Michigan House approves bill encouraging use of unapproved COVID-19 treatments 

By: - February 24, 2022 11:38 am

Ivermectin, a drug approved by the FDA to treat intestinal diseases and roundworms in humans, has become popular among vaccine skeptics as alleged alternative treatment for COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence that it’s effective in treating the disease. Some people are ingesting a version of the drug intended for horses, which is poisonous to humans. | Image from TajPharmaImages, Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a bill that Democrats say “plays into conspiracy theories and misinformation” by allowing people to receive unapproved and uninvestigated COVID-19 treatments. 

The bill, House Bill 5637, introduced by state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.), would amend the state’s “Right to Try” Act that was passed in 2014. The bill established the right for patients with an “advanced illness” to obtain and use experimental treatments that are still being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The bill would also specifically add COVID-19 to the language of the bill, which is not currently excluded from the act. 

Two of the most popular experimental COVID-19 treatments that have been amplified by Republicans include ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which medical research has not found to be effective in treating the virus.

Mary Whiteford | Casey Hull

The bill passed the House by a vote of 56-48. 

Whiteford spoke on behalf of her bill on the House floor, saying that “politics should never get in between” the ability for a doctor to prescribe a treatment or best course of action for their patient. 

“Today, we can ensure that every one of us and our loved ones, even 97-year-olds, with the diagnosis of COVID has every opportunity to live,” Whiteford said. “That every health professional pharmacist and family can treat COVID without the fear that politics and government will retaliate.”

Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover) further spoke in support of the bill, saying it would give Michiganders “a stronger possibility for recovery from COVID-19 and a ray of hope to them and their loved ones.” 

“At one point threatening and confusing actions by the administration made it seem like medical licenses might even be revoked or over unapproved treatments,” Alexander said. “The Right to Try Act was passed to help desperate patients have any and all options available to them, giving them the ability to choose a medical plan of action as recommended by their doctor without fear of retaliation.”

As of Wednesday, 2,051,771 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 31,695 have died. Currently, 65.1% of Michiganders have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which multiple medical studies have shown to be the most effective way to prevent people from getting the virus or make the illness less deadly in breakthrough cases.

Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly refused to encourage Michigan residents to get the safe and free vaccine and several, like Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), have boasted that they will not get the shot. 

In 2020, former President Donald Trump and right-wing media promoted hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug and has been proven to be unsuccessful when treating COVID-19. It also has the potential to cause harm if used for unintended reasons. 

The free COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective | Getty Images

Right-wing figures and media amplified the use of ivermectin throughout the summer of 2021, a drug used to treat parasitic infections such as scabies, onchocerciasis (“river blindness”) and more. The drug has also been proven to be ineffective against COVID-19. 

State Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Twp.) opposed the bill, saying it “would endanger patients and give physicians a free pass to circumvent safety precautions, ignore reporting requirements and make decisions with no accountability whatsoever.”

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) also opposed the bill and said the legislation “is unnecessary” and casts “doubt on the expertise of medical professionals.” 

“As has been previously mentioned, there’s nothing that this bill will permit that is not already allowed under the act,” Pohustsky said. “It will, however, encourage people to pressure, harass, intimidate or even harm medical professionals in an attempt to convince them to prescribe a treatment they may feel as inadequate, inappropriate, or as simply unavailable. COVID-19 has been devastating and I understand the importance of hope when it comes to possible treatments.

“However, we cannot blindly choose hope over actual data.” 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.

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