Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe removes a face mask.
Japanese government officials did not promote ivermectin's use while Shinzo Abe was prime minister. Image by AP

False claim links Shinzo Abe to ivermectin as a COVID treatment

William Summers July 21, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's chief health officer promoted ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

OUR VERDICT

False. The claim appears to be a misattribution of comments made by the chair of a non-government Tokyo medical body after Mr Abe left office.

A self-described “free speech” advocate has attempted to link assassinated former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to debunked claims anti-parasitic drug ivermectin can be used to treat COVID-19.

Joel Jammal, who runs the Turning Point Australia Facebook page, claims Mr Abe’s “chief health officer” told people in Japan to take ivermectin, a move Mr Jammal said was “inspired” by Mr Abe’s leadership.

The claim is false. It appears to be based on a misattribution of comments made by the chairman of the Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Association, an independent medical body with no formal ties to the Japanese government.

Ivermectin has never been approved in Japan as a treatment for COVID-19. The drug has repeatedly proven to be ineffective – and potentially dangerous – as a COVID-19 treatment.

Mr Jammal made the claim in a Facebook video on July 10, referring to ivermectin as “ivy”, a colloquial shorthand name for the drug, as used here, here and here.

“Really interesting fact about Shinzo Abe. I won’t say the word but you know ‘ivy’, that some people used to treat COVID? Well, that was something that Shinzo Abe’s chief health officer over there actually encouraged people to take across the whole country. So I don’t know if people actually did, but it was something that their chief officer, health officer actually had the freedom to actually say, and I think that says a lot about him, his leadership and what that inspired in people,” he says (video mark 49min 32sec).

It’s unclear who Mr Jammal was referring to when he used the term “chief health officer”.

The role of “chief medical & global health officer” in Japan was filled by Dr Yasuhiro Suzuki up to August 2020 and Dr Yasumasa Fukushima since August 2020.

AAP FactCheck found no evidence either Dr Suzuki or Dr Fukushima encouraged the use of ivermectin for COVID-19. Mr Jammal did not respond when contacted for clarification of his claim.

A box of ivermectin
 The claim anti-parasitic drug ivermectin can treat COVID-19 has repeatedly been debunked. 

It is possible Mr Jammal misattributed comments made in the early stages of the pandemic by Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Association chairman Haruo Ozaki.

Mr Ozaki proposed emergency use of ivermectin for patients recovering from COVID-19 at home on February 9, 2021 – almost six months after Mr Abe left office in August 2020.

Mr Ozaki again commented on ivermectin on August 13, 2021, with AFP fact check reporting he told a press conference: “Of course, one cannot conclude that ivermectin is effective ÔǪ (but) we cannot say that ivermectin is absolutely not effective ÔǪ We can do other studies to confirm its efficacy, but we are in a crisis situation.”

Tokyo Metropolitan Medical Association is a membership and advocacy body affiliated with the Japan Medical Association, but is not a government body and Mr Ozaki is not a government official..

Some people wrongly claimed Mr Ozaki’s comments proved Japan had given the green light to ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.

Hitoshi Oshitani, a virology expert at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, told AAP FactCheck he was unaware of any senior government officials in Japan who had spoken in support of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.

“However, I know that some influential persons such as politicians in the ruling party (LDP) made statements to support ivermectin as a treatment,” Professor Oshitani said in an email.

Japan’s Ministry of Health told AAP FactCheck via email that ivermectin “has never been approved in Japan as a drug for the treatment of COVID-19“.

The ministry published guidance for doctors in July 2021 that stated ivermectin “did not improve all-cause mortality, length of hospital stay and virus disappearance time”, when compared to standard treatment or placebo (page 54 – Japanese to English translation here).

“Some people may be using ivermectin. But generally (in Japan), it is not considered effective,” Prof Oshitani said.

Claims that ivermectin was responsible for a downturn in COVID-19 cases in Japan have been debunked here, here and here.

The Verdict

The claim former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s chief health officer encouraged people to take ivermectin to treat COVID-19 is false. AAP FactCheck could find no evidence a senior Japanese government health official had promoted the drug for COVID-19. In addition, the anti-parasitic drug has never been approved to treat the virus in Japan, the Ministry of Health confirmed.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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