KANSAS CITY, Mo. — COVID-19 numbers are rising again locally in the Kansas City area.
Most medical experts rely on prevention techniques against COVID-19 like masking, vaccines and boosters, while also relying on treatments like Paxlovid and monoclonal antibody treatments.
But a Kansas lawmaker wants more access to alternative treatments that don't have the backing of most medical experts.
Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen (R - Hutchinson) introduced SB 381. In March, the bill passed in the Kansas Senate. It would prevent pharmacists from refusing to fill prescriptions for Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.
It would also prevent the Kansas Board of Healing Arts from investigating doctors for prescribing these treatments for COVID-19.
We’re taking the topic the bill 360, by hearing from these perspectives:
- Doctors who have different thoughts on the treatment
- A health ethics expert
- The state senator behind the bill
- A pharmacist who would be forced to fill the prescriptions
Talking to doctors, including state senator behind the bill
Dr. Jennifer McKenney is a family physician in Fredonia, Kansas. She was born and raised in the southeast Kansas town of 2,800.
She’s known many of her patients all of her life. That’s why she says she won’t prescribe Ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
“I need to know that what I do does no harm first in a patient and I need the data and research, just like I’ve done for the last decade of treating patients,” McKenney said.
She points to research that shows the medications are ineffective in treating COVID, noting they can also cause serious side effects.
McKenney pointed out this debate coincides with misinformation spread during the pandemic.
“I just think there were so many factors, so many voices that were, you know, sharing information that wasn’t correct that it made it unclear for people and they didn’t know who to trust,” she said.
She says in addition to social media, people who felt hopeless during the height of the pandemic were scrambling for a miracle cure, including some members of the health profession.
Dr. Allen Greiner, a Kansas City physician and Wyandotte County Health Officer agrees, but says it’s also partly due to politics.
“If they are a politician they have a conflict of interest and they can get a ton of attention by latching onto issues that everyone is talking about and paying attention to, whether it’s on Facebook or whether it’s in the news,” he said.
One example he points to is Sen. Steffen.
The Hutchinson anesthesiologist declined multiple requests for interviews, but has been vocal on the subject online.
“We blew it in this virus response," Steffen said on a video posted to Facebook. "Our failure to treat early, and when I say our failure I mean mainstream medicine, not mine. I’ve been fighting for it the whole time."
Steffen was a vocal advocate of the bill that passed in the Kansas Senate.
"Clearly more people are starting to see that early treatment is key, and it’s unfortunate that we have this woke crowd of liberals selling their propaganda at the expense of people’s lives,” he said.
Greiner says there’s no propaganda – just evidence-based data. And he questions Steffen’s motives considering, according to the Kansas Reflector, Steffen has publicly stated he's being investigated by the board for prescribing Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.
KSHB 41 reached out to Kansans for Health Freedom, a group lobbying in favor of this legislation, but they did not return our requests for an interview. Neither did another Overland Park weight loss doctor who openly advocates for Ivermectin.
That bill currently awaits action in the House. But the topic is not as split down party lines as some might expect.
Kansas Rep. Dr. John Eplee (R - Atchison) has been practicing family medicine for 41 years.
When it comes to Ivermectin, he will reluctantly prescribe it, but only if he can't first dissuade his patients.
“I stand with the majority of physicians and pharmacists that feel like this is probably a marginal treatment at best,” Eplee said. “There are patients that come into me that insist that they must have this based on what they’ve read based on their own reviews.”
Still he can’t support this legislation.
"I think this bill goes too far in that it is forcing pharmacists to fill scripts that they may have second thoughts about or not wanting to fill for a variety of reasons,” Eplee said. "It doesn’t address side effects and drug interactions and all those things have to be taken into consideration.”
Some say being forced to fill prescriptions could take away their ability to catch life-threatening interactions.
“When you created laws like that, you’re not just taking the last line of defense from us, but you’re also harming your patient because there’s no one to do the last check,” pharmacist Bled Tanoe said.
A medical ethics expert
John Carney is a medical ethics expert who adds that forcing pharmacists hands in the matter and interfering with the Board of Healing Arts could be problematic.
“Having an outside group come in and intervene is ill-advised,” he said. "It's certainly not advisable, and I think it's ethically fraught.”
As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we're excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at email@example.com.