The Labor Court prohibited a company in Santa Catarina from distributing ivermectin as an alleged treatment against covid-19 to its employees.
The company Zanotti Elastics’ practice of giving ivermectin to its workers was revealed by BBC News Brasil in March. In addition to this, BBC News Brasil found three other Brazilian companies distributing to their employees the so-called “covid kit” – a set of drugs without proven efficacy or already proven ineffective for covid-19.
Sought by BBC News Brasil to comment on the decision, Zanotti said it would not comment on the matter.
After the publication of the report in March, the MPT (Ministry of Labor) instituted a procedure to investigate complaints about each company.
Zanotti is headquartered in Jaraguá do Sul (city 50km from Joinville), employs around 1,500 people and produces elastic tapes.
The BBC News Brasil investigation showed that workers had received ivermectin from the company on more than one occasion, having to sign a statement saying they knew that the “proposed prophylactic treatment” was “experimental in the absence of high-quality scientific studies”.
In the investigation in which it investigated Zanotti, the MPT heard former employees who received ivermectin at work and the company’s doctor, confirming the practice exposed by the report and gathering other evidence.
The agency tried to sign a TAC (Term of Adjustment of Conduct) with the company, asking it to commit to no longer provide medication to workers without scientifically proven efficacy recognized by the WHO and by Anvisa. The company refused.
The MPT then filed a public civil action against the company. The agency called for an urgent decision regarding the distribution of drugs without scientific evidence to employees to prevent them from being “resubmitted to reckless measures.”
The decision, in an injunction (provisional), was determined by labor judge Carlos Aparecido Zardo, from the 2nd labor court of Jaraguá do Sul.
“Social networks were crammed with fake news about early treatments, without any scientific proof. However, it is public and notorious that the WHO (World Health Organization), to date, does not recommend the use of ivermectin as an early treatment for the infection caused by coronavirus“, wrote the judge in his opinion.
The WHO does not recommend the use of ivermectin for the treatment of covid-19, as does the Brazilian Society of Infectology and several world health authorities.
In the decision, the judge highlighted how, according to the investigation conducted by the Public Ministry of Labor, ivermectin was provided to employees “without prior medical evaluation and indication and without due clarification about the side effects, which reveals the possibility of causing damage to the workers’ health”.
According to the injunction, the company may not interfere in the relationship between workers and the company’s doctor, nor promote a campaign to encourage treatments with “off label” drugs.
In case of non-compliance with the decision, he will have to pay a fine of R$ 50 thousand. She can still present a defense.
In the public civil action, the Public Ministry of Labor also asks the company to be sentenced to pay collective moral damages in the minimum amount of R$ 5 million. This request will still be considered by the Labor Court.
The Public Ministry of Labor heard former employees who reported having received ivermectin on two occasions. In the first, in July 2020, 700 employees received the drug. The second time, in March 2021, there were 500 workers.
In the investigation, the agency collected all the consent terms signed by the employees, analyzing the documents one by one. In them, workers had to answer about their knowledge about the drug and inform details about their health conditions.
“There are cases that arouse attention, in which the worker provides answers that, apparently, should prevent the dispensing of the medication”, says the MPT in its action.
And he quotes: an employee replied, for example, that he did not know that ivermectin was intended for the treatment of verminosis, and that he was also unaware of its side effects. Some declared that they were not aware of scientific studies on the supply of the drug to pregnant and lactating women.
Others reported frequent use of alcoholic beverages. One employee did not answer whether or not he had a diagnosis of epilepsy. Some had a diagnosis of labyrinthitis.
Despite this, all received ivermectin.
“Therefore, whatever the luck of the answers, whether or not the worker had apparent contraindications, whether or not he knew information about the drug, or even if he left questions blank, the drug was provided”, says the MPT.
At the hearing with the company’s physician, he stated that contraindications for ivermectin were contained in the information term, that employees were not previously examined individually and that there was no monitoring of the side effects of each of the workers who ingested ivermectin.
Former employees confirmed this in testimony. They also said they had not been pressured to take the drug.
“We know that the employment hierarchy itself causes the employee to end up acting according to the employer’s determinations. He thinks ‘it’s better to take it, if I can’t risk being fired,'” says labor attorney Ana Carolina Martinhago Balam, author of the MPT’s action.
The court’s decision to prohibit the distribution of this or other drugs that have not been scientifically proven to be effective for diseases and to prohibit interference in the relationship between physicians and workers has a “very important pedagogical character so that other companies do not take the same attitude”, she says.
For the prosecutor, it is also important because it shows that “serious institutions are against this type of propagation of drugs without efficacy”. “The institutions are committed to the truth and not false news or ideological positions.”