A growing number of leaders in the Legislature are calling on the state to fire Dr. Lorrin Pang, the Maui district health officer for the state Department of Health, following a Star-Advertiser story yesterday that reported his involvement with a group called the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent, which has promoted misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines.
Pang has said that he doesn’t agree with all the views espoused by members of the organization, but his involvement as a co-founder has sparked alarm. Pang also told the Star-Advertiser that he supported the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and the veterinary dewormer ivermectin as treatments for COVID-19, drugs that federal and state health officials have warned against.
House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi sent a letter to Gov. David Ige today seeking Pang’s immediate removal from the Maui District Health Office.
“His involvement and endorsement of (the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent) directly conflicts with the guidance of the Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and generally accepted standards of medical practice,” according to the letter. “Dr. Pang has undermined the state’s critical public health message and public trust.”
The letter was also signed by Rep. Ryan Yamane, Sen. Jarret Keohokalole and Sen. Roz Baker, who chair the House and Senate health committees.
Baker (D-West Maui-South Maui) also called on Pang to be fired during remarks on the Senate floor this morning
Pang “has made some alarming and outrageous statements to the press,” Baker told her colleagues on the Senate floor.
“He has violated the very oath that he should have taken when he got his (medical) degree. He definitely is violating the trust of everyone who might think because he is the district health officer of Maui, that he knows what he is talking about,” she said.
“I call on the Director of Health, the governor of the state of Hawaii, to immediately terminate this individual from his position and make sure that he cannot represent the Department of Health or the State of Hawaii in any medical dealing.”
Baker said that she has asked the Hawaii Medical Board to look at revoking Pang’s medical license, saying residents “don’t need to be treated by quacks.”
Pang has stressed that his involvement with the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent is as a private citizen and defended himself in written remarks sent to the media today.
“Few are more pro-vaccine that I, not just words, but actions,” wrote Pang, adding that he has supported vaccine mandates in the past. “Not only am I and my family vaccinated but I have overseen the administration of tens of thousands of shots on Maui.”
Pang said that he got involved with the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent to provide a balanced debate.
“I entered into the Pono Coalition as ‘co-founder,’ yes. To clarify, it was created so that two sides could have a public forum for conversation,” he wrote.
Pang said that his side represented “medical science and informed consent” for getting vaccinated, tested and other interventions. He said the other side of the group, represented by Merlyn Travis, its executive director, represented “a spectrum of concerns and arguments.”
“We agreed to listen to each other in a civil way, asking those with more inflammatory conduct to take a back seat,” wrote Pang.
Ige’s office said today that it doesn’t comment on personnel matters. The Health Department has not said whether it is considering disciplinary action against Pang.
The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned against using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat people for COVID-19. In addition to a lack of scientific evidence showing that they are effective, the FDA has warned that they can be dangerous.
Ivermectin is often used to treat parasitic worms in animals such as cows and horses, but has caught on as an alternative treatment for COVID-19. The FDA has warned that the drug can be dangerous and even lethal. Taking too much can cause symptoms such as vomiting, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, seizures, coma and even death, according to the FDA.
The World Health Organization has warned that the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat people suffering from COVID-19 can increase the risk of heart rhythm problems, blood and lymph disorders, kidney injury, liver problems and failure.
Pang, in his written responses to the media today, didn’t take back his prior comments supporting the use of the drugs to treat people with COVID-19. But he did further qualify his stance.
“There are clinical trials evaluating the use of these medications for COVID,” he wrote. “I agree with the FDA that hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin could of course prove harmful.”
But state leaders say his involvement in the group, which has been spreading erroneous and sometimes dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines online, is a problem in itself, regardless of the nuances of his views.
As a top state health official, it could be perceived that he is lending credibility to misinformation being spread by its members.
Medical licenses at risk
Among the group is Dr. Kirk Milhoan, a pediatric cardiologist and senior pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui, who is a member of the inaugural advisory council of the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent. Milhoan told the Star-Advertiser that he supported the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID-19 and that his treatment protocol could be used as an alternative to the vaccines.
Milhoan said that he has treated more than 80 people on Maui for COVID-19. He doesn’t have a clinic or doctor’s office, but makes home visits.
Milhoan also told the Star-Advertiser that the vaccine could cause miscarriages or reproductive problems, assertions that have been proven false or that have no scientific basis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no increased risk of miscarriage. The CDC recommends anyone thinking of becoming pregnant or who is pregnant get vaccinated.
Both Pang and Milhoan could be at risk of losing their medical licenses. The Hawaii Medical Board intends to file complaints against both of them, according to Ahlani Quiogue, the board’s executive officer.
Last month, the Federation of the State Medical Boards issued a statement warning physicians that they risk disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their license, if they spread misinformation or disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The Hawaii Medical Board takes all concerns seriously and feels strongly about COVID-19 related issues given the gravity of the pandemic,” according to comments provided by Quiogue. “Licensed physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interest of their patients. Thus, providing misinformation may jeopardize their license.”
Complaints are investigated by the state’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office. Ultimately, the licensing board has a litany of disciplinary actions at their disposal if allegations are substantiated. This can include censuring a doctor, limiting the scope of their practice or revoking their license. They can also be fined up to $5,000 per violation, plus the cost of disciplinary proceedings, according to Quiogue.
The Health Department has not commented directly on Pang, but Dr. Libby Char, who leads the department, issued a statement condemning the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent.
“The Pono Coalition for Informed Consent is spreading misinformation about these lifesaving vaccines. This is dangerous. The Coalition proliferates misinformation about the severity of the disease and the safety of the vaccines,” said Char.
“I want to be clear—hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19. Taking unprescribed large doses of ivermectin or doses intended for animals can cause serious harm.”
Char also stressed the toll that the pandemic is taking on Hawaii and the need for people to be vaccinated.
“This week, COVID-19 took the lives of 19 Hawaiʻi residents. Over 9,000 of our family, friends, and neighbors are sick with COVID,” she said. “The tragedy of this spike in cases is that by and large, it’s preventable. We have vaccines that will save the lives of Hawaii residents.
“We listen to all sides in public health. We believe in dialogue. But in this case, the science is clear. More than 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. The vaccine will protect you against severe illness, hospitalization and death.”
She urged those with questions about the safety or effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines to seek information from official sources like DOH or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.