Alaska medical board gets earful from public over unproven COVID treatments, misinformation

Testimony at a regular meeting of the State Medical Board was split on whether doctors who have been prescribing unproven COVID-19 treatments like ivermectin should be disciplined. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The board that oversees licensing of medical professionals in Alaska got an earful from the public on Friday when they met for a regularly scheduled meeting.

During an hour of sharply-divided testimony, more than two dozen Alaskans largely took one of two sides: They either pleaded with the board to allow doctors to keep prescribing drugs like ivermectin to treat COVID-19, which federal regulators have warned against or they asked the board to take a clearer stand against misinformation related to the virus.

“I’m here to ask the medical board to do a simple thing: Stop a handful of irresponsible doctors from spreading dangerous misinformation in the guise of medical fact during the pandemic,” said Pat Dougherty, former longtime editor of the Anchorage Daily News who said he had filed complaints about several doctors to the board.

Dougherty was one of seven testifiers who railed against the board for not making a stronger statement against medical workers who are spreading COVID-19 misinformation. But most people who testified used their two minutes to promote the use of ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that hasn’t been approved to treat the virus. That included Ilona Farr, a family medicine doctor in Anchorage. Farr recently spoke at a gathering of nationally prominent vaccine skeptics in Anchorage.

“It is my belief that vaccine mandates are going to negatively impact the Alaskan workforce and economy,” she told the board. “I’m also concerned that natural immunity and adverse reactions to COVID vaccine in all ages, especially in children, are being ignored.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other major medical organizations say the risk of serious side effects are very small compared to the risks of COVID-19 infection for kids as young as 5.

Four testifiers on Friday personally thanked Farr for her treatments. Some speakers who promoted ivermectin blamed doctors for not prescribing the unproven treatments. One accused doctors of criminal negligence by not giving patients ivermectin.

Among the testifiers who spoke against the board reprimanding doctors or discouraging experimental treatments were David Morgan, Anchorage’s former acting health director, Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Eagle River, and Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River. Farr is Reinbold’s sister.

Among those testifying in favor of the board disciplining doctors who are spreading misinformation were University of Alaska Anchorage epidemiologist Tom Hennessy, Steven Floerchinger, a surgeon at Providence Alaska Medical Center, and Benjamin Westley, an infectious disease specialist.

The board also received more than 600 written comments ahead of its Friday meeting. The Anchorage Daily News analyzed the comments and reported that most opposed the board reprimanding doctors. But nearly 150 doctors signed onto a letter asking the board to investigate doctors who are prescribing drugs not approved for treating COVID-19 such as ivermectin.

Four of the five doctors who spoke on Friday asked the board to make a clear statement against physicians spreading misinformation about the efficacy of COVID vaccines or overstating the benefits of unproven drugs.

Stacey Maddox, a hospitalist in Anchorage, said she’s seeing the impacts of misinformation firsthand.

“I just came down from seeing several COVID patients who are quite ill and unvaccinated,” she told the board. “And every day I am hearing my patients give misinformation that they have heard and, unfortunately, I also have heard the same information or misinformation coming from other physicians.”

One testifier, Daniel Consenstein, said that his doctor had referred him to America’s Frontline Doctors. The group is a major nationwide proponent of ivermectin with opaque membership that has a record of overcharging patients for ivermectin, according to Time.

The state nursing, pharmacy and dental boards put out a joint statement last month confirming that vaccines are effective against COVID and reiterating that ivermectin is unproven as a COVID treatment.

The state medical board has not followed suit. Dr. Richard Wein, the board chair, said the board would discuss any action it might take at a later, unspecified date.

“We will take up the matter at a time when we can have a full and robust conversation towards it,” he said on Friday. “And then, in essence, determine a path for the board to take.”

All seven members of the board were appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. One seat of the eight-member board is vacant.

According to ADN, the board has opened nine formal complaints against medical workers involving misinformation about COVID-19 treatments.

According to state code, the board can sanction licensed medical workers for “professional incompetence, gross negligence, or repeated negligent conduct” but “the board may not base a finding of professional incompetence solely on the basis that a licensee’s practice is unconventional or experimental in the absence of demonstrable physical harm to a patient.”

The board can discipline license holders for violating any of the ethics codes it has adopted, including the American Medical Association’s. That code states that medical advice given in the media must be accurate. Several of the complaints refer to false or misleading statements made by doctors in Anchorage about the efficacy of masks or COVID transmission rates in Anchorage.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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