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Pang resists lawmaker calls for his removal

Maui District health officer advocates for doctors’ right to make off-label calls

State Department of Health Maui District officer Dr. Lorrin Pang waves during a vaccination clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College in April. Pang is pushing back against lawmaker calls for his removal and a Hawaii Medical Board complaint against him over concerns that he supported treatments for COVID-19 that federal agencies advise against. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said top state lawmakers showed him no “aloha” when they called for his removal in a letter to Gov. David Ige last week after news broke that he was a co-founder of an organization that backs controversial treatments for COVID-19.

Since then Pang has said publicly that he has never been against vaccines and agreed that treatments not approved specifically for COVID-19 could prove harmful. He also defended his appearance on a panel hosted by the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent that he helped found, saying it was formed as a way to encourage public dialogue.

“How can we stand by our decisions, when decision makers try to silence experts, without even asking for input,” he said in a public letter of response to lawmakers this week. “Have we forgotten how to ask questions civilly, before acting? Public servants should never be bullied. That is not Aloha. If legislators prefer to bully them, rather than engage in civil discussion, then how can we ever hope to get through this pandemic together?”

Maui state Sen. Roz Baker, along with House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate President Ronald Kouchi and chairmen of both chambers’ health committees sent a letter to Ige last week asking him to remove Pang after the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Pang is the co-founder of the Pono Coalition for Informed Consent.

The group on its website says that it “advocates for true informed consent before taking the experimental COVID-19 vaccines, before authorizing for another, or before administering,” but has been denounced by Ige, the state Department of Health and lawmakers for spreading misinformation about the vaccine.

Baker was critical of Pang on the Senate floor, saying that people “don’t need to be treated by quacks,” in the wake of the Star-Advertiser’s story that Pang supports the use of hydroxychloroquine, an arthritis medication also used to prevent malaria, and ivermectin, a drug used to remove parasites in both humans and animals, for treating COVID-19. Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the state Department of Health, have warned against the use of the drugs for COVID-19.

In his letter to legislators this week, Pang said he has “never prescribed ivermectin and never prescribed off-label drugs for COVID-19” and that early treatment is not a realistic alternative to vaccination.

However, he added that FDA guidelines are clear that doctors are allowed to make off-label judgments, pointing out that the FDA says off-label use must be doctor prescribed and supervised and the drugs must be manufactured for humans, come from a safe source and be used in amounts below the safe dose determined from the approved labeled use.

Standard COVID-19 treatments such as steroids, oxygen and monoclonal antibodies should be considered first, Pang said, adding he has always followed the FDA guidelines, “taking even more precautions,” as he has decades of medical experience.

“At stake here is the right of M.D.s to make medical decisions,” he wrote. “They are trained to do this, while most legislators are not. It is irresponsible, inappropriate and possibly criminal for legislators to obstruct this well-defined FDA process.”

On Wednesday, While Baker told The Maui News that she disagrees with Pang’s statement.

“I saw no wiggle room in the FDA statement about the use of either medicine to ‘treat’ Covid19,” Baker said in an email. “To paraphrase, ‘you’re not a cow or a horse, don’t use them.'”

The FDA tweeted the warning last month after reports of people taking ivermectin intended for livestock.

Pang is a licensed medical doctor, so he should be held to a high standard, Baker said.

She added that she did not want to “get into a tit for tat response” and that she would await the outcome of the Hawaii Medical Board complaint against Pang before commenting further.

The board has also filed a separate complaint against pediatric cardiologist Dr. Kirk Milhoan, who said he supports the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. The senior pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui has said that he is also pro-vaccine and also supports treatments like steroids and monoclonal antibodies.

Both complaints were filed last week with the Regulated Industries Complaints Office.

Neither Kouchi nor Saiki had comment on Pang’s letter to lawmakers, their spokespersons said on Wednesday.

When asked about the letter, state Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr sent The Maui News a statement from DOH last week that warns against the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

Baehr confirmed on Wednesday that there has been no change to Pang’s employment status.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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