Ohio senator joined anti-vaccine panel hyping debunked, 'alternative' COVID treatments

An Ohio senator joined a conference of anti-vaccine advocates hyping “alternative" COVID-19 treatments, several of which like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are explicitly warned against by regulators, public health officials and medical associations.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, was introduced as a “surprise special guest" amid a panel that included an anti-vaccination advocate who was indicted for joining the Jan. 6 raid of the U.S. Capitol; a cardiologist who recommended people gargle diluted bleach to prevent COVID-19; and a discredited biologist who claimed the CDC is “cooking the books" in counting coronavirus cases.

The webinar was hosted Oct. 7 by Children's Health Defense, an anti-vaccine advocacy organization that demanded this summer that the CDC “halt" the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to minors.

The event's emcee prefaced the webinar with a disclaimer that nothing offered at the seminar is a replacement for medical advice or treatment. Speakers then went on to erroneously claim that vaccination against COVID-19 is “risky" but treatments that the CDC, American Medical Association, and others warn against are safer bets.

Brenner told viewers that he will introduce legislation in two to three weeks called the “COVID-19 alternative therapies" act.

“Basically, it'll say that you can't be discriminating against people or information that deals with alternative therapies, such as what you've been discussing today," he said. “Social media and the press have basically suppressed all this information. I learned a lot this evening in the short time I've been listening here."

Several speakers on the panel touted the purported benefits of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic in humans and dewormer in livestock that has grown in popularity in conservative circles, as a preventative and treatment for COVID-19. Health officials, private practitioners, and even the drug's manufacturer warn that there's no evidence to support its use against COVID-19 and it can have dangerous side effects.

Along with ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, speakers championed some lesser-known “alternative" treatments and preventatives including antibiotics (which do not combat viral diseases like COVID-19).

The emcee, a man named Kedarji who operates a wellness center in Youngstown and has equated “pandemic hysteria" to the “extermination of the Jews by the Nazis," said at the conference that ginger root, garlic and turmeric could help prevent symptoms from presenting themselves after a coronavirus infection.

Not a single speaker, according to video of the 140-minute conference provided to the Ohio Capital Journal by self-described vaccination advocate Sarah Barry, recommended people get vaccinated.

“If somebody agrees with ivermectin or some of the other stuff you guys have been talking about this evening, it should not be censored by the press or our social media platforms," Brenner said.

He did not respond to emailed inquiries.

Other speakers

The panel speakers all have lengthy history disseminating inaccurate information about COVID-19.

Dr. Simone Gold, founder of “America's Frontline Doctors," led off the webinar. AFD formed in 2020 and has regularly sought to sow doubt into public discourse surrounding the efficacy of masks and vaccines.

Its doctors earned $15 million on consultations and prescriptions for treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which have been long been declared bunk by health officials and experts, according to hacked data provided to The Intercept.

Gold used the October event to steer viewers to AFD's services.

“If your doctor won't write you a prescription, go to [AFD's website] … you sign up for telemedicine consult, and then they can mail the meds right to your home," she said.

Federal prosecutors have accused Gold criminally of several offenses related to her entrance into the U.S. Capitol during an insurrection Jan. 6 seeking to block congressional certification of the presidential election. She pleaded not guilty. Court documents indicate she's in talks with prosecutors over a possible plea agreement.

After Gold, a cardiologist named Dr. Peter McCullough spoke. To prevent coronavirus infection, he recommended gargling or nebulizing dangerous chemicals like hydrogen peroxide.

“Even sodium hypochlorite, a few drops of household bleach in about 6 or 8 ounces of water, also can be gargled and spit out," he said.

Bleach is a strong and corrosive alkaline. Even gargling it in diluted form is dangerous, according to Dr. Leanne Chrisman-Khawam, a physician and professor at Ohio University's Heritage College of Medicine. She said the chemical isn't meant to contact human skin or mucous membranes like the mouth and throat.

McCullough is a regular guest on news outlets like Newsmax, OANN and Fox, where he has claimed there's no clinical reason to seek vaccination against COVID-19, which has killed more than 726,000 Americans. He's currently locked in litigation with his former employer, a large hospital network in Texas. The hospital alleged McCullough breached a separation agreement that compelled him to refrain from identifying himself as affiliated with the hospital network in his media appearances. His doing so caused “irreparable reputational damage and business harm," the hospitals alleged. McCullough denied the accusations.

After Brenner spoke, a biologist with no medical background identified as a biomedical researcher named James Lyons-Weiler addressed viewers. He claimed the CDC's COVID-19 testing technology is “baloney" and accused the agency of “cooking the books."

A special court in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, specifically created to review allegations of vaccine injury (a tremendously rare but nonetheless real occurrence), rebuffed Weiler's testimony last year. Weiler testified in support of a Kentucky man who claimed he was permanently disabled from a flu vaccine.

A judge overseeing the case noted other cases in which Weiler was found to be “wholly unqualified" to opine on whether a vaccine caused injury and noted Weiler has studied zoology and ecology, not medicine or immunology.

“Mr. Lyons-Weiler's willingness to opine upon a topic on which he seems to possess no qualifications renders suspect his credibility," wrote Special Master Christian Moran in an opinion for the court.

Brenner and COVID-19

Brenner is among the most extreme members of the Ohio Senate on pandemic-related matters.

In June, he introduced an amendment to legislation that eventually became law, prohibiting schools and colleges from either requiring that students take a vaccine that's available under emergency use authorization from federal regulators (as opposed to fully approved).

In a speech on the Senate floor at the time, he cited a study from a Swiss medical journal that claimed two people die for every three people saved by vaccination. The journal later retracted its findings, calling them “incorrect and distorted."

Brenner has pushed legislation to prohibit schools from requiring students or employees to wear face masks.

Just weeks into the pandemic, Brenner's wife in a Facebook post equated Ohio's early response to the emerging pandemic to the Holocaust and life under Adolf Hitler's regime in Germany. Brenner commented in the post, assuring that “we won't let that happen in Ohio."

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Republicans push to waive training, permit requirements to carry concealed guns

Both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly are plodding forward on legislation to waive training requirements to carry a concealed weapon.

While current law allows state residents to openly carry a weapon, it only allows those 21-and-up to obtain a concealed carry permit after completing an 8-hour training course and passing a background check.

House Bill 227 and Senate Bill 215, which contain some important differences, would waive these permitting requirements, including the training

The effort, if successful, would continue Ohio's steady relaxing of its gun laws over the last 20 years, which has included launching the concealed carry program in 2004 that required 12 hours of training; passing “pre-emption" legislation in 2006 which blocks cities from enacting gun laws stricter than those at the state level; and removing the duty to retreat (passing “stand your ground") in 2020, which removed the requirement for a person to seek retreat before responding to a perceived attack with deadly force.

On Thursday, the House Government Oversight Committee held its fourth hearing on the permitless concealed carry legislation.

Over several hours, members of Moms Demand Action, an anti-gun violence advocacy group, made their case against the bill. They argued it will inevitably increase rates of gun violence. The Ohio Attorney General's Office reports roughly 1,200 concealed carry applications are denied each year for reasons set in code, like criminal histories, civil or temporary protective orders, or others.

What, they asked, will happen to those applicants if there's no more licensing process?

“It allows guns in the pockets of lowlifes," said Sieglinde Martin, an MDA member.

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Micaela Deming, an attorney with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, said domestic violence misdemeanor convictions and protective orders are the second highest reason that would-be gun owners fail background checks. Waiving the permitting requirements, she said, would mean the loss of a key screening mechanism to remove guns from these domestic offenders.

Gun lobbyists and enthusiasts argued that the public safety threat is overblown. Law breaking gun possessors, they said, will continue to break laws regardless of how strict or lax they are. The bill is about enshrining Ohioans rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“I don't think there's anything in the bill that says, 'If you're prohibited from carrying a [concealed] firearm, suddenly now you can' — if you're prohibited, you're prohibited," said Rep. Shane Wilkin, a cosponsor of the bill and committee chairman overseeing its hearings, in an interview.

“Those that are going to carry that are not mindful of the law regardless of what it is, are going to carry regardless."

After the hearing, Wilkin said he didn't know if the bill would be up for a vote at its next hearing but said he wouldn't rule it out.

Lawmakers on the committee were generally warm to the legislation. Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., said it's “kind of bizarre" that it's legal to openly carry a weapon in Ohio, but becomes illegal if you put on a jacket that covers it.

Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, needled one witness who said states that legalized permitless concealed carry experienced higher levels of violent crime than those that did not. He asked whether that could be the effect of other legislation like legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

The Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee, meanwhile, has held two hearings on similar legislation from Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott.

A key difference from the House version: The Senate bill would also establish procedures for a pretrial immunity hearing for people facing criminal charges or a civil lawsuit related to their use of force in purported self-defense.

The hearing, which would come before any trial, provides a substantial advantage to the accused: It would tell the court to assume the accused used force in self-defense and requires prosecutors (in a criminal case) to prove beyond a reasonable doubt or plaintiffs (in a civil lawsuit) to provide “substantial evidence" that the person did not use force in self-defense.

If the prosecutor or plaintiff fails in this, the accused would be considered immune from the charge or lawsuit. If they succeed, the proceedings will then move toward a trial.

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Although bill proponents say otherwise, courts have generally held that licensing requirements to carry concealed weapons do not violate the Second Amendment.

In a 2003 Ohio Supreme Court opinion (that preceded Ohio's first concealed carry law), Justice Paul Pfeifer, writing for the majority, was blunt in a majority opinion.

“(The law) does not unconstitutionally infringe the right to bear arms; there is no constitutional right to bear concealed weapons," he wrote.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major opinion, now seen as a Second Amendment landmark decision, overturning a Washington D.C. law that prohibited residents from owning a firearm in their homes. However, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an icon in conservative legal and political circles, noted in his majority opinion that the right to bear arms isn't infinite.

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," he wrote.

“(There is no constitutional) right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is responsible by law to handle some of the administrative work in Ohio's concealed carry program. In a statement, a spokesman said Yost has not yet taken a position on either bill and is actively monitoring them.

“By any measure, Ohio's concealed-carry licensing system has succeeded in combining safeguards that protect the public and provisions that uphold Americans' right to bear arms and protect themselves," he wrote in the 2020 annual report on the program.

Twenty-one states allow inhabitants (residents only in North Dakota) to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, according to a count from the U.S Concealed Carry Association. This includes neighboring states of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Prosecutors want previous allegations against cop withheld in 'false' rape case

A former Put-In-Bay police officer could face up to 18 months in prison after she was accused last summer of submitting a false accusation of rape against a “volunteer" police officer.

Last week, a special prosecutor with the office of the Ohio Attorney General asked a judge to exclude evidence from the trial showing the male officer and alleged rapist has been accused of sexual assault twice in the past.

An Ottawa County grand jury handed up an indictment in October 2020 charging Arica Waters, 29, with two counts of “making false alarms" in reporting a sexual assault committed by an officer, only identified in court documents as “J.B." and a “volunteer" Put-In-Bay police officer.

Documents appearing in the Waters case file are scant on detail as to the nature of Waters' original allegation against J.B., besides that it occurred in July 2020. In court documents, she said she did not consent to sexual conduct that occurred with J.B. Additionally, she said she was incapable of willful consent as she was “wildly intoxicated."

Last month, prosecutors turned over as part of the evidence exchange process before trial two previous investigations into J.B. for sexual assault: one from Ottawa County in 2008 and one from Hancock County from 2021. J.B. has not been charged in either case.

“These additional reports followed a near-identical pattern of J.B. using alcohol and a position of power to engage in nonconsensual sex," Waters' attorney said in a court filing.

On Friday, state prosecutors asked the judge to exclude both investigations from trial. They said the 2008 investigation in Ottawa County did not lead to charges because the complainant withdrew her allegation and stated she “could have been a consenting participant in the sexual activity."

The 2021 Hancock County investigation, they said, centered around alleged misconduct from 2008. In 2021, the complainant told the detective that “she hoped she wasn't just dreaming this" and “questioned if it was really a memory" — the alleged victim noted she lost her memory in 2012 as a side effect of prescribed medication, including the 2008 night of the alleged assault.

“A dream has no relevance at trial," prosecutors said, arguing the accusations would unfairly cause prejudice against J.B.

Steve Irwin, a spokesman for Attorney General Dave Yost, declined to comment on the case, citing ongoing criminal proceedings. He didn't respond when asked whether Yost had ever before brought charges against a person for falsely reporting a sex crime.

“Charging decisions are based upon the unique evidence in each case," he said. “Charges for a falsification offense are appropriate when an investigation clearly shows that an accusation was knowingly fabricated. As with any criminal case, the evidence supporting the charges will be presented at trial."

Sarah Anjum, an attorney representing Waters, identified the alleged assailant, but the Ohio Capital Journal is not publishing his name as he has not been charged with a crime.

Put-In-Bay Police Detective Sgt. Yuri Linetsky said Waters no longer works at the department and referred inquiries to the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office. He didn't respond to questions about the nature of Waters' alleged assailant's employment at the department.

J.B. was identified as a “volunteer" police officer by Put-In-Bay Police Captain Matt Mariano, according to the Ottawa County Sheriff Department's investigation of Waters' claims.

The case file, which the department provided on request, details an investigator rounding up statements from several officers who attended a booze-soaked party that occurred before two sexual encounters between Waters and her alleged assailant.

The investigator questioned Waters about text messages she said Waters sent claiming she would make a “sugar daddy" out of her alleged assailant.

Anjum said the department seems to have spent much more effort investigating Waters herself than it did investigating her allegation of rape. She said her client is now struggling to get by as the case unfolds.

She said Waters is dealing with “the psychological fallout from her assault, and the criminalization of reporting that assault."

Waters was indicted on two counts of “making false alarms." This means submitting any report to law enforcement “knowing that such offense did not occur." If convicted, she faces between six to 18 months in prison.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Man whose wife sued hospital to force it to administer ivermectin dies of COVID-19

An Ohio man whose wife sued a Cincinnati area hospital for refusing to provide him ivermectin as he was intubated due to COVID-19 has died, according to one of her attorneys.

Jeffrey Smith, 51, died Sept. 25, according to the family's attorney, Jonathan Davidson.

While he was on a ventilator, Julie Smith filed a lawsuit against West Chester Hospital for refusing to honor a prescription of ivermectin written by a physician who founded a controversial group that champions the drug.

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic in humans and a dewormer in livestock. It has grown in popularity, egged on by conservative commentators and politicians, as a treatment and preventative against COVID-19. The CDC, Food and Drug Administration, American Medical Association, the drug's manufacturer and more all warn against the drug's use against COVID-19, given the lack of evidence to support the treatment and the risks the drug can pose to those who take it.

Neither Julie Smith nor her husband were vaccinated, she testified at a court hearing.

On Aug. 23, Julie Smith won an emergency judgement that forced the hospital to administer the ivermectin to her husband.

Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster reversed that ruling 13 days later. He said in a ruling, siding with expert witnesses from the hospital network who testified, the judgement isn't a determination that ivermectin will never be proven effective against COVID-19.

“However, based upon the evidence, it has not been shown to be effective at this juncture," he said. “The studies that tend to give support to ivermectin have had inconsistent results, limitations to the studies, were open label studies, were of low quality or low certainty, included small sample sizes, various dosing regiments, or have been so riddled with issues that the study was withdrawn."

At the time, Ralph Lorigo, a New York attorney who has filed similar lawsuits around the country, claimed victor regardless. He cited purported indications that Jeffrey Smith's condition was improving, and attributed this to the temporary dosing of the drug.

“This is a man who has been helped by the medication, and this is a judge who just doesn't get it right," Lorigo said.

Click here for more in-depth coverage of Julie Smith's lawsuit.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Republicans shelve anti-vaccination bill after taking heat from all sides

Ohio House Republicans have pumped the brakes on what was once turbo-charged legislation aimed to restrict abilities of employers and colleges to require vaccination against COVID-19.

The House Speaker and top lawmakers introduced the legislation Tuesday afternoon with the intent of the whole House passing it Wednesday. The House Health Committee passed it 11-3 on party lines Tuesday.

However, before a legislative session commenced Wednesday afternoon, the bill drew fierce criticism from the health care and business community, and even anti-vaccine activists who said it didn't go far enough.

The Ohio Children's Hospital Association, in a statement on behalf of a wide range of health care businesses and associations, said the bill falls short of what the state needs.

“This bill does not address the concerns expressed by the medical, business and university communities about prior proposals of a similar nature," the statement says. “Protection of an employer's rights to make decisions in the best interest of their employees and those we serve cannot be overstated."

Steve Stivers, a former GOP congressman turned CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said the bill infringes on the rights of employers.

“One-size-fits-all government mandates limiting employer rights are not the right approach," he said. “It is imperative that we let our businesses manage their workplaces free from government interference."

The delay reflects the balancing act House leadership is seeking to fulfill on curtailing vaccination mandates, while largely ignoring any attempts at policy solutions to limit the spread of COVID-19 or increase vaccination rates.

Opposition from the Chamber and hospital associations was to be expected; they've made similar statements regarding similar, yet broader proposals. More surprising, however, was a statement from anti-vaccination activists with Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom calling on lawmakers to kill the bill.

In a statement through their Telegram (the group has been intermittently kicked off mainstream social media platforms for spreading misinformation about vaccines), organizers said the legislation would still allow vaccine mandates from employers as well as “discriminatory" actions against unvaccinated people like requiring them to get tested and or wear a mask.

House Bill 435 differs from its predecessors. Unlike earlier proposals, it's limited to the COVID-19 vaccine; it expires in June 2023; it allows hospitals to mandate vaccination; and it allows employers to impose strict vaccine requirements (no exemptions for “reasons of conscience") on new hires.

It allows colleges to impose vaccine mandates but requires them to accept exemptions for reasons of conscience, effectively neutering the mandate. It also compels colleges to recognize exemptions due to medical contraindications, religious objections, and natural immunity from prior infection.

While the bill is more moderate than earlier versions, it does virtually nothing to address Ohio's feeble vaccination rate. Only 65% of Ohio adults are vaccinated, compared to 77% nationwide, according to data from The New York Times. Ohio ranks 10th from the bottom nationwide in terms of COVID-19 vaccination rate.

The bill could rear its head again in the future, in the same or amended form. House leadership sent it to the Rules and Reference Committee, which acts as gatekeeper for legislation en route to the House floor.

The longer the bill stalls, the more its relevancy wanes. The legislation still needs to pass the House and the Senate. Should the Senate make any changes, the chambers would need to reconcile their differences before sending it to Gov. Mike DeWine, who has said in the past he would veto legislation that would hobble state vaccination laws. If he does so, the chambers would need to muster supermajority votes to override his veto, all while navigating Thanksgiving and Christmas recesses. From there, the bill wouldn't take effect for 90 days.

In an interview after the floor session, Cupp avoided direct answers on what caused the delay or what the road ahead looks like. When asked whether the Ohio House will do anything to improve the state vaccination rate, Cupp said he and his family are vaccinated but left it there.

“I don't really think the House is the roadblock here," he said.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Medical Board renews license of doc who claims vaccines make you magnetic

They're forcing freedom loving Americans to choose between injection of a “deadly" vaccine or testing those who will not comply via torturing them with nasal swabs looking for a “virus that, by some claims, doesn't even exist."
This claim, equal parts baseless and conspiratorial, appears on a website that solicited funds to the address of a business owned by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, a state-licensed doctor of osteopathic medicine.

Her medical license, first issued in 1984, was set to expire Oct. 1. The State Medical Board of Ohio, which credentials physicians, renewed her license Thursday for another two years.

Tenpenny drew nationwide media attention when, under an invitation from a Republican state lawmaker, she spoke to the Ohio House Health Committee and warned them that COVID-19 vaccines magnetize their recipients and “interface" with 5G towers. A federal judge has deemed her a non-expert in a vaccine injury lawsuit. She is among the 12 most prolific disseminators of COVID-19 misinformation on social media, according to research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

An anti-vaccine activist since the 2000s, Tenpenny has called vaccines a “method of mass destruction" and “depopulation;" charges $623 for her “boot camp" to train people how to convince others to refrain from vaccination; and sells her book, “Saying No To Vaccines" for $578 on Amazon.

State law allows the board, with the votes of at least six of its 12 members, to refuse renewal of any physician for “making a false, fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading statement" in relation to the practice of medicine.

This includes misrepresentation of facts that are likely to mislead, or “includes representations or implications that in reasonable probability will cause an ordinarily prudent person to misunderstand or be deceived."

Licenses expire on a two-year basis.

Jerica Stewart, a spokeswoman for the medical board, confirmed Tenpenny's license was renewed. She said to keep up with the 92,000 practitioners, the board automatically renews applications. Certain affirmative answers can trigger an automatic rejection of an application, or the board can investigate a complaint or independently launch its own probe. She offered no comment on Tenpenny directly.

“A recent renewal does not prevent the board from taking future disciplinary action," she said.

Before the board acted Thursday, the Ohio Capital Journal contacted the state medical board and several physician's associations to ask whether they believe Tenpenny should be recertified as a physician.

Two physician's associations, when contacted, avoided comment on whether they believed Tenpenny should remain as their peer and colleague.

Todd Baker, executive director of the Ohio State Medical Association, declined specific questions about Tenpenny and referred inquiries to the state medical board.

He pointed to a recent OSMA statement in support of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care workers. However, he refused to comment on Tenpenny.

“The investigative process to assess complaints regarding a licensee is also defined in law and rule and the Board is required to follow that process," he said. “If other physicians or members of the public contact the OSMA with a complaint about a physician for any particular reason, we refer those inquiries to the medical board."

Matt Harney, executive director of the Ohio Osteopathic Association, said the state medical board has the “authority to investigate possible fraud, misrepresentation, or deception" but declined to answer when asked if he believed Tenpenny perpetuated any such conduct.

He did, however, cite a statement the OOA's president, Dr. Henry Wehrum, issued after Tenpenny made national headlines with her magnetic vaccines testimony.

“Misinformation is a serious threat to personal and public health and it must be rejected," he said at the time. “This includes the false and completely unfounded claims made by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny during the Ohio House of Representatives Health Committee on June 8. The OOA disavows her testimony. She is not affiliated with the OOA, has never been a member, and does not represent the views of the OOA."

State medical boards typically maintain a certain degree of secrecy. Stewart, the board spokeswoman, said any complaints it receives about physicians are confidential unless they result in discipline.

She made the comment before Tenpenny's license was renewed.

“The Medical Board takes its responsibility of protecting the health and safety of the public very seriously," she said.

Ivermectin prescriber's license expires Oct. 1

Similarly, Dayton physician Dr. Fred Wagshul's license is also set to expire Oct. 1. He has not yet applied for renewal.

Wagshul is among the founding physicians of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Association, which has championed ivermectin as a preventative and cure for the disease.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic in humans and a dewormer in livestock. Its use against COVID-19 comes over the objection and public warnings of Merck, the drug's manufacturer, along with the CDC, FDA, WHO, American Medical Association and others, who warn of the lack of evidence pointing to any medical benefit and the side effects the drug can induce.

In a previous interview, Wagshul called the health warnings “censorship" and compared the blacklisting of the drug to “genocide" from the U.S. government.

In court, he recently testified to prescribing ivermectin to a 51-year-old man without talking to his treating physicians at a Cincinnati hospital or reviewing any clinical information. Hospital staff, which successfully fought off a lawsuit seeking to force them to administer ivermectin against their will, testified that this is a major break from standards of care from a doctor who is not board certified and thus would never be admitted to practice medicine at their hospital.

Wagshul did not respond to a request for comment.

Other physicians who have promoted misinformation have avoided professional censure from medical boards. An NPR review of medical licenses for 16 doctors who have proven track records of doing so online and in media interviews found 15 of them maintained active licenses in good standing. One appeared to have let his license expire, but there was no suggestion in his record that it was because of any disciplinary action.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Republican fought a corrupt law -- then the GOP drew him out of his district

New lines drawn by state GOP leaders ousted Sen. Mark Romanchuk, a Republican from Richland County, from the district that elected him to his seat in 2020.

Since the indictment of the former speaker of the House last summer and subsequent guilty pleas from four alleged co-conspirators, Romanchuk has led the charge among Ohio Republicans to repeal House Bill 6, the legislation at the center of the racketeering prosecution.

He has sponsored four substantive bills this legislative session, three of which are aimed to repeal different elements of HB 6 including forcing utility customers to guarantee revenue at 2018 levels for utility company FirstEnergy Corp. (which pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after admitting to its role in a bribery scheme), and another repealing utility customer-funded bailouts to the utility companies that own two coal plants in Ohio and Indiana.

A Romanchuk aide confirmed Thursday that the senator now lives in a new Senate district and said he didn't know why Romanchuk was removed from his former district.

Being moved into a new district serves as a political disadvantage for incumbents; it requires them to win support of new voters, instead of relying on continued support of those who elevated them to office in the first place.

Senate spokesman John Fortney confirmed that Romanchuk was removed from his district. When Romanchuk's term ends in 2024, he can choose to either challenge his GOP colleague who currently represents most of the new district, Sen. Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, in a primary; move into his old district; or be gone from the Senate. Fortney said four other GOP senators — Jerry Cirino, Sandra O'Brien, Reineke, and Matt Dolan (who is term limited and cannot run for re-election) — were also drawn into the districts of fellow GOP incumbents.

“Under the new rules, not everyone was able to remain in their current districts," Fortney said.

The state legislative maps have drawn scathing criticism for their gerrymandered nature. Republicans have won the past 16 statewide elections with about 54% of the vote; the new district lines are likely to give them about 62 of 99 House seats and 23 of 33 Senate seats according to their own estimates.

Voting rights advocates and Democrats said the lines were drawn despite two constitutional amendments passed in 2015 and 2018 to limit partisan gerrymandering. Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Gov. Mike DeWine voted in support of the new maps Wednesday, although both questioned the maps' constitutionality.

Romanchuk's ouster from what was one a safe district for him politically raises the question of whether lines were weaponized against dissenting voices from within the Republican party, along with diluting Democratic voting power.

“It seems they may have," said Sen. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat on the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, when asked if she believed Republicans retaliated against Romanchuk via the new district lines in connection with his HB 6 repeal work.

However, some of the loudest critics of HB 6 and champions of its repeal were reluctant to say whether Romanchuk's ouster is connected to his work on the issue.

“We cannot assume the intentions of the map drawers, but we know that politically drawn maps are just that — politically motivated," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council, which opposed HB 6 and supported Romanchuk's repeal efforts.

“We also know that the gerrymandered four-year map, hastily approved by the Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission, is a slap in the face to the supermajority of Ohioans who voted for redistricting reform in 2015 and 2018. Ohioans deserve better."

The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization, declined to comment. Micah Derry, the former director of Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-leaning conservative group that opposed HB 6 and supported its repeal, said he didn't know whether HB 6 factored in.

The Ohio Manufacturing Association, which aligned with the Sierra Club and AFP on the issue, did not respond to an inquiry.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Judge reverses order forcing hospital to give ivermectin to COVID-19 patient

A Butler County judge sided with a local hospital and reversed a previous court order forcing it to honor a prescription of ivermectin, which infectious disease experts have warned against as a COVID-19 treatment, for a patient who has spent weeks in the ICU with the disease.

This article was originally published at Ohio Capital Journal

After two days of testimony and arguments, Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster issued an order Monday siding with West Chester Hospital. He said the hospital bears no duty to honor a prescription written for Jeffrey Smith, 51, for ivermectin, a drug used as a dewormer in horses and an anti-parasitic in humans.

The drug has surged in popularity as a COVID-19 treatment, egged on by conservative politicians and media figures, despite adverse warnings from the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the drug's manufacturer and others.

“This Court is not determining if ivermectin will ever be effective and useful as a treatment for COVID-19," Oster said.

“However, based upon the evidence, it has not been shown to be effective at this juncture. The studies that tend to give support to ivermectin have had inconsistent results, limitations to the studies, were open label studies, were of low quality or low certainty, included small sample sizes, various dosing regiments, or have been so riddled with issues that the study was withdrawn."

Julie Smith brought the lawsuit on behalf of her husband, Jeffrey Smith, who tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the ICU July 15, where he remains today. He has been sedated, intubated and on a ventilator since Aug. 1.

The hospital refused to honor the prescription, written Aug. 20, prompting the lawsuit that same day. On Aug. 23, another judge wrote an emergency order demanding the hospital administer the ivermectin as prescribed. Monday's order nixes the August order.

Trial last week

Julie Smith testified that neither she nor her husband were vaccinated against COVID-19. She said it was “experimental," so she didn't trust it.

“We didn't feel confident it had been out long enough," she said during a hearing Thursday.

She later connected with Dr. Fred Wagshul, a founding physician of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, a nonprofit that touts ivermectin as a wonder drug. Wagshul is a licensed physician but is not board certified within any specialty and hasn't worked in a hospital for 10 years, according to his testimony.

He prescribed Jeffrey Smith 21 days' worth of ivermectin without reviewing Jeffrey Smith's clinical information or talking to any of his treating physicians. He said the pharmaceutical industry and U.S. government have smeared ivermectin and “censored" its allegedly undeniable beneficial value.

However, when asked if it had benefitted Smith, he hedged.

“I honestly don't know, but the rule of thumb is, when something is working, you don't stop it," he said.

Several witnesses for the hospital cast doubt on Wagshul's testimony and credibility as a physician. Dr. Ferhan Asghar, a surgeon and chief of staff at the hospital, said a physician who is not board certified would never be admitted to practice at West Chester, per hospital policy. He said it was also a “concern" that a physician would issue such a controversial prescription without seeing the patient or reviewing his information.

Dr. Jaime Robertson is an infectious disease physician who sits on a committee at UC Health, which staffs West Chester Hospital, to review available evidence to guide treatment for COVID-19 patients. He said the evidence doesn't necessarily conclude ivermectin doesn't work; instead, he said ivermectin bears risks just like any treatment but there's no conclusive evidence to show enough benefit exists to outweigh that risk.

“I think the problem here is there are conflicting outcomes in public health literature," he said.

Dr. Daniel Tanase, Jeffrey Smith's treating physician, disputed any notion that the ivermectin demonstrably helped his patient, and said there's not enough evidence to support the use of ivermectin on COVID-19 patients.

“We follow science and we follow what the guidelines are," he said. “So yes, I don't think ivermectin is what he needs at this time."

Officials on ivermectin

On Aug. 26, the CDC issued a health alert warning of a five-fold increase of calls to poison control centers regarding ivermectin exposure compared to a pre-pandemic baseline. These included exposures related to topical and veterinary formulations of the drug.

“Clinical effects of ivermectin overdose include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea," the CDC states. “Overdoses are associated with hypotension and neurologic effects such as decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and death. Ivermectin may potentiate the effects of other drugs that cause central nervous system depression such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates."

Several other federal authorities have issued similar warnings. Even Merck, which manufactures the drug, issued a statement in February affirming its position that there's no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from ivermectin. The company also noted a “concerning lack of safety data" in the majority of studies."

A review of available literature conducted in August by the journal Nature found there's no certainty in the available data on potential benefits of ivermectin.

Ohio Hospital Association President Mike Abrams said in a statement before Oster issued his order stating there is insufficient data to support ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. He called the initial order “concerning" in regards to forcing a hospital to use a drug unapproved for use.

“OHA believes it is an extraordinarily dangerous precedent for judges to practice medicine and order unproven medical treatments over the objections of highly-trained clinicians and against all standards established by the medical community," Baker said.

Appeal is unlikely

Bill J. Paiobeis, an attorney for West Chester Hospital, declined comment Monday, citing the potential for an appeal.

Kelly Martin, a UC Health spokeswoman, said the hospital network respects its doctors and the scientific rigor they use to develop treatments, medications and therapies. UC Health, she said, doesn't believe that hospitals or clinicians should be ordered to administer medications, especially “unproven medications and/or therapies," against medical advice.

“This news, while positive in support of respect for science and the expertise of medical professionals, does not change the fact that there are many people suffering from COVID-19 in our communities," she said. “We implore all members of the community to do what we know works: wear a mask, become fully vaccinated and use social distancing whenever possible."

Ralph Lorigo, an attorney representing Smith, said he won the lawsuit in a way. He said Jeffrey Smith obtained 13-days' worth of ivermectin, and the hospital has since told Julie Smith that they're ready to begin to ween him off the ventilator.

“Julie has won this case; I don't care what this judge says," Lorigo said in an interview. “We are believers he's going to survive because of ivermectin."

He said he's not planning any appeal as one would effectively be moot.

“This is a man who has been helped by the medication, and this is a judge who just doesn't get it right," Lorigo said.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio judge orders hospital to treat COVID-19 patient with ivermectin, despite CDC warnings

A Butler County judge ruled in favor of a woman last week who sought to force a hospital to administer Ivermectin — an animal dewormer that federal regulators have warned against using in COVID-19 patients — to her husband after several weeks in the ICU with the disease.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Gregory Howard ordered West Chester Hospital, part of the University of Cincinnati network, to treat Jeffrey Smith, 51, with Ivermectin. The order, filed Aug. 23, compels the hospital to provide Smith with 30mg of Ivermectin daily for three weeks.

The drug was originally developed to deworm livestock animals before doctors began using it against parasitic diseases among humans. Several researchers won a Nobel Prize in 2015 for establishing its efficacy in humans. It's used to treat head lice, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and others.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned Americans against the use of Ivermectin to treat COVID-19, a viral disease. It's unproven as a treatment, they say, and large doses of it can be dangerous and cause serious harm. A review of available literature conducted earlier this month by the journal Nature found there's no certainty in the available data on potential benefits of Ivermectin.

The drug has grown in popularity among conservatives, fueled by endorsements from allies of former President Donald Trump like U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. or Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. The CDC warned reports of poisoning related to use of Ivermectin have increased threefold this year, spiking in July.

Julie Smith filed the lawsuit on behalf of her husband of 24 years. He tested positive for COVID-19 July 9, was hospitalized and admitted to the ICU July 15, and was sedated and intubated and placed on a ventilator Aug. 1. He later developed a secondary infection he's still wrestling with as of Aug. 23, court records say.

The lawsuit doesn't mention whether Jeffrey Smith is vaccinated against COVID-19. However, overwhelming majorities of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated — data from the Ohio Department of Health shows of roughly 21,000 Ohioans hospitalized with COVID-19 since Jan. 1, only about 500 were vaccinated.

Julie Smith found Ivermectin on her own and connected with Dr. Fred Wagshul, an Ohio physician who her lawsuit identifies as “one of the foremost experts on using Ivermectin in treating COVID-19." He prescribed the drug, and the hospital refused to administer it.

A hospital spokeswoman said she can't comment on litigation and federal patient privacy laws prevent her from commenting on any specifics of patient care.

Smith is represented by New York attorney Ralph Lorigo, the chairman of New York's Erie County Conservative Party, who has successfully filed one similar case against a Chicago area hospital and two more in Buffalo. He did not respond to an email or phone call.

The Ohio lawsuit makes reference to the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, a nonprofit of which Wagshul is listed as a founding physician. The organization touts Ivermectin as both a preventative and treatment for COVID-19. Its “How To Get Ivermectin" section includes prices and locations of pharmacies that will supply it, from Afghanistan to Fort Lauderdale to Pennsylvania to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In an interview, Wagshul said the science behind Ivermectin's use in COVID-19 patients is “irrefutable." The CDC and FDA engaged in a “conspiracy," he said, to block its use to protect the FDA's emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines. He said the mainstream media and social media companies have been engaging in “censorship" on Ivermectin's merits, and that the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge its benefits amounts to genocide.

“If we were a country looking at another country allowing those [COVID-19] deaths daily … we would have been screaming, 'Genocide!'" he said.

Wagshul said he had no financial interest in the sale of Ivermectin.

Dr. Leanne Chrisman-Khawam, a physician and professor at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, called the FLCCCA “snake oil salesmen." She reviewed the association's research on the drug's uses and said there are some serious problems with its cited studies: many of them don't show positive results, and those that do bear design flaws like small control groups, unaccounted for variables, non-blinded studies, not accounting for mitigations like vaccines and masking practices, and others.

“Based on evidence-based medicine and my read on this large number of small studies, I would find this very suspect, even the positive outcomes," she said.

Several state authorities declined to comment on the matter. Cameron McNamee, a spokesman for the state Board of Pharmacy, referred inquiries to the state Medical Board, the attorney general, and the Ohio Hospital Association.

A spokesman for the state Medical Board, which licenses physicians, said its jurisdiction is over the practice of doctors and how they uphold standards of care — not lawsuits.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Dave Yost declined comment and referred inquiries to the Board of Pharmacy and Veterinary Board.

An Ohio Hospital Association spokesman called the lawsuit “interesting" but said he'd need to confer with his legal team before commenting.

It's unclear why the hospital didn't mount any defense under a new law passed in the state budget this summer that grants health care providers the “freedom to decline to perform" any service which violates their “conscience," as informed by moral, ethical or religious beliefs.

No attorney information for West Chester Hospital was available on the court docket as of Friday afternoon.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Ohio Republican protests vaccine mandates outside hospital office

An Ohio House representative joined a protest last week outside a Miamisburg hospital that announced a requirement that caregivers receive vaccination against COVID-19.

This article was originally published at Ohio Capital Journal

Rep. Rodney Creech, R-West Alexandria, said he joined the demonstration because vaccines should be a matter of personal choice, and it's not an employer's place to require them.

In an interview, he denied any description of himself as anti-vaccine. However, he falsely claimed there's no evidence COVID-19 vaccines will save lives; said he's “100 percent" certain that COVID-19 deaths are overcounted; and said he's not putting any vaccine “poison" in his body.

A Cleveland Clinic study found 99% of patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 were unvaccinated — a finding that has proven consistent in statewide and federal data. Creech wasn't swayed.

“If those people are in the hospital, and they chose not to be vaccinated, I support them," he said. “It's personal choice, it really comes down to their choice. Maybe they feared the vaccine more than they do getting deathly sick from the virus."

Creech joined a protest outside administrative offices of Kettering Health, one of three related protests outside hospitals that opted to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for staff. Hundreds joined the protests, wielding signs like, “We don't need no vaccination, we don't need no forced control."

He said he expects an exodus of nurses and doctors in coming weeks as they refuse to receive vaccination. Although the employer mandate revolved around the relationship between employee and employer, Creech described the policies as government control.

“The government is letting everyone do their dirty work," he said. “That's what employer mandates are."

Creech is a first-term legislator, representing Preble County and part of Montgomery County.

A Kettering Health spokeswoman said in a statement the hospital respects the rights of individuals to assemble and peacefully protest, and that “we continue to have productive conversations with our colleagues as we navigate this next phase of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic."

This antagonistic relationship to COVID-19 vaccination is not unique among the Ohio General Assembly. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting schools and universities from requiring students take any vaccine that has not yet received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — the three available COVID-19 vaccines are available under an emergency use authorization, a streamlined regulatory approval used during a health crisis.

The House Health Committee is also considering broader legislation that would outlaw vaccine mandates from any employer, including hospitals and nursing homes. It would also prohibit insurers, governments and others from incentivizing or asking about one's vaccination status.

House Health Chairman Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, scheduled the bill for another hearing later this month before the full House reconvenes. Last year, he spoke to an anti-vaccine special interest group and requested their help to “stop this vaccine shit" that's coming.

More than 63,000 Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and more than 20,600 have died. Slightly more than 61% of Ohioans have received vaccination against the disease, even as a more transmissible variant of the virus that causes it has sparked a resurgence.

In a Facebook livestream of the Kettering protest, a woman can be heard noting that the Proud Boys were in attendance. The Proud Boys are a far-right, all male gang known to engage in street fights with liberal protesters at political events. On Jan. 6, some of their members were among the first to enter the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to thwart certification of the presidential election, and they face some of the most serious criminal charges of the day.

Other Proud Boys members in Columbus also partook in two brawls that day outside the Ohio Statehouse.

An email affiliated with the Proud Boys of Cleveland did not respond when asked to confirm if members attended the vaccine protest.

Creech said he had never heard of them.

“I have no idea what you're talking about," he said. “I've never heard of the Proud Boys. I haven't watched the news since Jan. 6, and I'm not going to."

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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