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Idaho Dr. Ryan Cole defends Washington medical license, calls complaints ‘just political’

Dr. Ryan Cole speaks at the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons conference in Pittsburgh early October.  (Courtesy of video screengrab)
Dr. Ryan Cole speaks at the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons conference in Pittsburgh early October. (Courtesy of video screengrab)
By Audrey Dutton Idaho Capitol Sun

The medical board in the state of Washington is considering disciplinary action against Dr. Ryan Cole, the Idaho pathologist who serves on a public health board while advocating against COVID-19 vaccines and accusing other public health agencies of fraud.

In a 40-page response to complaints against him, Cole and his attorney argued that he did not violate any rules when he prescribed drugs to patients via telehealth and claimed COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous. But some of the arguments in the response to the Washington Medical Commission do not match Cole’s public comments.

Cole and his Eagle-based attorney, Nancy Garrett, did not respond to messages from the Sun this week. The Sun obtained the documents through a public records request to the Washington Medical Commission.

The commission’s investigators have opened two cases in response to complaints against Cole.

His laboratory, Cole Diagnostics, accepts tissue, blood and other samples from health care providers in Idaho, Washington and other states. As a pathologist, Cole is trained to examine a sample and make a diagnosis, as opposed to seeing and treating patients directly. In addition to his work as a pathologist, Cole is a member of the board of Central District Health, Idaho’s largest regional public health department, serving Boise and Ada County.

Cole was first licensed in Washington in June 2007. His license expired in May this year, but he activated it again in June, records show.

“In times of crisis, as we have experienced in the last two years, health care providers have been asked to shoulder the enormous burden of caring for patients with COVID. I have dedicated all of my time and energy to studying COVID, testing for COVID, and helping patients in any way possible,” Cole wrote in a letter to the commission that accompanied his attorney’s letter.

None of Cole’s “actions regarding COVID have been focused at all on any financial gain,” he wrote.

“This has been purely Good Samaritan care for patients desperate for help that was not being offered elsewhere,” he wrote. “… I provided free medical care out of a real attempt to help those in need.”

What the complaints said

The first case in Washington, opened last year, stemmed from complaints that Cole improperly prescribed drugs to patients over a telehealth platform, and that he spread false and misleading information about COVID-19, masks and vaccines. The investigator completed work on that case and forwarded his findings to the commission.

The second case stems from Cole’s misdiagnosis of cancer in an Idaho patient, in light of his unsupported claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer. That investigation was ongoing as of early spring.

The medical boards in Arizona, Minnesota and Idaho received similar complaints, the letter from Cole’s attorney said. The Idaho Board of Medicine “declined to open an investigation of Dr. Cole’s practice or his publicly held opinions,” and the other two states took “no further action” after he responded to those complaints, the letter said. It is unclear whether those state boards took any action in the five months since Cole’s letter.

Laws in Arizona and Minnesota do not give the public access to any records of complaints or medical board investigations unless they result in a formal disciplinary action. Idaho law also conceals those records from the public – even from the person who filed a complaint.

Washington is the only state that allows public access to complaint and investigation records regardless of whether the board has taken formal action.

In at least one public speaking engagement, Cole referred to the complaints as “attacks” on him, “just political” and “not legal for them to do.”

The Washington board decided last year to consider disciplinary action against doctors who give harmful recommendations about COVID-19 and vaccinations. That policy echoes the position of the Federation of State Medical Boards but hasn’t been adopted by the Idaho Board of Medicine.

“Physicians … who generate and spread COVID-19 misinformation, or disinformation, erode the public trust in the medical profession and endanger patients,” the Washington Medical Commission wrote.

Cole’s attorney: He is ‘questioning the science’

In her letter to the commission, Cole’s attorney argued the allegations “arise as an attack on public statements and presentations that Dr. Cole has offered across the country.”

She wrote Cole’s statements are “questioning the science behind mask wearing, as well as genuine concerns regarding known and unknown complications from COVID-19 vaccinations.”

To discipline him for those statements would infringe on his constitutional right to free speech, the letter stated. No government agency is “the arbiter of truth, particularly with respect to matters of scientific opinions and genuine scientific debate.”

“Dr. Cole has not advised patients or the general public to not receive the vaccine,” the letter said.

However, here are unsubstantiated statements Cole made in the months leading up to the letter. The statements are either categorically false or at odds with the body of research on COVID-19 and the consensus of the medical community:

• “If you have had COVID, do not get this shot, especially in the youth and especially if you’re under age 50,” he said on a conservative podcast in June 2021.

• Cole described COVID vaccines as “something for which the side effect would be death and/or permanent disability,” in a September 2021 interview on another conservative podcast. The host asked Cole, “You are suggesting most people do not get the vaccines, correct?” and he responded, “Very few. Very targeted. Elderly, at risk.”

• Cole advised the public multiple times to “screen before vaccine” – to take antibody tests before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. “If you have antibodies, if you have immunity, you don’t get that shot because you put yourself at higher risk for hospitalization and complications,” he said at an October event in Alaska.

• At a similar event in November, Cole said, “Don’t vax the kids with this vax” and “if you’re COVID-recovered, don’t get this vax.”

There is evidence post-infection immunity may be comparable to post-vaccine immunity. A large study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine found similar levels of protection in vaccinated patients as in COVID-recovered patients. But, consistent with other studies, it found vaccines after recovery from COVID-19 do boost a person’s immunity.

“Vaccination enhanced protection among persons who had had a previous infection,” the study said. “Hybrid immunity resulting from previous infection and recent booster vaccination conferred the strongest protection.”

And the path to immunity by infection is far more dangerous than the path to immunity by vaccination.

To develop post-infection immunity, a person must first recover from COVID-19. People who were unvaccinated and died from the disease will never be reinfected, so their outcomes cannot be included in studies on reinfection rates.

The letter argues Cole is sharing “opinions based on his observations, and (offering) hypotheses based thereon,” and people filing complaints and “the media have simply labeled such opinions and hypotheses as misinformation because there are no published scientific studies completed on this observational question.”

In his statements, Cole refers to his claims as “truth.” He attempts to link vaccines to dangerous health conditions. Before and since his letter to the medical board, Cole has claimed, without evidence:

• The vaccine “regulates and dysregulates genes and immunity.”

• “Many” young people who get vaccinated “won’t make it into their late 20s or early 30s due to the type of disease they are having” and “are going to pass from high, high grade cancers.”

• “We literally have a generation to lose if we allow this (vaccine) into the bodies of our children.”

Cole defends patient treatment

The letter argues Cole’s practice of treating COVID patients and prescribing drugs to people over a telehealth platform was above-board.

Multiple doctors who work in local hospitals made statements to the Washington Medical Commission that they had treated patients who developed severe COVID-19 after following Cole’s advice or receiving treatment from him.

Cole said in fall 2021 he had “treated hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of patients, of the which zero have gone to the emergency room or hospital.”

The letter said Cole “has received numerous letters from patients thanking him for providing treatment they could not obtain elsewhere.”

But, it said, Cole cannot respond to the hospital doctors’ allegations because he lost access to his patients’ medical records.

“In November or December 2021, (telehealth platform) Medici discontinued its contract with myfreedoctors.com and has since locked all providers out of the medical records it maintains,” the letter said. “This is a recent development and in no way affected Dr. Cole’s ability to access such patient records close in time to such treatment.”

And since he cannot defend himself, those allegations are “therefore entirely irrelevant,” the letter said.

The system Cole used for telehealth appointments did not keep patient records sequestered. On its website, Medici provides a step-by-step tutorial for physicians to export patient records for local storage, saying it is “a great way to ensure your practice management system has a record of the consult” but reminding health care providers they “may still wish to document the encounter” in their own record-keeping systems.

The letter says Cole did not receive a fee, charge patients or bill health insurance for those consultations. The appointments were free, although patients could make donations to the service, the letter said.

Cole claims ivermectin was only option

Cole believes that benefits of early treatment with ivermectin outweigh the risks, the letter stated.

“Further, ivermectin was prescribed by Dr. Cole at a time when there were simply no outpatient therapeutics that were being recommended,” it said.

Ivermectin is being evaluated for use as a COVID-19 treatment. Studies so far have not proved its effectiveness. Most people recover from COVID-19 at home with over-the-counter medication. For people at risk of severe illness, health care providers can give monoclonal antibody treatments – available at hospitals and community sites since last fall. Health care providers recommended vaccination, though, so that patients would be less likely to need those treatments at all.

At the time Cole was prescribing ivermectin, patients could have enrolled in clinical trials for early outpatient treatments, including ivermectin. The trials did not guarantee a patient would receive their preferred drug.

One trial was open from January 2021 through early 2022. Another trial, run by the National Institutes of Health, was open from June 2021 to February 2022. (Its initial results show a three-day course of ivermectin had no effect on hospitalization or death, and it shortened illness by less than a day. Researchers plan to launch a second arm of the trial to test a higher dose.)

The Sun in February asked Cole how many patients he had referred to those trials in lieu of prescribing drugs himself. He did not respond.

Did Cole advise against public health measures?

By the time his attorney told the Washington Medical Commission that he had “not advised patients or the general public to disregard public health guidelines,” Cole had become a champion of noncompliance.

“We’ve been complacent. You know: ‘The government takes care of you, they’re gonna take care of you, I’m gonna be fine, whatever, they’re going to do their thing, I’ll just be a good little boy or girl and comply,’ ” he said at a Kansas City conference in November. “This is a 1776 moment, really, in our history. And we’re trying to earn our freedoms back? I’m sorry, but I never gave them up. I’m an American.”

According to Cole’s response to the commission, his goal is to inform the public and engage in debate.

“The fact that other providers disagree with Dr. Cole, these providers have not shown any scientific studies that would render Dr. Cole’s opinions misrepresentations,” the letter said.

That rankled David Pate, a member of the state’s coronavirus working group, a former physician and lawyer, and retired CEO of St. Luke’s Health System.

“I have never listened to a presentation where either he presented both sides of the debate or where another panelist was there to debate,” Pate told the Sun. “In fact, he rejected my suggestion that he and I debate. When you only present one side and don’t represent that there are legitimate other points of view, I don’t know how that could be a debate.”

Cole’s claims about COVID, prevention, treatment and vaccination have been the subject of numerous fact-checking articles. The articles include links to studies and quote subject-matter experts. One fact-check article went directly to the source: the lead author of a paper Cole has cited.

“No publications demonstrate that mRNA vaccines cause cancer or autoimmune diseases,” Norbert Pardi, a research assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told FactCheck.org.

“Multiple clinical trials have been performed with mRNA vaccines in the past 10 years and none of them found that mRNA vaccination caused autoimmune diseases. Further, we are not aware of any studies showing an autoimmune disease appearing many months after vaccination as Dr. Cole inaccurately suggests,” Pardi said, according to FactCheck’s article from April 2021.

Cole has dismissed such fact checks and said he plans to sue journalists over reporting on his statements. He has no active lawsuits in Idaho or federal courts.

The letter to the Washington Medical Commission makes a case for opinion and hypothesis – and freedom of speech.

But in his public interviews and speeches, he implores the public to listen to him, accuses health authorities of lying and calls public health measures a crime.

“It’s an honor to be here and to share some truth today,” Cole said in November at the event in Kansas City.

“Are they lying to you? They are. This is science and data. They pulled the wool over your eyes so they could make billions,” he said. “The fact that they … are forcing you to still wear masks, that they are forcing you to get a shot to keep your employment, is criminal, plain and simple, criminal.”

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