The Nine Network has apologized after mistakenly suggesting the Queen was using the drug Ivermectin after contracting Covid.
The error had already been boosted by anti-vax and anti-lockdown groups that support the use of Ivermectin to treat Covid despite it being labeled “ineffective” by Australia’s chief medical officer.
TV program A Current Affair (ACA) broadcast a segment on Monday night about the Queen’s Covid diagnosis. The segment featured Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, a Victorian GP and former Australian Medical Association boss, who has been at the forefront of the Covid response, including spearheading testing and vaccination clinics in Melbourne’s west.
As Haikerwal discussed how drug treatments could benefit elderly Covid patients, vision showed stock images of vials of Sotrovimab, an intravenous monoclonal antibody treatment used for high-risk cases. The footage then switched to a medication box with a label reading “Stromectol, containing 3mg Ivermectin”.
Haikerwal told Guardian Australia he did not mention any specific treatments in his interview with ACA and expressly ruled out recommending Ivermectin for Covid patients.
“Ivermectin never even came into the conversation,” Haikerwal said. “I said there are medications available for people who are vulnerable … I didn’t even name them, but it was obviously Sotrovimab.
“It certainly wouldn’t be ivermectin. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
A Nine spokesperson said the shot of Stromectol “shouldn’t have been included” and was the “result of human error”.
“We did not intend to suggest Dr. Mukesh Hawikerwal endorsed ‘Stromectol’,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“We’ve apologized to him this morning and he has accepted that apology. We do not suggest the Queen is using ivermectin.”
Ivermectin is approved for treating parasites and lice in humans but is also used for livestock deworming in the form of paste or “drench”.
It has been praised by fringe medical identities as a potential Covid treatment. But Ivermectin isn’t recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration or Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration which warns in large doses it could have serious side effects including severe diarrhea and vomiting.
Australia’s federal health department said there was “not enough evidence to support the safe and effective use” of ivermectin against Covid and that it does not recommend the drug’s use outside “properly conducted clinical trials”.
The country’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, has repeatedly warned people not to seek out Ivermectin.
“There are many trials that have been done on Ivermectin and not a single one of them have shown [it] to be effective,” he said in September. “It is ineffective and not safe.”
Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong, said numerous large trials had “found no evidence for the efficacy of ivermectin” as a Covid treatment.
But despite Nine’s apology and moves to delete the video online, the ACA report has been promoted by numerous vaccine-skeptic groups in Australia and around the world.
Reignite Democracy, which has supported anti-lockdown and anti-mandate rallies nationwide and last year announced a “collaboration” with the United Australia Party, posted a copy of the TV report on its website.
The group said that Ivermectin had been presented as “a medicine fit for the Queen” and complained it was not available more widely.
Federal politicians Craig Kelly, George Christensen, and Gerard Rennick – who have voiced support for Ivermectin – also posted clips of the segment to their social media pages.
Coalition senator Rennick’s post, asking, “What does Channel 9 know that we don’t,” had the second-highest number of interactions of any Facebook post by a federal politician in the past 24 hours.
The ACA story was also shared enthusiastically in anti-vaxxer, anti-mandate, and far-right groups on Telegram and Facebook with tens of thousands of members.
Clipped versions of ACA’s story have been viewed more than 1m times on Twitter.
“Did @ACurrentAffair9 really have a doctor promoting Ivermectin for the Queen and her Covid on the show?” tweeted former NBA basketball star Andrew Bogut.
Haikerwal said he had been inundated with messages online from as far away as Brazil as groups spread the story.
“I woke up to a white-hot Twitter feed, I’m thinking ‘what the hell’s going on?’ and it’s some anti-vaxxers in Brazil using it to champion their cause,” he said.
Nine said the initial version of the story had been removed from its social media and streaming services and would be corrected then republished on Tuesday.