Maui Coronavirus Updates

Senator Calls for Termination of Maui Health Officer; Dr. Pang Responds with Letter Defending his Approach

August 26, 2021, 2:03 PM HST
* Updated August 27, 9:39 PM
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By Wendy Osher

Sen. Roz Baker (left). PC: Hawaiʻi Senate. 8.26.21 10 a.m.; Dr. Lorrin Pang (right) PC: Wendy Osher

*Scroll down to see full response letter from Dr. Pang regarding Maui Now’s request for comment.

Senator Roz Baker of Maui is calling for the termination of Maui’s District Health Officer amid comments made regarding unapproved treatments for COVID-19 in Maui County.

The information was shared in recent media coverage that delved into the reasons why some who do not want to get vaccinated have opted for other treatment protocol.

In a article published Wednesday in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Dr. Lorrin Pang, who serves as the Maui District Health Officer for the state Department of Health, said he supported use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, but cautioned that they “need to be administered at the right time and right dosage,” otherwise it could be “very dangerous.” In the article he notes that his comments were made as a private citizen, and also stressed that he “supports the state’s efforts to increase vaccinations against COVID-19.”

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Both Dr. Char and Maui Mayor Michael Victorino issued statements yesterday, condemning the use of both of the drugs as a treatment for COVID-19. The FDA revoked Emergency Use Authorization of hydroxychloroquine in June of 2020 due to risk of heart rhythm problems; and the FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans.

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Dr. Pang is the co-founder of The Pono Coalition, a group that DOH director, Dr. Elizabeth Char said is proliferating “misinformation” about the severity of the disease and the safety of vaccines.

According to the group’s website, the coalition states: “We are not anti-vaccine, but pro-transparency. Our mission is simply to promote impeccable education on the benefits, risks and alternatives pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines.” 

In her comments today, Sen. Baker said, “As you are undoubtedly aware, a person who occupies a very prestigious position in our state, the District Health Officer, and assigned to Maui, has made some alarming and outrageous statements in the press,” said Sen. Baker during today’s Floor Session. She said the information is “harming potentially the lives of our citizens, our most vulnerable people who may–because he has and MD behind his name–take what he says as gospel.”

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Although Dr. Pang’s comments were not made in his official capacity, Sen. Baker said, “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.”

In her statement on the floor today, Sen. Baker said she was also asking the Board of Medicine, which provides licenses as part of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, “to review his status and to determine whether they can revoke his license.”

She concluded by addressing her colleagues saying, “I appreciate the support that you have shown me in trying to make sure that we have the most effective and efficacious treatments that our people need and deserve; but they don’t need to be treated by quacks,” said Sen. Baker, who raised the issue as a point of personal privilege following conclusion of regular Senate business.

Dr. Pang has since responded to Maui Now’s request for comment with the following letter:

“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. Not only am I and my family vaccinated but I have overseen the administration of tens of thousands of shots on Maui.

“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. My side represented medical science and informed consent (for getting a vaccine, testing, other interventions) and the other side of the group represented by Dr. Travis, 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. Then other doctors from Maui and the mainland participated.

“I am now criticized about my perceived position on ivermectin, some saying that it was anti-vaccine and dangerous. Let me be clear:

“Standard therapies (in this case, oxygen, steroids, monoclonal antibodies) should be used for COVID. Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are medications approved for other diseases. There are clinical trials evaluating the use of these medications for COVID. I agree with the FDA that hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin could of course prove harmful.

“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 a rapid, sensitive diagnostic tests to get to early treatment. I mentioned this in the Pono Coalition webinar. I also made valuable contributions to our public discussions, listened to the vaccine-hesitant arguments and explained why those arguments might at first seem correct, but were wrong.

For example:

  1. The media has been misleading to report so many vaccine breakthroughs without pointing out why this does not equate with a loss of vaccine efficacy. I convinced the group that this conclusion is wrong. And how to quantitatively calculate efficacy beyond rates of breakthroughs. Others might simply say that the vaccine is still good enough but at the same time talk about preparing for boosters. This important methods to actually calculate efficacy is important with the following points as well.
  2. When only severe patients are studied, we might see harmful effects of immunity (steroids might be considered here). This does not detract from the value of vaccines in preventing the vast majority from even getting to a serious stage at all.
  3. Some analysis of the vaccine might appear to be harmful, but we need to adjust by age and co-morbidities which have their own impact on death by COVID.
  4. For now vaccines are 90% effective even against Delta to prevent severe illness and death.
  5. I have advocated repeatedly to update informed consent, at the very least, in light of variants, long-COVID, breakthroughs and what we now know of side effects. This has to be a joint effort, and delay means vaccine hesitancy, and lack of information and confidence in action. Preferably written updated information, but if not, at least be able to answer oral questions from the public.

“In good faith, I have tried to educate all parties to the above points where the data might at first seem against vaccinations. These types of issues raised in any public format are not frivolous, but deserve to be taken as real concerns. There is a new report of a very bad variant emerging from Vietnam with very high viral levels in breakthroughs cases. I have already given a written response to the PONO Coalition to assess the data along the points outlined above.

“Maybe new concerns will be raised by the public as we slog through this pandemic – others should step up to explain, not just dictate, why some policies should be followed.”

Lorrin Pang, MD, MPH
as private citizen
Retired Walter Reed Inst of Research/WHO
Consultant to US Congress Medical Research Program
6 dozen peer reviewed medical publications (two on COVID-19)

Maui Now also reached out to others within the Maui District Health Office, who deferred comment to the Department’s communications office in Honolulu. The state Department of Health, did not offer further comment on Dr. Pang’s status with the Department, beyond initial comments made late yesterday.

Hawaiʻi Senate / Youtube
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