COVID-19 resource page launched (Consumer Health Digest #20-12 March 29,
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) has launched its Coronavirus Resource Center to counter minsinfirmation about COVID-19. The information includes links to: (a) recent relevant CFI publications, (b) other articles exposing false and misleading claims, and (c) recommended consumer information sources. Since Professor William M. London is curating coronavirus content for the resource center, Consumer Health Digest will focus on other issues.
arthritis patients face shortages of drugs hyped for COVID-19
Health Digest #20-11 March 22, 2020)
Lupus and arthritis patients are struggling to obtain their full prescriptions of chloroquine (Aralen) or the safer, more widely used variant hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) due to the increasing demand for the drugs for treating patients with coronavirus disease. [Zoellner D. Coronavirus: Lupus sufferers facing drug shortage after spike in prescriptions for potential Covid-19 treatments. Independent. March 21, 2020] The use of these drugs in coronavirus disease treatment is based on favorable, but only preliminary clinical evidence. [Irfan U. What you need to know about hydroxychloroquine, Trump's new favorite treatment for Covid-19. Vox. March 20, 2020] According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists: (a) chloroquine, which is made by one manufacturer in the United States has been in shortage since March 9th, and (b) four of eight U.S. suppliers of hydroxychloroquine also have shortages. [Dunn A. Elon Musk and Trump are touting a 1940s malaria pill as a potential coronavirus treatment. But supplies are already running short as prescriptions spike. Business Insider. March 20, 2020] The Lupus Association of America, the Arthritis Foundation, and 94 other national patient organizations have sent a letter to Congressional leaders calling for a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that includes ensuring that people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis retain access to hydroxychloroquine.
to report fraudulent COVID-19 products (Consumer Health Digest #20-13
- April 5, 2020)
To deal with the surge in products falsely claimed to prevent or cure coronavirus, the FDA has set up a special e-mailbox at email@example.com.
of bleach nostrum wrote to Trump before his bleach blunder (Consumer Health
Digest #20-16 April 26, 2020)
Mark Grennon, the self-styled "archbishop" of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, the largest producer and distributor of chlorine dioxide bleach as a "miracle cure" has announced that he wrote to President Trump last week to advise him that the bleach product "Miracle Mineral Solution" (MMS) is "a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body" and "can rid the body of Covid-19". A few days later, Trump suggested at a press conference the possibility of using disinfectant as a COVID-19 treatment. Grennon also said that 30 of his supporters also wrote to Trump. The Guardian contacted the White House, to ask whether Gannon's letter had influenced Trump's comments, but had not yet received a response. [Pilkington E. Revealed: leader of group peddling bleach as a coronavirus 'cure' wrote to Trump this week. The Guardian. April 24, 2020] Meanwhile, leading manufacturers of cleaning products have responded to Trump's advice by warning people not to drink or try to inject themselves with disinfectants. [Bienkov A. Bleach manufacturers have warned people not to inject themselves with disinfectant after Trump falsely suggested it might cure the coronavirus. Business Insider. April 25, 2020] Meanwhile, a federal court has ordered the "Church" and four individuals to stop distributing MMS as a COVID-19 treatment. [Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: federal judge enters temporary injunction against Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, preventing sale of chlorine dioxide products equivalent to industrial bleach to treat COVID-19. FDA news release. April 17, 2020].
found in Google searches for unproven COVID-19 drugs (Consumer Health
Digest #20-17 - May 3, 2020)
Researchers have found large increases in Google searches involving the terms buy, order, Amazon, eBay, or Walmart (the latter being the top three e-commerce companies) combined with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, presumably due to their promotion as COVID-19 therapies by Donald Trump and Elon Musk. [Liu M. and others. Internet searches for unproven COVID-19 therapies in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. April 29, 2020] The researchers argued:
In times of public health crises, therapies not supported by adequate evidencesuch as would lead to US Food and Drug Administration approvalshould not be touted by public figures. Endorsements can lead to unsupervised use of the products with dangerous consequences to the people who take them, and hoarding of these medications can result in shortages for those who require them for legitimate health reasons.
and modern quackery spotlighted (Consumer Health Digest #20-17 - May 3,
Dr. Lydia Kang, author of Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, and Dr. Stephen Barrett were featured in a 7-minute CBS Sunday Morning segment that compared quackery of the 1800s with egregious COVID-19 quackery. [Tales from the annals of medical quackery. CBS Sunday Morning. April 26, 2020].
provided for countering conspiracy claims (Consumer Health Digest #20-19
May 17, 2020)
Four scholars who study conspiracy theories have identified seven traits of conspiratorial thinking and explained how they are displayed in the misleading COVID-19 video "Plandemic," which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. [Cook J and others. Coronavirus, 'Plandemic' and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking. The Conversation. May 15, 2020] The traits are:
- contradictory beliefs
- overriding suspicion
- nefarious intent by conspirators is assumed
- conviction that something is wrong, and the official account is based on deception
- thinking of themselves as persecuted victims
- immunity to evidence
- reinterpreting randomness as patterns caused by conspiracy
The scholars concluded: "Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty."
quackery summaries published (Consumer Health Digest #20-21 - May 31,
Products and services hyped for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 are discussed in:
Dubious COVID-19 treatments and preventives. Center for Inquiry (first published May 27, 2020 with updates provided by Professor William M. London).
Gavura S. An incomplete list of COVID-19 quackery. Science-Based Medicine. May 28, 2020.
conspiracy beliefs associated with social media use (Consumer Health
Digest #20-24 - June 21, 2020)
Researchers have reported the findings of three online surveys about COVID-19 protective behaviors, use of social media as a source of information about COVID-19, and COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs. The conspiracy beliefs included claims that the COVID-19 public health crisis was caused by a manufactured virus and that the risks involved have been greatly exaggerated. The survey participants were UK residents aged 18 or older who had expressed an interest in surveys about COVID-19. [Allington D. Health-protective behaviour, social media usage and conspiracy belief during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Psychological Medicine. June 9, 2020] The findings included:
- The most commonly held conspiracy belief was in a laboratory origin for the coronavirus.
- Holding one or more conspiracy beliefs was associated with preference for social media over legacy media as a general source of information and with use of social media for knowledge about COVID-19.
- YouTube had the strongest association with conspiracy beliefs, followed by Facebook.
- Holding one or more conspiracy beliefs was very strongly associated with not following all health-protective behaviors.
- Holding the belief that 'Coronavirus was probably made in a laboratory' was associated with frequently checking social media for news about COVID-19.
The researchers concluded:
In the UK, broadcast media are subject to official regulation, and many print media platforms are subject to voluntary regulation, but social media are largely unregulated. One wonders how long this state of affairs can be allowed to persist while social media platforms continue to provide a worldwide distribution mechanism for medical misinformation.
distributors accused of making false COVID-19 claims (Consumer Health
Digest #20-26 - July 5, 2020)
A TruthInAdvertising.org investigation has cataloged more than 30 instances in which Herbalife, through its distributors, improperly claimed that various company products can treat and/or prevent the coronavirus by boosting one's immune system. The consumer advocacy organization has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Herbalife. [TINA.org alerts FTC to Herbalife distributors' coronavirus claims. TINA.org. Apr 27, 2020] While the FTC has sent dozens of warning letters to businesses making deceptive coronavirus-related claims, Herbalife is still not among those businesses.
charges against promoters of bleach as COVID-19 cure (Consumer Health
Digest #20-27 July 12, 2020)
Mark Grenon, 62, and his sons, Jonathan Grenon, 34, Jordan Grenon, 26, and Joseph Grenon, 32, who allegedly marketed "Miracle Mineral Solution" (MMS), a toxic bleach, as a cure for COVID-19, have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and criminal contempt. [Father and sons charged in Miami federal court with selling toxic bleach as fake "miracle" cure for covid-19 and violating court orders. US Attorney's Office Southern District of Florida news release. July 8, 2020].
According to the criminal complaint affidavit, the Grenons allegedly:
- directed their customers to ingest MMS, a solution that contains sodium chlorite and water, which causes the solution to become chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleach
- claimed that MMS can treat, prevent, and cure COVID-19
. marketed MMS as a miracle cure-all for dozens of other serious diseases and disorders, including cancer, Alzheimer's, autism, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, even though the FDA had not approved MMS for any use
- sold tens of thousands of bottles of MMS nationwide under the guise of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, an entity they allegedly created to avoid government regulation of MMS
- willfully violated civil court orders to halt distribution of MMS
- sent letters to the judge presiding over the civil case saying that they would not comply with the Court's orders and that the judge should be "taken out."
The judge ordered that all websites selling MMS be immediately removed from the Internet and that all supplies involved in the product creation be confiscated and destroyed. Multiple agencies were called to the "church" location in Bradenton, Fla. in connection with search warrants and the federal order. Hazmat crews were reportedly called to assist with the warrants. [Federal agencies, hazmat crews respond to Florida church selling COVID-19 'miracle solution'. 23WIFR. July 8, 2020] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strongly urged consumers not to purchase or use MMS, explaining that drinking MMS is the same as drinking bleach and can cause dangerous side effects, including severe vomiting, diarrhea, and life-threatening low blood pressure. The FDA has received reports of people requiring hospitalizations, developing life-threatening conditions, and dying after drinking MMS.
fakery exposed (Consumer
Health Digest #20-28 July 19, 2020)
Mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic is an essential public health measure for reducing airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus, but far too many people are discouraging it. "Mask exemption" cards are circulating online and on social media that say the holder has a disability that prevents wearing a mask and that it is illegal for any business to ask them to disclose their condition. Variations of the card include the seal of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), one of the federal agencies responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Such cards are neither issued nor endorsed by DOJ or any other U.S. government agency. The most widely offered cards have been offered by the "Freedom to Breathe Agency," whose Web site also provides misinformation about masks. [Barrett S. Mask exemption cards are not government supported. Quackwatch, July 18, 2020]
impact of coronavirus conspiracy theories exposed (Consumer Health
Digest #20-29 July 26, 2020)
In a 22-minute video, comedian John Oliver has provided with help from several celebrities one of the most entertaining illuminations available of the harmful impact of the current pandemic of coronavirus conspiracy theories. [Coronavirus: Conspiracy Theories. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), July 19, 2020] Oliver discusses the importance of raising three questions in response to conspiracy theories:
Is there a rational non-conspiracy explanation?
Has this been held up to scrutiny by experts?
How plausible is this conspiracy, as a practical matter?
At least eight other Last Week Tonight with John Oliver videos about the novel coronavirus are available on YouTube.
II operators arrested and ordered to stop selling MMS (Consumer Health
Digest #20-32 - August 16, 2020)
Colombian officials say they have arrested Mark Grenon and his son Joseph Grenon who are wanted in the United States on charges they illegally sold chloride dioxide-releasing "Miracle Mineral Solution" (MMS) as a miracle cure for COVID-19 and other diseases under the guise of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing. The Colombian prosecutor's office said the Grenons were shipping their products from the beach town of Santa Marta to clients in the United States, Colombia, and Africa. [Associated Press. Floridians who promoted bleach cocktail as a COVID-19 cure arrested in Colombia. CBC, Aug 13, 2020] In July, Mark and his sons Jonathan, Jordan, and Joseph, all of Brandenton, Florida, were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; and criminal contempt. [Father and sons charged in Miami federal court with selling toxic bleach as fake "miracle" cure for Covid-19 and violating court orders. U.S. Attorney's Office, news release, July 8, 2020] Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court in Florida entered permanent injunctions that prohibit the Grenons and their "church" from selling or distributing unapproved or misbranded products such as Mineral Miracle Solution (MMS). [Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: Daily Roundup. FDA news release, Aug 11, 2020] The perpetrators' main websites now state: "Due to US Dept. of Justice permanent injunction against the Genesis II Church, this site is closed. Bishop Mark S. Grenon."
blasted for political cowardice (Consumer Health Digest #20-34 - August
Eric Topol, M.D., the editor-in-chief of Medscape, has accused FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D. of making COVID-19-related policy statements based on pressure from the Trump Administration rather than on science-based information. In an open letter that detailed what Hahn has done wrong, Topol concluded:
You have one last chance, Dr Hahn, for saving any credibility and preserving trust in the FDA at this critical juncture amidst the pandemic. You need to organize a press conference and tell the truth. Tell Americans exactly how you were pressured to make a breakthrough announcement. Tell all of us how you completely misrepresented the facts about convalescent plasma, and not hide this with the obscurity of technical terms such as relative and absolute differences. Tell us that you are capable and worthy of this pivotal leadership position and that you will not, under any condition, authorize a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine approval before the full Phase 3 completion and read-out of a program.
Otherwise, you need to resign. We cannot entrust the health of 330 million Americans to a person who is subservient to President Trump's whims, unprecedented promotion of unproven therapies, outrageous lies, and political motivations. You have two choices to do the right thing. We cannot and will not rest until you make that choice. [Topol E. Dear Commissioner Hahn: Tell the truth or resign. Medscape, Aug 31, 2020]
FDA Commissioners lambaste Trump administration (Consumer Health Digest #20-39
- October 4, 2020)
Seven former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioners including Scott Gottlieb, the first FDA commissioner in the Trump administration, have coauthored an opinion piece objecting to:
- a White House statement that it "might try to influence the scientific standards for vaccine approval put forward by the FDA or block the agency from issuing further written guidance on its criteria for judging the safety and benefits of a potential COVID-19 vaccine"
- Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar revoking the FDA's authority to establish rules for food and drug safety on September 15th, instead claiming that sole authority for himself
- acknowledged acts of political influence on the FDA's coronavirus communications
- significant misstatements by the secretary and other political leaders about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma
- the overruling of FDA scientists on the regulation of covid-19 laboratory tests
The former commissioners expressed concern that the FDA's ability to make the independent, science-based decisions is at risk and that the public's confidence in the FDA is being eroded. [7 former FDA commissioners: The Trump administration is undermining the credibility of the FDA. Washington Post, Sept 29, 2020]
of bleach miracle cure indicted (Consumer Health Digest #21-16
- April 25, 2021)
Mark Scott Grenon, 62, and his three sons, Jonathan David Grenon, 34, Jordan Paul Grenon, 26, and Joseph Timothy Grenon, 32, have been criminally charged with fraudulently marketing and selling Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) as a cure for COVID-19, cancer, Alzheimers disease, diabetes, autism, malaria, hepatitis, Parkinsons disease, herpes, HIV/AIDS, and other serious medical conditions. They were further charged with defying federal court orders. Each of the Grenons was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and two counts of criminal contempt. If convicted, they each face up to life in prison. [Florida family indicted for selling toxic bleach as fake miracle cure for COVID-19 and other serious diseases, and for violating court orders. U.S. Attorneys Office Southern District of Florida news release, April 23, 2021] The criminal complaint and indictment charge that the Grenons:
- manufactured, promoted, and sold MMSa chemical solution containing sodium chlorite and water which, when ingested orally, became chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleach used for industrial water treatment or bleaching textiles, pulp, and paper
- manufactured MMS in a shed in Jonathans backyard in Bradenton, Florida
- sold tens of thousands of bottles of MMS nationwide under the guise of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, an entity they are accused of creating to avoid government regulation of MMS and shield themselves from prosecution
- received more than $1 million from selling MMS
- willfully violated a federal court injunction halting the Grenons distribution of MMS
- threatened the federal judge presiding over the civil case and threatened that, should the government attempt to enforce the court orders halting their distribution of MMS, they would pick up guns and instigate a Waco
When a search warrant was executed at Jonathan Grenons house at the time of his arrest, officers seized dozens of chemical drums containing nearly 10,000 pounds of sodium chlorite powder, thousands of bottles of MMS, and other items used in the manufacture and distribution of MMS. The government also recovered multiple loaded firearms, including one pump-action shotgun concealed in a custom-made violin case to disguise its appearance.
MMS has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical use. In 2019, the FDA strongly urged consumers not to purchase or use it for any reason, explaining that drinking MMS was the same as drinking bleach and could cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and life-threatening low blood pressure. The FDA received reports of people requiring hospitalization and even dying after drinking MMS.
promoters of COVID-19 falsehoods spotlighted (Consumer Health Digest #21-17
- May 3, 2021)
Cancer researcher and physicist David Robert Grimes, Ph.D., has written a critique of eminently qualified scientists and physicians who have propagated falsehoods across social media, elevating themselves to the status of gurus in order to lend a veneer of seeming scientific legitimacy to empty, dangerous claims. [Grimes DR. COVID has created a perfect storm for fringe science. Scientific American, April 26, 2021] He argues:
The dark irony is that these fringe figures weaponize the societal trust afforded to science, unduly amplifying their capacity to unleash serious harm. To mitigate this, we need to keep in mind the vital distinction [between] science and scientists. Individual scientists are far from infallible; they can be fooled by subtle mistakes, haunted by spurious conclusions or even become so ideologically wedded to a belief they bend facts to fit that preconception. Their motivations are human; they can be seduced by the lure of money, infamy or admiration. Science, by contrast, is a systemic method of inquiry, where positions are formed on the totality of evidence. Crucially, to be labeled scientific, ideas should be testable, and those that fail to withstand dispassionate investigation are duly discarded.
health freedom rhetoric debunked (Consumer Health Digest #21-19
- May 16, 2021)
In a recent essay, Susannah Crockford, author of Ripples of the Universe: Spirituality in Sedona, Arizona, says the health freedom movement is where opposition to public health meets conspiracy theories about the New World Order meets spiritual and religious claims about personal wellbeing and societal freedom. [Crockford S. The health freedom movement enters the COVID era by disseminating medical disinformation. Religion Dispatches, May 13, 2021] She concludes:
The Health Freedom movement casts vaccination as eugenics and population control aimed at the most vulnerable for the profit of healthcare and pharmaceutical corporations. Their rhetoric positions them as the underdog fighting for freedom against the oppressor.
However, the effects of large portions of the population remaining unvaccinated or unmasked disproportionately impacts historically oppressed communities through the perpetuation of COVID-19. The rhetoric of the Health Freedom movement obscures the actual impact of their advocacy, which exacerbates social inequality through reifying ideals of individual choice in healthcare. Those with the highest incomes have the best access to healthcare; theyre the least impacted by the continuing spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Theyre also the most able to pay for unnecessary supplements, organic food, and expensive gym memberships to support their natural immunity. You might say they have the most freedom to begin with.
Todd Stiefel, founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, made similar points in a commentary about a North Carolina rally he says was in support of HB 558, a bill that would prohibit requiring proof of vaccination or immunity in public accommodations, employment, or to attend any school, public or private. He notes that demonstrators declared their cause to be a civil rights issue on a par with laws protecting Black and LGBTQ people from being denied service at a lunch counter or a cake shop. [Stiefel T. Vaccine opponents warped view of freedom. Center for Inquiry, May 10, 2021] He argues:
This is a warped understanding of liberty. Your freedom to drive a car does not include the right to ignore stop signs. People who speed through stop signs risk not only their personal safety but that of the rest of us. And so is it with people who reject vaccines during a pandemic. Reasonable safety regulations are essential right now. If we do not have 70% of the population with immunity, the virus will continue to spread and potentially mutate into new and possibly vaccine-resistant variants. There are more than 581,000 dead Americans so far. How many more have to die for freedom?