Senior officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were blown away by the response to the agency’s controversial ivermectin Twitter post, internal emails show.
The August 21, 2021 post is now the focus of a court case.
The post said: “You are not a horse. you are not a cow Seriously, all of you. Stop it.” It linked to an FDA page that says people should not use ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19.
The post was created by Brad Kimberly, an FDA official, after Mississippi officials (pdf) reported an increase in calls from people who had taken ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19, including some those used for animals developed versions of ivermectin.
Ivermectin is an antiparasitic used in both humans and animals.
Kimberly and a number of other officials were thrilled when the post went viral, according to the emails.
The post “is the most popular post we’ve ever had on Twitter,” Erica Jefferson, deputy commissioner for foreign affairs, wrote in a message, adding that “we’re pleased with the response and results.”
Jefferson wrote to Dr. Janet Woodcock, an FDA official who was acting commissioner at the time.
“That was awesome! Even I saw it!” said Woodcock. She said she agreed with the new strategy of being “creative and approachable,” calling the writing an “excellent start.”
‘Seize the opportunity’
Jefferson said she and another team wanted to capitalize on the Mississippi warning and were able to create the mail and ship it just a day later, even though it was a Saturday.
“I’m sure you saw some news from Mississippi on Friday about the use of ivermectin to treat/prevent Covid-19 and the increase in adverse events (poisoning) that the state has been highlighting as a result of its use. I notified the team late Friday night that we were taking the opportunity to remind the public of our own warnings for ivermectin, and by early Saturday morning the social media team had posted the… tweet,” Jefferson said.
“Needless to say, the direct, straightforward, and clever (humorous) communication, coupled with a follow-up tweet that provided additional answers to frequently asked questions about ivermectin, ensured the tweet quickly went viral and across multiple social media channels platforms (where it was amplified by other influencers) and led to additional coverage,” she added.
Jefferson said she is focused on finding ways for the FDA “to reach the ‘everyday’ American” and “developing content that allows the agency to feel both accessible and informative in a time of incredible misinformation.” “.
Several FDA officials, including Jefferson, said they laughed when they saw the post, which was praised by about half a dozen officials.
“Team – this is an EXCELLENT job. So creative and, most importantly, it takes the FDA’s public health message out into the universe. I can’t wait to see what else you have in the works!” Julia Tierney, another official, said.
“I saw the tweet and was super impressed. I’m glad we now have data to back up the direct approach,” wrote Anna Staton, another official.
Jefferson and Sandy Walsh, another FDA official, approached Kimberly to create the post. Walsh said the “edgy tweet was a hit”.
you are not a horse you are not a cow Seriously, all of you. Stop it. https://t.co/TWb75xYEY4
— US FDA (@US_FDA) August 21, 2021
According to internally shared analytics, the post drew millions of eyeballs, including 23.7 million impressions on Twitter alone. Officials also shared the same post on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Kimberly has been identified by others as the author who developed the language, and he told several colleagues that he wrote it.
“It’s been a fun weekend watching people say the words I wrote on TV and TikTok and stuff,” Kimberly said in an email.
Kimberly was asked to present the data during a meeting. Details of the meeting weren’t included, but Kimberly sent what he described as a “blurb” to colleagues.
“In response to a recent article that appeared in the news, we created a post that aligns with the new engagement strategy our team has been working to implement. As a result, the post was seen by more than 24 million people on Twitter…and became the most popular post in our account’s history,” Kimberly said.
Woodcock told The Epoch Times in an email: “As you may know, ivermectin has been shown to be ineffective against COVID in large randomized trials. In addition, taking drugs in doses intended for large animals can lead to serious illness. I believe that professionalism is essential for the staff of any regulatory agency. Still, humor can sometimes help convey an important message.”
Jefferson, Kimberly, Tierney, Staton and Walsh did not respond to requests for comment.
Vice News first reported on the emails, but only included screenshots and quotes from a subset of them. The full set was obtained from The Epoch Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
A second set of internal emails showed that Woodcock said ivermectin was “certainly a very safe drug” but repeatedly questioned whether it would work against COVID-19, despite other countries such as Peru and India using the drug against the disease were successful.
The evidence for ivermectin is mixed. Some studies show little to no benefit, while others suggest strong benefits.
The government defended the Twitter post and another made in 2022 during a recent court hearing. Lawyers said the statements were “not guidelines” but “recommendations.”
The hearing concerned a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three physicians who said FDA statements about ivermectin unlawfully interfered with their work.
The states were “made with the knowledge and intention that these actions would interfere with the practice of medicine,” in violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and the Administrative Procedures Act, according to the lawsuit.
The FDA has no authority to comment on off-label use of approved drugs or any use other than what they are approved for, the doctors claimed. The FDCA, they noted, says that nothing herein “shall be construed as limiting or impairing the authority of a healthcare practitioner to prescribe a legally marketed device for any condition or disease within a legitimate physician-patient relationship.” or to administer. ”
US District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump-appointed official overseeing the case, said the statements on social media were concerning because there were no qualifications. There is evidence on the FDA’s website that people can take ivermectin if their doctor prescribes it.
Brown has not yet ruled on the motion to dismiss.
Editor’s Note: This story was edited with commentary by Dr. Woodcock updated.