TOPEKA, Kan. – Fellow conservative Republicans rallied on Tuesday behind a Kansas medical lawmaker who is under investigation by the state’s medical board, advancing his measures to protect doctors who pursue potentially dangerous treatments for the COVID-19 and to weaken child vaccination requirements.
As a member of the Senate Health Committee, State Senator Mark Steffen successfully pushed a proposal that would require pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the anti-vermectin drug, the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and other drugs for off-label uses as COVID-19 treatments. Steffen is one of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s biggest vaccine skeptics and a critic of the federal government’s and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Steffen was also successful in persuading the Republican-dominated committee to add a proposal to make it easy for parents to apply for religious exemptions to vaccine requirements in schools and daycares. Kansas requires children to be immunized against more than a dozen diseases, including polio and measles.
The bill then goes to the Senate. The actions of the health committee have shown that fringe anti-vaccine activists have gained significant influence with GOP lawmakers.
“This is a very dangerous bill,” said Senator Cindy Holscher, a Kansas City-area Democrat. “It was dangerous before. It’s even more dangerous now.
Steffen revealed during a committee hearing last month that the State Board of Healing Arts has been investigating him since the summer of 2020 for his public statements about COVID-19. He said the investigation did not relate to his patient care as an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist in Hutchinson, a town of 40,000 people about 80 miles northwest of Wichita. He also implied that the investigation was meant to intimidate him.
The council has so far opened investigations into 50 people linked to COVID-19, and 32 of them remain open, said Susan Gile, its acting executive director. She said investigations are being opened in response to complaints.
“The survey itself is objective and serves to gather facts,” she said in an email.
Some GOP conservatives want to block council investigations into doctors accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Steffen actively participated in Senate committee debate on Tuesday despite his personal interest in the bill.
Anti-vaccine activists filled the small Senate committee hearing room and cheered loudly after his vote. Proponents of the measure argued that it protected the rights of patients and parents.
Under the bill, if parents claimed religious exemptions from any vaccination mandates, the school or daycare would not be allowed to investigate their beliefs. This mirrors a law enacted in November for workers seeking to avoid federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
“All we’re doing is reaffirming the religious rights of the people,” said Sen. Mike Thompson, a conservative Republican from the Kansas City area.
But Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said public school districts generally don’t investigate people’s beliefs and he is unaware of the refusal of many of them. religious exemptions.
Steffen and Thompson also incorrectly claimed that COVID-19 vaccines and childhood vaccinations are unsafe. Steffen said he tried writing prescriptions for ivermectin but couldn’t get pharmacists to fill them.
Kansas law allows doctors to write prescriptions for off-label uses of drugs, but the state’s medical board still requires doctors to do “what a reasonable physician would have done under the same or similar circumstances.” Additionally, pharmacists may refuse to fill a prescription based on their professional judgment. Medical groups and state officials say off-label uses account for about 20% of prescriptions filled in Kansas.
Under the Steffen-friendly bill, pharmacists could face disciplinary action or legal action for failing to fill off-label prescriptions for ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
As medical groups and health experts have worked to stamp out the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19, hospitals across the country have faced lawsuits for refusing to give it to patients.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin to treat infections of lice, roundworms, and other small parasites in humans. The FDA has tried to debunk claims that animal versions of the drug can help fight COVID-19, warning that large doses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, delirium and even death .
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