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Lawmakers Want Maui Health Official Removed for Undermining State's Public Health Message

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

State lawmakers are calling on Gov. David Ige to remove Dr. Lorrin Pang as Maui district health officer for promoting the use of drugs to treat COVID-19 that have not been approved for this use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as for his ties to a group spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents south and west Maui, said Pang was potentially harming the lives of Hawaiʻi's most vulnerable citizens because people will be inclined to believe him due to his position.

Pang is the co-founder of the group Pono Coalition for Informed Consent, which the state health director says spreads "misinformation about these lifesaving vaccines" and "proliferates misinformation about the severity of the disease and the safety of the vaccines."

“He’s undermining the whole public health message and public trust by going along with these — for lack of a better term — conspiracy theories and bad information,” Baker told The Associated Press on Thursday. “So I think he needs to be canned as soon as possible because he’s a direct threat to my constituents.”

Together with the Senate president, House speaker and House and Senate health committee chairs, they sent a letter to the governor on Wednesday asking for Pang's removal.

Ige said in a statement that he couldn't comment on personnel matters, but he urged people to “look at the science and listen to credible sources" such as the Hawaiʻi Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ige called the coalition's actions “irresponsible” and potentially harmful, and he urged residents to get vaccinated to protect their families and communities.

Pang spoke Wednesday about his connections to the group on HPR's The Conversation, saying the coalition was created so that two sides could have a public forum for conversation.

"I speak as a private citizen for the group, and I speak as a private citizen of the group. So sometimes my position doesn’t align with the group," Pang told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "They know that. But their platform is so wide, it takes a pretty wide variety of positions.”

The group has shared information about controversial drugs to treat COVID-19 such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Pang supported the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID-19, so long as the drugs were administered at the right time and at the right dosage.

“It’s a matter of timing,” Pang told the newspaper. “You give the wrong thing at the wrong time, it is very dangerous.”

Pang later released a statement to HPR saying, "Few are more pro-vaccine than I, not just words, but actions. I have presented written arguments supporting mandates on international ethical grounds to the public, UH Maui, as well as to the Pono Coalition. I am not and have never been anti-vaccine."

"I agree with the FDA that Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin could of course prove harmful," Pang said in a statement to HPR. "As vaccine breakthroughs occur we need to be prepared to treat early and late stages of illness. I don’t see how early treatment alternatives affect vaccine acceptance rates, when one has to at least pass through rapid, sensitive diagnostic tests to get to early treatment."

Health Director Dr. Libby Char did not comment directly on Pang, but said, "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."

“We are in a crisis. COVID-19 will continue to take lives until we do the right thing and come together behind vaccination. Those with questions about the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines should seek information from official sources," she continued.

Hawaiʻi's health care system has recently reached a breaking point, overwhelmed by patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

"Under these circumstances, it is critical that our public health care leaders provide responsible and accurate public health information," state lawmakers said in the letter to Ige. "Dr. Pang has undermined the State's critical public health message and public trust. Accordingly, after consultation with the Maui legislative delegation, we request that you immediately remove Dr. Pang from his position with the Department of Health."

Pang told Hawaiʻi Public Radio that Char was aware of his participation in the group as an individual and not as a health department employee.

Pang's government job includes administering public health programs and acting as Char's principal public health representative for the district.

Ivermectin is often used in the U.S. to treat or prevent parasites in animals. The FDA has not approved its use to treat or prevent COVID-19 and says it’s not an anti-viral drug. It has approved ivermectin tablets at specific doses for parasitic worms. It can also be used topically to treat head lice.

The FDA has approved hydroxychloroquine to treat malaria and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Last year, it revoked emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients after a large clinical trial found it failed to decrease the likelihood of death or accelerate recovery. An FDA safety review later found instances of serious heart rhythm, liver and kidney problems in patients who took the drug for COVID-19.

Read Pang's full statement sent to Hawaiʻi Public Radio below.

Pang also appeared onThe Conversation on Aug. 25, 2021.

Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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