The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced cautioning 35 marketers across the U.S. to stop making unsupported claims that their products and therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19.
Among recipients of the warning letters: Several companies selling vitamins and supplements.
The government agency's actions represented the sixth batch of warning letters sent by FTC officials as part of their efforts to protect consumers from health scams involving COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
FTC cautioned the marketers that one or more of their efficacy claims lack scientific evidence and violate the FTC Act, and if they do not stop making claims to treat or cure COVID-19, it may seek a court injunction and order demanding money be refunded to consumers.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) asked U.S. regulators—FDA and FTC—to take action against companies trying to take advantage of the pandemic by claiming dietary supplements fight viruses. The watchdog group identified such anti-viral claims as “effective against an enormous array of disease causing…virus[es],” “virus protection” “and fend off certain viruses.”
CSPI disclosed finding 46 products on Amazon with antiviral claims, and in a letter to the online retailer, it urged Amazon “to remove these and similar products, which are being marketed as unapproved and/or misbranded drugs under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).”
“The most important thing for consumers to know is that no supplement is FDA-approved to treat or prevent COVID,” Peter Lurie, M.D., president of CSPI, said in a news release. “Besides being a waste of money, these products may harm consumers if they decide to opt for a supplement in favor of the things we know that actually help, like hand washing, maintaining social distance, wearing personal protective equipment, or seeking real medical treatment when sick.”
An FDA spokesperson said the agency appreciates CSPI bringing the matter to its attention, “is currently reviewing the information and will take action, as appropriate.”
An FTC spokesman confirmed receiving a letter from CSPI, and an Amazon representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Most of the recent FTC warning letters “target ‘treatments’ offered in clinics or medical offices, including intravenous (IV) Vitamin C and D infusions, supposed stem cell therapy, and vitamin injections that may at first glance appear to be based in medicine or proven effective,” according to an FTC news release. “However, currently there is no scientific evidence that these, or any, products or services can treat or cure COVID-19.”
Among other companies, the agency targeted 17 marketers of vitamins, supplements, silver and Chinese herbal treatments. In April, FTC sued a marketer of herbal extracts for allegedly claiming one of his products is effective at treating, preventing or reducing the risk of COVID-19. Under a proposed preliminary order, Marc Ching, doing business as Whole Leaf Organics, agreed to stop making the claims.