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Borough mayor fuels virus misinformation

Aaron Bolton/KBBI

The Kenai Peninsula Borough spent the winter sharing updated information about the coronavirus and resources for getting vaccinated.

Now, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is using his platform to challenge local doctors and promote unproven COVID-19 treatments, on local talk radio and in public meetings.

“I’m going to ask some questions and I’m going to do it publicly," Pierce said. "I’m going to do it with the community that I represent. Whether you agree or disagree, you can be on the right, you can be on the left. I think even those folks on the far left that think that the right way to do this is just to mask up, stay at home, social distance, get the vaccine — force vaccine, force vaccination on everybody — but you know what? America wasn’t built that way.”

At a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting last week, Pierce slammed the borough-owned hospital for not offering drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19.

Ivermectin is a medicine used to treat parasitic worms, mostly in cows and horses. Hydroxychloroquine is a medication for some autoimmune disorders.

Neither has been approved or recommended by the FDA or CDC to treat COVID-19 but both have caught on nationally as speculative treatments, particularly in anti-vaccine circles. Several local feedstock supply stores told the Peninsula Clarion they’re getting daily inquiries about ivermectin.

Ned Magen is an emergency department doctor at Central Peninsula Hospital. He said ivermectin is not a viable treatment for COVID-19 at this time.

“The best way to do a study is a double-blind study," he said. "Neither the physician prescribing it nor the patient knows if they're getting the real medicine or the fake medicine, a placebo. But so far in those studies, ivermectin has not been shown to be effective.”

Pierce doubled down on his comments this week on KSRM’s talk program Sound Off. And he told Sound Off host Duane Bannock that while N-95 masks are effective to slow transmission of COVID, "masks in general don’t work.”

This is not the first time Pierce has used talk radio to challenge scientifically proven COVID-19 mitigation measures. In April, he said on KSRM he wanted the school district to remove its mask mandate and likened the virus to the flu.

Pierce also pointed listeners to a website that recommends ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and offers prescriptions for those drugs from a doctor in Texas. 

Justin Ruffridge, a pharmacist with Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, said he’s received at least three prescription requests from the Texas doctor for ivermectin.

“People that are scared or people that are anxious about what’s happening, they want a fix," Ruffridge said. "And that’s true of everyone. And the answer to that right now is there isnt a super great fix that’s not named a vaccine.”

Several local doctors wrote in letters to the editor last week that Pierce’s comments undermine the steps they’ve been taking to fight the pandemic.

Ruffridge, who worked with the borough for months to get people vaccinated, said it feels like an assault on his trustworthiness.

“When things like what we’ve seen happen in the last couple of weeks from leadership in our borough continue to happen, and our trust in those institutions is being questioned, that is the problem," he said.

Magen said it’s not a bad thing to ask questions. But he said it’s important to turn to reputable sources, like the CDC. 

“The best way to prevent someone from getting seriously ill is get vaccinated," he said.

Ruffridge said he’s seen an uptick recently in people getting vaccinated. He said that’s likely because they’re seeing their own friends and family get seriously ill and even die.

As of Wednesday, 46 percent of eligible borough residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Hospital spokesperson Bruce Richards said Wednesday the hospital currently has 20 patients admitted for coronavirus.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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