The coronavirus outbreak has already led to price gouging and hoarding of supplies. Now federal agencies are facing the marketing of fraudulent treatments for the virus.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have sent warnings to seven companies demanding they stop selling fraudulent products that they claim can prevent or treat coronavirus.
Among the companies cited is “The Jim Bakker Show,” hosted by televangelist Jim Bakker. Last week, the New York attorney general’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bakker ordering him and the show to quit promoting its “Silver Solution” as effective against the coronavirus.
The other six companies and their products targeted by the federal agencies are Vital Silver of Melbourne, Florida, Quinessence Aromatherapy of the U.K. and GuruNanda of Buena Park, California (essential oils); Xephyr, doing business as N-Ergetics (silver) of Atoka, Oklahoma; Vivify Holistic Clinic of Canada (drugs), Herbal Amy of Nampa, Idaho (herbs, tinctures).
These products are “unapproved drugs that pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law,” the agencies said in a notice Monday. The warning letters, sent to each of the companies on March 6, are the first issued by the FDA about coronavirus claims.
The companies have 48 hours to respond to the FDA and FTC about “specific steps they have taken to correct the violations,” the agencies say. Violations can result in legal action.
“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in the notice. “We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one.”
The FDA has created a cross-agency taskforce to watch for fraudulent coronavirus products including FDA and FTC monitoring of social media and online marketplaces.
There is no current vaccine or drug to treat the coronavirus or COVID-19. Anyone who thinks they may have contracted the coronavirus should not use these products as a substitute for seeking “appropriate medical treatment” for the virus, the FDA says.
“There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims. These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”
“Last Week Tonight,” the late-night HBO comedic news show hosted by John Oliver, included a clip from “The Jim Bakker Show” in its March 1 report on coronavirus. In the segment, natural health expert Sherrill Sellman told Bakker that Silver Solution “hasn’t been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it’s been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours.”
The FDA as far back as August 1999 has warned that “colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any disease or condition,” the agency said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.