescriptive order developed and carried out by one or more authorized prescribers.
It directs the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy to develop procedures such as proper dosage and "everything else that's needed" to responsibly dispense ivermectin.
"This bill does not require pharmacists to dispense ivermectin," Lynn said, adding that the bill includes a provision that a pharmacist or a prescriber acting in good faith is immune from disciplinary actions or civil liability.
"So I just heard you admit there you want to remove any liability from the pharmacists for giving, handing this out. Why would we want to do that if this was such a great way to treat these conditions?" Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, asked.
Lynn said it was because the pharmacist is not the prescriber and would simply be consulting with the patient or a family member.
"They're making up their mind to seek this very very safe, historically safe medication that works well on viruses," Lynn said.
The National Institutes of Health last year stated "there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19."
The World Health Organization recommends against its use outside of clinical trials.
In an undated post on its website, the federal Food and Drug Administration stated it has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.
"Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing," the FDA post reads.
Another COVID-related bill dealing with people who claim natural immunity after having been infected with COVID-19 or its variants was delayed Thursday until next week.