Maui Mayor Michael Victorino strongly condemned the off-label use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and the veterinary dewormer ivermectin as treatments for COVID-19 on Wednesday, following a story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that reported a local doctor and health official had been promoting their use.
“The FDA has not approved either of these drugs for treating or preventing COVID-19. Taking any drug for an unapproved use can be dangerous or lethal,” Victorino said in a press release.
The Star-Advertiser reported that Dr. Kirk Milhoan, a pediatric cardiologist and senior pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui, had been promoting the treatment regimen. He told the newspaper that he had treated more than 80 people on Maui through a “mobile clinic” that people heard about through the “coconut wireless.”
Milhoan said that his “early treatment” protocol could be used as an alternative to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Lorrin Pang, who is the Maui District Health Officer for the state Department of Health, also told the Star-Advertiser that he supported the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as treatment options for COVID-19. Pang said that he was speaking as a private citizen. The Department of Health does not support the use of the drugs to treat COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned against using the drugs to treat the virus.
Hydroxychloroquine was pushed by former President Donald Trump last year as a potential wonder drug to treat the virus, but studies have shown that there is no evidence that the drug reduced symptoms or prevented severe illness.
Ivermectin later caught on, particularly within conservative circles, as another wonder drug, despite the lack of scientific evidence that it is effective in treating COVID-19.
People suffering from the virus who couldn’t get ivermectin from doctors have sometimes turned to livestock supply stores. In Mississippi, one person was hospitalized this month for ingesting the dewormer.
The troubling trend prompted the FDA on Saturday to tweet: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
Victorino also stressed the safety of the available COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which the FDA granted final approval to this week.
“The vaccines have undergone, and continue to undergo, the most intensive safety monitoring in the nation’s history,” according to the press release issued by Victorino.
Citing research from Vanderbilt University, he said the odds of dying from a reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine is about the same as being killed by lightning.
“I remind Maui County residents that more than 95 percent of those hospitalized at Maui Memorial Medical Center are unvaccinated,” said Victorino. “Vaccines are the safest way to protect your health and the health of your loved ones.”
Gov. David Ige, the county mayors and top state health officials have repeatedly urged residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the highly-contagious delta variant causes cases to surge throughout the islands and hospitals become overrun with patients. The virus is increasingly affecting younger residents who have lower vaccination rates.
Hawaii Department of Health officials on Wednesday reported eight new coronavirus-related deaths and 625 new confirmed and probable infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 573 fatalities and 57,747 cases.
One of the deaths was on Maui and seven were on Oahu. All of the deceased had underlying conditions.
On Oahu, the deceased included one woman in her 30s, one man in his 40s, one woman in her 50s, one man in his 60s, one woman in her 70s and two men in their 80s. All of them were hospitalized.
The state on Wednesday also released statistics on vaccination rates of government employees.
As of last week, 87.6% of state workers were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 92.4% had received at least one shot, according to the Department of Human Resources Development. The vaccination rates apply to 14,000 state employees and do not include those who work for the Hawaii Department of Education and the University of Hawaii.
The vaccination rates are significantly higher than Hawaii’s overall population, in which 76% of adults are fully vaccinated.
Gov. David Ige signed an executive order on Aug. 5 requiring all state and county workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. State employees of the executive branch were required to submit forms attesting to whether they were vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. Eleven employees were placed on leave without pay because they did not return their attestation forms, according to DHRD.
The highest vaccination rates are within DHRD, with 96.3% of employees fully vaccinated and the Department of the Attorney General, where 94.3% of employees are fully vaccinated. The lowest vaccination rates are within the Department of Public Safety, which has a rate of 77.1% and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which has an 80.3% vaccination rate.
“I am pleased with the vaccination and compliance rates, and I continue to encourage state employees and eligible Hawaii residents to get vaccinated to protect their families, communities and themselves,” Ige said in a press release. “Let’s do our part to stop the surge and get our lives back.”
Those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated must undergo regular testing. Employees can apply for an exemption from the requirements, which employers generally grant for medical or religious reasons. DHRD said that 87 employees have applied for an exemption.