Hawaii’s top medical advisor for Maui County is under fire after news reports that he was recommending the use of the livestock drug ivermectin and the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent and treat Covid-19 as an alternative to federally approved vaccines.
Now, a state senator from Maui says she will call for Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang to resign or be fired on Thursday during a Senate floor session.
State Sen. Rosalyn Baker said she also called the Hawaii Medical Board on Wednesday and requested that it revoke his medical license.
“He’s the district health officer located in my island,” Baker said. “And if he is recommending that people take things that the FDA has said are potentially lethal if you ingest them, and that are not efficacious in treating Covid-19, then he should not be practicing medicine. He should not be representing the Department of Health. He should not be stationed in Maui.”
In a prepared statement, Hawaii Department of Health Director Libby Char strongly condemned the misinformation being perpetuated by Pang and a group he co-founded called The Pono Coalition for Informed Consent. But the department would not say what Pang’s behavior means for his job.
In a news story published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Wednesday, Pang confirmed his support of the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to prevent and treat Covid. But he said he does not endorse all of the views espoused by the coalition he helped create. Some of those views include unsubstantiated or disproved claims that the Covid vaccines can cause miscarriages and reproductive health issues.
Pang couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Ivermectin is a drug commonly used for deworming large farm animals, such as cows and horses. It is less commonly prescribed to people in limited doses as a parasitic treatment.
Hydroxychloroquine is approved to treat malaria, as well as rheumatoid arthritis and certain autoimmune conditions.
Both drugs have been widely discredited for use in fighting the effects of a Covid infection, although non-medical online communities and conservative news sites still promote them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned the drugs can cause serious harm or death when misused.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Char pointed to the spread of the virus in Hawaii and the toll it is taking on residents, as well as the deaths of more than 500 people.
“The Pono Coalition for Informed Consent is spreading misinformation about these lifesaving vaccines,” Char said. “This is dangerous. The Coalition proliferates misinformation about the severity of the disease and the safety of the vaccines.”
She emphasized that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin should not be used to treat Covid-19 and that their use can cause serious harm.
The amplification of misinformation surrounding Covid treatment and prevention by a state health official comes at a time when the delta variant is driving a surge in infections in Hawaii and overwhelming the state’s hospital system.
Hawaii reported eight new coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, raising the total since the pandemic started early last year to 573.
The state also logged 625 new cases, including 376 on Oahu, 100 on the Big Island, 96 on Maui, 39 on Kauai, two each on Lanai and Molokai and 10 who were diagnosed out of state. In all, Hawaii has had 57,747 coronavirus cases.
The statewide vaccination rate, meanwhile, inched up to 62.3%.
On Wednesday Maui Mayor Michael Victorino condemned the use of non-FDA approved drugs to prevent or treat Covid, and warned that following Pang’s misguidance could be dangerous or lethal.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor on Hawaii island, said he was distressed by Pang’s statements that stray from the tenets of the global medical community.
“I have deep concerns about what the Maui district health officer said and I did speak to him personally (Wednesday) expressing those concerns because we have to follow science and be supportive of science,” Green said.
Inoculation is the safest and most effective tool to prevent serious illness or fatality from Covid-19, experts say.
Hawaii health care leaders said this week that they hoped federal regulators’ full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine would push more people to overcome vaccine hesitancy and drive a boost in inoculation rates amid the surge that is overwhelming some local hospitals.
The approval replaces the emergency use authorization granted by the FDA last December, raising the U.S. government’s endorsement of the Pfizer vaccine to the same level as common vaccines for illnesses such as the flu or chickenpox.
The highly contagious delta variant now makes up 93% of recent Covid cases in the islands, according to the new variant report released last week. Health officials say community transmission is responsible for the latest surge.
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.
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