Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

COVID-19, Vaccines & Ivermectin

Dr Arnau van Wyngaard[1]

Introduction

I have been on the forefront of the AIDS pandemic in Eswatini (Swaziland) since the early 1990s. I regard this as a privilege. During this time I have been fortunate to have been able to communicate and also meet with several internationally acclaimed researchers on HIV as well as epidemiologists focussing their research on AIDS, thereby broadening my knowledge on HIV and AIDS. Furthermore I am an associate researcher at the University of Pretoria and as such I have been able to publish a number of academic articles about AIDS, often together with Professor Alan Whiteside, considered to be one of the most knowledgeable scholars in Africa on the topic of HIV and AIDS and who also served for many years on Kofi Annan’s advisory council on AIDS in Africa. Why am I saying this? As a Christian I cannot see these things happening in my life without acknowledging God’s providence in constantly preparing me to face new challenges in a responsible manner, such as those we are facing today with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Background

To understand where we find ourselves at present, we need to move back a bit. At a time when there seemed to be no hope that the AIDS pandemic would ever be brought under control, with 8,000 people dying per day because of AIDS-related diseases, the world’s scientists worked together and found ways in which to bring the replication of the HI virus under control. Today any person who tests positive for HIV is placed on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and when used correctly, people with AIDS can now live productive lives until an advanced age. A positive test for HIV had formerly been a death sentence. Now it is seen as a condition which needs to (and can be) managed – primarily because of the diligent research done by scientists attempting to find a cure for AIDS.

Unfortunately South Africa took a long time before following the advice of scientists regarding ART. South Africans are well aware of the time when the leaders of our country denied that HIV was the cause of AIDS (BBC, 2000), when people who were HIV-positive were denied the right to use ARVs and were advised to rather use lemons, garlic, beetroot and olive oil to treat AIDS (Associated Press, 2009). This was also the time when people were advised to use a product known as ‘virodene’ for the treatment of HIV and AIDS, which was later found to be “a toxic industrial solvent” (Sidley, 1999) and described as “a quack remedy” (Campbell, 2012). The cost in lives following these unsubstantiated decisions was immense. Chigwedere et al write (2008):

More than 330,000 lives or approximately 2.2 million person-years were lost because a feasible and timely ARV treatment program was not implemented in South Africa. Thirty-five thousand babies were born with HIV, resulting in 1.6 million person-years lost by not implementing a mother-to-child transmission prophylaxis program using nevirapine. The total lost benefits of ARVs are at least 3.8 million person-years for the period 2000-2005.

It is with a feeling of déjà vu that I have been following conversations since early 2020 regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw the denialists who claimed that COVID-19 is nothing more than a common flu. We saw people claiming that the virus which causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was manufactured in a laboratory in China and then spread all across the world. We heard people saying, despite research proving the opposite, that lockdowns do not help in slowing the spread of the virus. We see people maintaining that masks are useless. We hear people saying that all the regulations implemented in an attempt to slow down the spreading of the virus, are merely a ploy by the South African government to control our lives, akin to “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s novel, ‘1984’. Conspiracy theories abound, especially on social media such as Facebook. But possibly, for me the most distressing, is to see that this time around it is not the leaders of the country who believe and spread fake news as with AIDS and ARVs, but that it is often Christians who are spreading this fake news.

While, according to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), the leadership of the country was willing to listen to the medical experts regarding COVID-19 and act decisively and quickly (Economist, 2020) and were also willing to implement the protocols suggested, it is now often Christians who reject the advice of scientists and medical experts. Rather than doing proper research, they are often being led (or rather misled) by people speaking on YouTube which, as we all know, contains wonderful clips, but which is also misused by many to spread fake news.

Professor Stephan Joubert, a personal friend and also one of the foremost New Testament theologians in the world, recently shared some sound advice regarding the fake news being spread about COVID-19. Most of us are not qualified to make sound decisions about aspects of the medical profession. Therefore we need to listen to medical experts, but even more so, we need to listen to Christian medical experts. How do they see the advances made in the field of vaccines? Do they fear the vaccine or do they see this as a solution? Do they acknowledge God in the positive research being done in this field?

As a researcher at the University of Pretoria I have access to a multitude of journals and other academic articles which I consult when I do research on a specific topic. But recently someone also advised me to follow the blog of Emily Smith. She is a global health epidemiologist and Assistant Professor at the Baylor University as well as an adjunct Assistant Professor of Global Health at Duke University. She is also a Christian and the wife of a pastor in Waco, Texas. But most of all, she has the talent to explain extremely complex matters in a way that people from a non-medical background can understand. Over the past few weeks she has written extensively on the vaccines available for SARS-CoV-2, how they work, whether they are safe and how they should be used. I would strongly advise you to follow her on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/friendlyneighborepidemiologist

or on her blog:
https://emily-smith.net/covid-19-posts/

Vaccines

After COVID-19 was announced a pandemic, it was said that the only way in which the virus can be stopped is through a vaccine, the same method used to eradicate diseases such as rubella, mumps, polio and measles. Antibiotics are ineffective against a virus. That is why we need vaccines. In simple terms, vaccines teach a person’s immune system to manufacture antibodies against a specific virus. If that person then comes into contact with the virus, the body will immediately start producing antibodies to fight off the infection (CDC, 2021).

What makes the two COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna unique is that they are based on novel messenger RNA (mRNA). (I don’t have the background to understand exactly how this works.) Nevertheless, I was amazed to find that for the past ten to fifteen years researchers have been working on mRNA, mainly in an attempt to find a cure for cancer. When the urgent need arose to produce a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, researchers made use of the knowledge they had already acquired up to that stage and within a very short while the first mRNA vaccine was produced. As a Christian, I have only one explanation for this quick response, and this is that God, in His providence, had prepared the medical scientists to enable them to respond to this pandemic in a timeous manner (Rana, 2020). (It always amazes me when I read in the Bible how God uses people, even people who deny His existence, to reach His goals.)

Many negative things are said about the vaccines. I’m not going to try and discuss each of these allegations, but some of them are that:

  • The COVID-19 vaccine was rushed and will not be safe;
  • The side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine will be severe, much worse than having the virus;
  • Many people already have died from the COVID-19 vaccine trials;
  • The COVID-19 vaccine was developed as a way to control the general population, through microchip tracking; and
  • The timing of the vaccine is suspicious in our political culture

There are excellent websites where these and other myths regarding the vaccine are discussed such as “Debunking the myths about the COVID-19 vaccine” (Blank, 2020) or “The Sift archives” (Sift, 2021). Please make the effort to look at these pages before spreading rumours about the vaccines which may not be true. I believe that it is important that, as Christians, we do not partake in spreading fake news about anything. This is harming the credibility of the entire Christian community.

However, there is one important question which Christians do have the right to ask and this is whether the vaccines were developed from aborted foetus tissue. I am convinced, from numerous articles that I have checked, that this is not the case (Strauss, 2020). Dr Melissa Moschella, who is an anti-abortionist, also discusses this question in detail in her article “The COVID Vaccine and the Pro-Life Movement” (Moschella, 2020).

A further question which Christians ask is whether we will receive the mark of the beast (666) if we receive the vaccine. I remain perplexed that Christians who profess that they have been saved through the blood of Jesus Christ can believe that a vaccine can cause the mark of the beast to be injected into them (Krös, 2020). There is only one verse in the entire Bible which refers to this number (Revelation 13:18). Most New Testament scholars are of the opinion that this number refers to Emperor Nero.

But of much greater importance is that we need to understand that all those who believe in Jesus Christ have already received the mark of Christ (Revelation 7:3; 9:4). This is not a physical mark, but refers to our new relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the same vein, to have the mark of the beast refers to the opposite – those who reject Jesus Christ, carry the mark of the beast. Not a physical mark, but because these people rejected the mark of God, they automatically have the mark of the beast. The only way to get rid of this mark is to accept the salvation through Christ and thus receive the mark of Christ. I cannot say this strongly enough: The mark of the beast has absolutely nothing to do with the vaccine!

Professor Stephan Joubert, to whom I referred above, explains this much better than I can do. You can watch an interview with him, “The Vaccine, The Number 666 and Revelation: A Conversation with Stephan Joubert” here:

To conclude: Without any fear that I will be contaminated in any manner, physically or spiritually, I am willing to side with scientists and medical professionals who believe that the available vaccines are both safe and essential to use (Polack, et al., 2020), (Mahase, 2020).

Ivermectin

The last topic I would like to touch on is the use of the drug Ivermectin. It is extremely unfortunate that this topic has become highly politicised, both in the USA and in South Africa. In South Africa the government is being blamed for dragging their feet by not approving this “wonder drug” which not only “cures” COVID-19 but “saves people’s lives” that are on the brink of death after having contracted the virus.

I must emphasise that I am not a medical professional. However, I am a researcher with a deep interest in both AIDS and COVID-19 and what I have done was mainly to study articles where the efficacy of Ivermectin is discussed. But before I come to that, I need to make one remark regarding the suspicion voiced about the government’s reluctance to approve Ivermectin for COVID-19. The impression is often created that the government is reluctant to approve medication which can help those with COVID-19. This makes no sense to me. As early as June 2020, the government approved dexamethasone after it was proven to be both safe and effective in treating those with COVID-19 (Isilow, 2020). Another drug, Remdesivir, was also approved to be used in South Africa (Businesstech, 2020), even though the World Health Organisation has since found that the drug does not provide any benefit for the patient (Schimelpfening, 2020). In my view this is a clear indication that there is no truth in the allegation that the government or the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) is reluctant to approve any other medication apart from the vaccines. However, South Africa has strict regulations regarding the approval of medication, and there is good reason for this.

There is some anecdotal proof that Ivermectin is effective in lowering viral levels and also lowering COVID-related deaths. Certain pressure groups such as Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance) in the USA (FLCCC, 2020) and SAHARI in South Africa (SAHARI, 2021), as well as some individuals such as Dr Lee Merritt (New American Magazine, 2021) and Andrew Hill (Hill, 2021) are strongly advocating for the use of Ivermectin to treat people with COVID-19. Recently Prof Nathi Mdladla wrote an op-ed in the Daily Maverick in which he asked for the “compassionate use” of Ivermectin for COVID-19 (Mdladla, 2021). The argument is that the situation with which we are faced is so serious, that this drug needs to be approved without wasting time on further tests in order for it to be approved.

The other side of the argument is that there is very little if any proof that Ivermectin is able to prevent people from getting COVID-19 or to cure them if they have it (Chaccour & Casellas, 2021), (Roy, et al., 2021), (Dutta, 2021). Most tests with this drug have been done in vitro (which literally means ‘in the glass’ and refers to tests done in a test tube in a laboratory) (Caly, Druce, Catton, Jans, & Wagstaff, 2020), but it was found that doses of up to 100 times more than would be safe for human consumption was necessary in order to kill the virus in a laboratory (National Department of Health, 2020). There is therefore a lack of evidence that standard doses of Ivermectin can cure COVID-19 patients (Camprubí, et al., 2020).

It has been said that Ivermectin has been approved in the United States to be used for COVID-19. This is not the truth. The official decision by the National Institutes of Health in the USA is that they are not making any decision, for or against the use of Ivermectin for COVID-19 (NIH, 2021):

The COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel (the Panel) has determined that currently there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.

In South Africa, Sahpra also made a decision that Ivermectin is not approved at this stage for COVID-19 (Githahu, 2020), but announced its willingness to change this decision should better evidence be presented to the committee (Msomi, 2021).

It is therefore clear that there are mainly two opposing viewpoints on this issue (Heywood, 2021). On the one side there are people who believe the anecdotal evidence that Ivermectin is effective against COVID-19, while there are others who maintain that there is no robust evidence that Ivermectin is effective against COVID-19 and that it would be ethically wrong to ignore the proper methods which need to be followed for a drug to be approved. This stance is strongly propagated, among others, by four scholars in an academic article with the title, “Ivermectin and COVID-19: Keeping Rigor in Times of Urgency” (Chaccour, Hammann, Ramón-García, & Rabinovich, 2020).

However, most of those who are cautious about approving Ivermectin for COVID-19, are equally positive about the need for proper trials to be done as soon as possible to determine whether the anecdotal evidence about the positive effects of Ivermectin can be substantiated by scientifically approved, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised clinical trials.

One of South Africa’s leading medical authorities, Professor Mervyn Mer, attached to the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, makes a strong case for not throwing caution to the wind regarding the use of Ivermectin for COVID-19. During a medical webinar held on 20 January 2021 both Prof. Nathi Mdladla, who had asked for the compassionate use of Ivermectin as well as Prof. Mervyn Mer defended their views.

In my opinion, after listening to Prof. Mer, I would agree that there is not enough proof that Ivermectin is indeed effective against COVID-19, but at the same time I would also fully support the call for scientifically approved trials as soon as possible to get a better understanding about the potential usefulness of the drug.

The entire webinar of more than two hours is available on YouTube:

To listen to Prof. Mdladla defending his view on the compassionate use of Ivermectin, fast forward to 1:45:25 where he speaks about “The potential value of Ivermectin in under-resourced set-ups.”

To listen to Prof. Mer speaking on “Ivermectin Insights”, go to 1:55:34.

I apologise for the length of this document, but I do trust that it will help those reading it to have a more balanced view on COVID-19, the vaccination programme and the usefulness of Ivermectin in our quest to halt the spreading of SARS-CoV-2.

Works Cited

Associated Press. (2009, December 16). South African minister who championed food to treat Aids dies. The Guardian. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/16/dr-beetroot-dies-south-africa

BBC. (2000). Mbeki digs in on Aids. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/934435.stm

Blank, S. (2020). Debunking the myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from UAB News: https://www.uab.edu/news/youcanuse/item/11771-debunking-the-myths-about-the-covid-19-vaccine

Businesstech. (2020). Covid-19-fighting drug to be available in South Africa. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Businesstech: https://businesstech.co.za/news/business/414779/covid-19-fighting-drug-to-be-available-in-south-africa/

Caly, L., Druce, J., Catton, M., Jans, D., & Wagstaff, K. (2020, Junw). The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro. ScienceDirect, 178. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104787

Campbell, J. (2012, July 18). Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and South Africa’s HIV/AIDS Past. Retrieved from Council on foreign relations: https://www.cfr.org/blog/nkosazana-dlamini-zuma-and-south-africas-hivaids-past

Camprubí, D., Almuedo-Riera, A., Martí-Soler, H., Soriano, A., Hurtado, J., & Subirà, C. (2020, November 11). Lack of efficacy of standard doses of ivermectin in severe COVID-19 patients. Plos One. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0242184

CDC. (2021, January 13). Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/how-they-work.html

Chaccour, C., & Casellas, A. (2021). The effect of early treatment with ivermectin on viral load, symptoms and humoral response in patients with non-severe COVID-19: A pilot, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from ECinicalMedicine: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(20)30464-8/fulltext

Chaccour, C., Hammann, F., Ramón-García, S., & Rabinovich, N. (2020). Ivermectin and COVID-19: Keeping Rigor in Times of Urgency. Am J Trop Med Hyg, 102(6), 1156-1157. doi:https://dx.doi.org/10.4269%2Fajtmh.20-0271

Chigwedere, P., Seage, G., Gruskin, S., Lee, T., & Essex, M. (2008). Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa. JAIDS, 49(4), pp. 410-415. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/QAI.0b013e31818a6cd5

Dutta, S. (2021). Could Ivermectin be an effective antiviral against SARS-CoV-2? Retrieved January 21, 2021, from News-Medical: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210111/Could-Ivermectin-be-an-effective-antiviral-against-SARS-CoV-2.aspx

Economist. (2020). What South Africa learned from AIDS. Retrieved December 10, 2020, from Economist: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2020/04/16/what-south-africa-learned-from-aids

FLCCC. (2020). News Conference December 4, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from FLCCC: https://www.newswise.com/coronavirus/media-alert-covid-19-new-findings-flccc-alliance-news-conference

Githahu, M. (2020). SA drugs regulator bans ‘miracle’ Covid-19 treatment as unsafe. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from IOL: https://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/news/sa-drugs-regulator-bans-miracle-covid-19-treatment-as-unsafe-4e36c339-c65c-4cc6-93d2-d7e748eefcb6

Heywood, M. (2021, January 15). Using ivermectin for Covid-19: what to do when caution and crisis clash? Retrieved January 21, 2021, from Daily Maverick: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-01-15-using-ivermectin-for-covid-19-what-to-do-when-caution-and-crisis-clash/

Hill, A. (2021). Meta-analysis of randomized trials of ivermectin to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from Research Square: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-148845/v1

Isilow, H. (2020). South Africa approves dexamethasone to treat COVID-19. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from AA: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/south-africa-approves-dexamethasone-to-treat-covid-19/1883532

Krös, G. (2020). COVID-19 vaccines: ‘Mark of the beast’ or God’s provision? Retrieved January 20, 2021, from INcontext International: https://www.incontextinternational.org/2021/01/19/covid-19-vaccines-mark-of-the-beast-or-gods-provision/

Mahase, E. (2020). Covid-19: Pfizer vaccine efficacy was 52% after first dose and 95% after second dose, paper shows. British Medical Journal. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4826

Mdladla, N. (2021). Potential to save lives: An intensive care doctor argues for ‘compassionate use’ of ivermectin for Covid-19. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Daily Maverick: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-01-15-potential-to-save-lives-an-intensive-care-doctor-argues-for-compassionate-use-of-ivermectin-for-covid-19/

Moschella, M. (2020). The COVID Vaccine and the Pro-Life Movement. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Heritage Foundation: https://www.heritage.org/public-health/commentary/the-covid-vaccine-and-the-pro-life-movement

Msomi, N. (2021, January 20). Sahpra to ‘revisit’ ivermectin research. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from News24: https://www.news24.com/health24/medical/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/sahpra-to-revisit-ivermectin-research-20210120-3

National Department of Health. (2020). Rapid review of Ivermectin for COVID‐19. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from Health: http://www.health.gov.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Rapid-review-of-Ivermectin-for-COVID-19_21December2020.pdf

New American Magazine. (2021). Bio-warfare & Weaponization of Medicine Amid Covid. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from New American Magazine: https://www.facebook.com/TheNewAmerican/videos/1035267880287818/

NIH. (2021, January 14). The COVID-19 treatment guidelines panel’s statement on the use of Ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from NIH: https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/statement-on-ivermectin/

Polack, F., Thomas, S., Kitchin, N., Absalon, J., Gurtman, A., Lockhart, S., . . . Swanson, K. (2020, December 31). Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine. New England journal of medicine, 2603-2615. doi:DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2034577

Rana, F. (2020). The COVID-19 Vaccines and God’s Providence. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Reasons to Believe: https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2020/12/23/the-covid-19-vaccines-and-god-s-providence

Roy, R., Pattadar, C., Raj, R., Agarwal, N., Biswas, B., Majhi, P., . . . Sarfaraz, A. (2021). Ivermectin as a potential treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 – A double blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. British Medical Journal. doi:https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.21249310

SAHARI. (2021). South Africa has a Right to Ivermectin (SAHARI). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/447336316289547/

Schimelpfening, N. (2020). Healthline. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Study Finds Antiviral Meds Like Remdesivir Have No Effect on COVID-19: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/study-finds-antiviral-meds-like-remdesivir-have-no-effect-on-covid-19

Sidley, P. (1999, March 20). South African public sceptical about new AIDS “cure”. British Medical Journal, 20(318). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10082695/

Sift. (2021). The Sift archives. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from News Literacy Project: https://newslit.org/educators/sift/

Strauss, V. (2020, December 9). No, coronavirus vaccines aren’t made from aborted fetuses or created to control the population — and more lessons about fake news. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/12/08/no-coronavirus-vaccines-arent-made-aborted-fetuses-or-created-control-population-more-lessons-about-fake-news/


[1]       I have been a pastor in the Swaziland Reformed Church since 1985 and I am also CEO of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, an organisation that was established in 2006 to assist people with HIV and AIDS. You are welcome to follow me on Facebook where I regularly write about COVID-19: https://www.facebook.com/arnau/ or you can contact me via email: wyngaard@lando.co.za. Our website is www.shbcare.org.

Saturday, January 16, 2021 - Posted by | AIDS, COVID-19

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