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COVID-19

Washington Medical Commission can now discipline doctors who spread COVID-19 misinformation

Ivermectine
Mike Stewart
/
The Associated Press
A box of ivermectin is shown in a pharmacy as pharmacists work in the background.

Doctors and physician assistants who spread misinformation about COVID-19 in Washington could face disciplinary measures. That’s after action taken this week by the Washington Medical Commission, which monitors and enforces licenses of about 34,000 physicians and physician assistants here.

During a special meeting, the commission formally adopted a position statement to that effect. The commissioners agreed unanimously that the treatment of COVID-19 must meet the same standard of care as other diseases.

That’s after reports of a surge in unsafe alternative treatments such as ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug often used in animals. It has off-label approval for human use in limited circumstances, but both the CDC and the FDA say there’s no convincing evidence it works to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Despite that, some local feed stores have received so many inquiries about the drug – with people often openly stating that they want to use it in lieu of a vaccine to stop the coronavirus – that clerks have special instructions to conduct detailed questioning before selling ivermectin.

The higher doses used for livestock can be especially harmful to human health. Ivermectin is known to cause harmful side effects ranging from skin rashes to seizures and liver damage.

Dr. Yanling Yu, a research scientist from Lake Forest Park, serves as a public member of the commission. She expressed initial concern about following state law that protects alternative medicine, but then spoke in favor of the position statement on misinformation.

“There is no valid science at all. ... Like, ivermectin, there have been patients that have been harmed by it. So that is not scientific practice of medicine. And that needs to be stopped,” Yu said.

Dr. Harlan Gallinger agreed. He’s an emergency physician, representing Sammamish on the commission. He urged his fellow commissioners to take action because, he says, proliferation of misinformation has effects that go much further than just the individual patients involved.

“We're the front line, and we are continuing to get bombarded and overwhelmed by patients who are not vaccinated and, I think, in large part because of misinformation. And I believe that we should be standing up on behalf of the practice of medicine,” Gallinger said.

The commission has received at least eight complaints so far against doctors not meeting the standard of care in association with ivermectin. Those claims are currently under investigation, according to a medical commission spokeswoman.

Disciplinary measures could range from fines to revoking licenses, if the perpetrator is deemed incapable of rehabilitation.

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