April 1, 2023

A doctor who prescribed a high dose of parasite drug Ivermectin to treat Covid-19, and gave patient a fake Covid-19 vaccination exemption says questions over her practise amount to a “witch hunt”.
Stuff obtained a script, signed by Nelson general practitioner Dr Caroline Wheeler, prescribing her patient a five-day course of Ivermectin. A receipt shows the prescription was filled by an online pharmacy.
In New Zealand, Ivermectin is approved for use in humans to treat an intestinal disease caused by roundworm (strongyloidiasis), certain parasites in blood or tissue, or for scabies after prior treatment has failed.
University of Wollongong epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz pointed to a recently updated Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis concluding “there is low- to high-certainty evidence that Ivermectin has no beneficial effect for people with Covid-19”.
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“While low-quality studies tend to show a benefit, high-quality clinical research has provided increasingly strong evidence that Ivermectin is unlikely to be beneficial in the treatment of Covid-19, while the jury is still out on Ivermectin for prevention of the disease, as the studies are not very good,” Meyerowitz-Katz said.
Paperwork shows Wheeler also gave her patient a Covid-19 vaccination exemption form on the same day, downloaded from anti-vaccination site PROMIC. The exemption is not recognised by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health.
Over the phone, Wheeler said Stuff’s questions were a “witch hunt” and that the publication of her name would put her career at risk.
“I’m going to get the force of the law against you. If you want me to lose my registration, or deregister me… We have already lost goodness knows how many doctors who have spoken up about the vaccine, and they have been deregistered for going against the government policy.”
According to the Medical Council of New Zealand, three doctors were suspended for Covid-related issues by the latest date provided, June 2021, while investigations into 17 others continued.
Later, responding by email, Wheeler said she researched studies and reports to provide her patients with information “so they can make informed decisions about what is best for them”.
The prescribing of Ivermectin for Covid-19 was “repurposed” prescribing, Wheeler said. “In a crisis many doctors and other experts prefer to repurpose safe well known drugs rather than experiment with new drugs.”
(While Ivermectin’s use in treating parasites is well known and earned its researchers a Nobel Prize for their part in almost eliminating parasitic disease River Blindness, it is not proven as a treatment for Covid-19.)
"There was certainly an argument to use repurposed medications without much evidence behind them in early 2020, because we had no other option, but it has been well over two years since then," Meyerowitz-Katz said.
"We now have a number of large, reasonably robust randomised trials on Ivermectin which have failed to show a benefit from the medication, while there are other treatments that are much better evidenced," he said.
Wheeler said issuing vaccine exemptions was briefly permissible under New Zealand’s Public Health Response Act.
Wheeler was one of 32 doctors, 100 nurses and 187 allied health professionals who last year signed an open letter casting doubt on the Covid-19 vaccine.
The GP, who has also been known as Yashu Wheeler, is from the United Kingdom. According to her LinkedIn profile, she obtained her medical qualification from the University of Manchester, and started a GP practice in Nelson in 1995.
Her website states that after 14 years of practice, she made the switch to integrative medicine, a holistic way of treating patients.
According to her website, “NZ government mandates” means her work is done via Zoom and her fees are stated as $420 plus GST per hour.
Despite warnings from bodies like Medsafe and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, Kiwis have attempted to import and buy Ivermectin.
In July, Whakatāne GP Dr Bernard Conlon, who imported 14,300 Ivermectin tablets from India lost an appeal against Medsafe after his stockpile was intercepted at the border. Some were found to be contaminated.
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said there was “no evidence at all that [Ivermectin] helps.”
Wheeler’s prescribed dose was on the high side, Betty said.
“It is usually prescribed as a single dose [for parasites] and [For an] average 70 kilo person the dose would be approximately 14 milligrams. The doctor here is prescribing for five days, 36mg a day which is higher than the recommended dose for parasites.”
Ivermectin was not without risks, Betty said. The wrong dose could cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, seizures, coma and even death, he said.
The practice of prescribing Ivermectin was not widespread, Betty said.
“Generally through doctors who take an anti-vaccination stance; and we know there are very small numbers – probably less than 30 around the country.”
The vaccine exemption Wheeler issued her patient was not valid in New Zealand, Betty said. There was only one pathway for getting a vaccination exemption in New Zealand. This was through the Ministry of Health, and very few Kiwis were eligible, he said.
Earlier this year, a Stuff investigation revealed a network of doctors issuing fake vaccine exemptions. After a Newshub sting uncovered a similar practice in Canterbury, GP Jonie Girouard was fined by the Ministry of Health, and asked that her registration with the Medical Council be withdrawn.
The Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) was the appropriate avenue for complaints, Betty said.
The individual who gave Stuff the paperwork was not prepared to make a complaint to the Medical Council due to privacy concerns.
MCNZ senior communications adviser Janette Deed said the body took notifications from the public concerning doctors not complying with standards “very seriously”.
In the most serious cases, the council could suspend doctors, place conditions on their practice to protect the public from harm, and refer the case for further investigation, Deed said.
Due to privacy considerations, they were unable to comment on Wheeler’s case, she said.
© 2022 Stuff Limited


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