Dubious COVID-19 Treatments and Preventives


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have stated:

There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Advertising that a product can prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19 without rigorous scientific evidence sufficient to substantiate the claims violates the federal FTC Act. Nevertheless, various products and services have been touted as being effective in treating or preventing COVID-19. Most lack a plausible rationale for any potential benefit against COVID-19 or are nonsensical. Some hyped treatments and preventives are known to present hazards. For others, evidence of safety is lacking. Consumers of dubious COVID-19 treatments and preventives waste their money and time.

Hyped treatments and preventives for COVID-19 include:

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound found in marijuana and hemp that does not produce a high. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a cannabidiol preparation (brand name Epidiolex) to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Although there is great interest in potential medical uses for CBD, the evidence for its safety and effectiveness falls far short of the marketing hype for available products. Since 2015, the FDA has ordered many companies to stop making unapproved claims. The market for unapproved CBD products is nevertheless burgeoning as marketers have claimed the products have value in treating a variety of diseases. The FDA and others have found that some CBD products have not contained dosages claimed by marketers. Dangerous chemicals have been found in popular CBD vaping liquids.

The FDA and/or the Federal Trade Commission have sent warning letters to these businesses who have marketed their CBD products with unsubstantiated COVID-19-related claims

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated June 24, 2020.

Many chiropractors have been falsely advertising that chiropractic care can boost the immune system and thereby prevent novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infections. A study of Twitter activity showed that messages linking spinal manipulative therapy, an intervention most commonly used by chiropractors, with enhancing immunity increased dramatically in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the pandemic, the International Chiropractors Association (ICA) posted reports on its website to buttress those claims. However, more than 140 chiropractic researchers around the globe reviewed those reports and concluded that the ICA provided no valid clinical scientific evidence that chiropractic care can impact the immune system. Their conclusion is consistent with a message to chiropractors from the World Federation of Chiropractic.

The College of Chiropractors of BC, the regulatory body of British Columbia chiropractors, issued a public notice, which states that it is inappropriate for chiropractors to promote treatment or supplements as a means to boost the immune system and imply that this will prevent infection from the novel coronavirus. On April 27, 2020, the president of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario reported that the regulatory body sent 74 cease and desist orders to chiropractors making such claims in their advertising.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission issued warnings to:

  • Fuller Life Chiropractic (Peachtree City, Georgia) to stop making unsubstantiated claims on its website about raising “Innate Immunity” through chiropractic in order to defend against coronavirus.
  • Epigenetics Healing Center in Overland Park, Kansas (operated by Jay Goodfinder, D.C.) to stop claiming that intravenous treatments of vitamin C, vitamin D and glutathione and supplements of garlic, pycnogenol, and vitamin B12 are effective against COVID-19.
  • Mathew Martinez, D.C., who operates the Absolute Health Clinic in Bristol, Washington, to stop advertising that stem cell therapy, intravenous vitamins C and D, and various other “immune-boosting” supplements can treat or protect against COVIUD-19 infections.

Other regulatory actions in the United States have included:

  • The Oregon Department of Justice secured a consent agreement that prohibited Sandra Johnson, D.C., of Bend Oregon from making promotional claims about products that refer to coronavirus or COVID-19.
  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas has obtained a temporary restraining order to stop Ray L. Nannis, D.C., d/b/a Optimal Wellness Solutions from advertising that his sublingual homeopathic products can prevent and treat COVID-19 infections.
For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated May 26, 2020.

Claims of immune system boosting or support are often made for dietary supplements, but there is no good evidence that any dietary supplements help people fight off or resist infections such as from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. There is also no good evidence that any dietary supplement product can fight off or resist coronavirus infection through anti-viral activity. Some dietary supplement products promoted for use against COVID-19 have contained ingredients in doses that can be harmful.

Dietary supplements are broadly defined under current federal law. According to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) dietary supplements include any products that contain at least one of the following: (1) a vitamin, (2) a mineral, (3) an herb or botanical, (4) an amino acid, (5) a dietary substance “for use to supplement the diet by increasing total dietary intake,” or (6) any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract. Under DSHEA, dietary supplement products go through no premarketing approval process as do new drug products. DSHEA enables dietary supplement marketers to state how their products may influence body structure or function, but such statements must be accompanied by a disclaimer that they have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that the products are not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” Going beyond structure/function claims to disease claims turns dietary supplements into unapproved drugs. There are currently no FDA-approved drug products for preventing or treating COVID-19.

According to the Therapeutic Research Center’s Natural Medicine database, COVID-19-related claims have been made for dietary supplement products said to contain ingredients such as: astragalus, Baikal skullcap, boneset, cannabidiol (CBD), Ceylon cinnamon, colloidal silver, cordyceps, danshen, dong quai, Echinacea, elderberry, fulvic acid, green tea, halotherapy (salt), hu zhang, humic acid, kudzu, licorice, New Jersey tea, rhodiola, quercetin, traditional Chinese medicine, vitamin C, and zinc.

Vitamin D has received significant media attention for being potentially protective against COVID-19, but a protective effect has yet to be established in randomized controlled studies. Researchers have strongly cautioned against both potentially harmful vitamin D supplement doses “(greater than the upper limit of 4000 IU/day (100 µg/day))” and becoming vitamin D deficient.

Silver products sold as dietary supplements and hyped as treatments or preventives for COVID-19 are discussed in a separate expandable section below.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has regulatory authority over advertising claims made for dietary supplement products and may take action when claims are deceptive. The FTC and/or the Food and Drug Administration have warned these businesses to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their supplements and herbal treatments can treat or prevent COVID-19:

Federal authorities issued a civil injunction to stop Marc “White Eagle” Travalino’s sale of fraudulent COVID-19 cures through his business and his website, “whiteeaglenativeherbs.net,” which has been shuttered by the action. Travalino allegedly sold an undercover special agent a treatment for COVID-19 on May 5, 2020 after guaranteeing that the agent’s hospitalized grandmother would not die from COVID-19 if given the medicine. On May 14, 2020, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent Travalino a warning letter requiring him to cease and desist sales of unapproved and unproven COVID-19 cures and treatments. Almost a week after he was warned to stop, Travalino again sold his COVID-19 treatments to another undercover agent.

For more information:

 

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 27, 2020, last updated July 1, 2020.

The practice of administering plant-derived essential oils on the skin, via inhalation of vapors, or internally via ingestion for supposed healing power is commonly called aromatherapy. The oils for aromatherapy are described as “essential” to refer to the volatile, aromatic components that some people describe as the “essence” of the plant source, which supposedly represents the plant’s “life force,” “spirit,” or soul. The use of essential oils for aromatherapy is not essential for health. A wide variety of unsubstantiated health claims have been made for essential oils including for use against COVID-19. Product potency is not standardized. Marketers don’t do enough to advise users about potential risks. Some marketers promote risky ways of administering essential oils.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and/or the Federal Trade Commission have sent warning letters to these firms for selling essential oil products with unsubstantiated claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, or cure COVID-19:

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 27, 2020, last updated June 24, 2020.

Many people believe that homeopathy is simply a fancy term for natural or herbal medicine. It is actually a superstitious, spiritual approach to medicine based on the notion that diseases can be effectively treated with substances that would, if given to healthy people, cause the disease symptoms. Proponents of homeopathy believe that the substances become increasingly potent as remedies through a process involving successive dilutions and vigorous shaking called succussion. Some homeopaths falsely claim that “nosodes” (products made from pathological organs or tissues; causative agents such as bacteria, fungi, ova, parasites, virus particles and yeast; disease products; or excretions) are as effective as vaccines for disease prevention.

No currently marketed drug products labeled as homeopathic have been approved by the FDA for any use.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas has obtained a temporary restraining order to stop Ray L. Nannis, D.C., d/b/a Optimal Wellness Solutions from advertising that his sublingual homeopathic products can prevent and treat COVID-19 infections.

The Federal Trade Commission and/or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have warned these marketers to stop making unsupported claims that their homeopathic and related products can effectively prevent or treat COVID-19:

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated July 1, 2020.

President Trump, Elon Musk, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have all touted hydroxychloroquine (brand name Plaquenil) as an effective drug treatment for COVID-19. Several hosts of Fox News programs have also fueled hydroxychloroquine hype.

Widespread interest in hydroxychloroquine was initially generated by Didier Raoult, the senior author of a paper reporting a small, substandard, uncontrolled clinical study of the drug used alone and in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin on COVID-19 patients. The paper purported to show the treatments reduced the presence of the novel coronavirus in the body, but the study design was inadequate for demonstrating that drug treatment was helpful. Some scientists think that hydroxychloroquine can act to both keep the virus out from entering cells of the body and disrupt viral protein production. Several rationales have been proposed for using azithromycin, but it’s effectiveness against COVID-19 remains unsubstantiated.

Hydroxychloroquine is an approved drug for either prevention or treatment of certain types of malaria. Its anti-inflammatory action makes it effective in treating patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and some other health problems. The promotion of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 threatens supplies of the drug for patients who rely on it to manage their inflammatory diseases.

Hydroxychloroquine has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating COVID-19, but the FDA granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for its use to treat adults and adolescents who weigh at least 110 pounds and who are hospitalized with COVID-19, but who are unable to participate in a clinical study. The FDA has cautioned against use of hydroxychloroquine and the similar, but more toxic drug chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems.

Over 100 relevant clinical trials have been started. Some clinical research reports have already raised serious concerns about the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on March 28th that two individuals consumed non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, a chemical for aquarium use that is commercially available for purchase at stores and through internet websites:

One of the individuals died shortly after arrival to the hospital. The second individual was critically ill with severe gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac conduction abnormalities. Upon recovery, the surviving individual reported to the media that they ingested the product to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, which causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), after seeing information on the medical use of chloroquine on television. The product in their possession was in powder form inside a 2.2-lb. container and labeled “for Ornamental Fish Use Only”.

On May 18, 2020, President Trump announced that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine every day for about a week despite having tested negative for the coronavirus and having no symptoms. A statement from Trump’s physician Sean P. Conley, D.O. released that day noted that, two weeks prior, one of the president’s support staff had tested positive. Dr. Conley wrote:

After numerous discussions [President Trump] and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded that the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.

On May 24th, President Trump announced that he had finished his hydroxychloroquine regimen. If Dr. Conley had prescribed the drug for him and President Trump had taken it as he said he did, we would still have no way of knowing from his anecdote whether the drug made any difference for him. Before concluding that hydroxychloroquine is evidence-based medicine against COVID-19, favorable findings from well-designed, properly conducted clinical trials will be needed.

On June 3rd, The New England Journal of Medicine published a report on a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial across the United States and parts of Canada testing hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 among 879 participants who were exposed to people with confirmed COVID-19. In a 14-day follow-up period, there was no statistically significant difference in the risk of developing COVID-19 between those assigned to receive hydroxychloroquine and those assigned to receive placebo. Side effects were more common in the hydroxychloroquine group (40.1%) than in the placebo group (16.8%), but no severe adverse reactions were reported.

On June 15th, the FDA revoked the EUA because the legal criteria for initiating it were no longer met. It announced:

Based on its ongoing analysis of the EUA and emerging scientific data, the FDA determined that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA. Additionally, in light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other potential serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorized use.

Moreover:

Recent results from a large randomized clinical trial in hospitalized patients, a population similar to the population for which chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were authorized for emergency use, demonstrated that hydroxychloroquine showed no benefit on mortality or in speeding recovery. This outcome was consistent with other new data, including data showing that the suggested dosing regimens for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are unlikely to kill or inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19. The totality of scientific evidence currently available indicate a lack of benefit.

In a separate announcement on June 15th, the FDA warned that co-administering either hydroxychloroquine sulfate or chloroquine phosphate with the investigational antiviral drug remdesivir may result in reducing remdesivir’s antiviral activity. Remdesivir has received an EUA for treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe disease.

The FDA’s chief scientist wrote on June 15th:

FDA has concluded that…it is no longer reasonable to believe that oral formulations of [hydroxychloroquine] and [chloroquine] may be effective in treating COVID-19, nor is it reasonable to believe that the known and potential benefits of these products outweigh their known and potential risks.

A guidelines panel of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) recommended (updated as of June 18th) that among patients with COVID-19:

  • Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine be used only in the context of a clinical trial.
  • Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with azithromycin should not be used outside of the context of a clinical trial (due to concerns about toxicity).

On June 20th, the National Institutes of Health announced that a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of adults hospitalized with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had been halted because the data and safety monitoring board of the study had determined that the drug was very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

Submitted by William M. London

First published June 3, 2020, last updated June 24, 2020.

Intravenous vitamin C is an unproven treatment for COVID-19 and for the complex, often-deadly bodily reaction of sepsis that can result from infectious diseases including COVID-19. Nevertheless, TruthInAdvertising.org has identified more than 40 clinics (or “medical spas” as they sometimes call themselves) promoting “immunity drips” for treatment or prevention of  COVID-19. The drips may contain, in addition to megadoses of vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc and an antioxidant called glutathione. Many clinics promoting intravenous drips also promote unproven ozone treatments.

On April 1, 2020, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a trade group devoted to advancing naturopathic medicine as a profession, issued a press release prematurely promoting intravenously administered vitamin C as an adjunctive treatment for moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Charles Mok, who operates Allure Medical Spa, PLLC in Shelby Township, Michigan has been charged in a criminal complaint for health care fraud scheme that included allegedly submitting false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for high-dose intravenous vitamin C infusions to patients at risk of contracting COVID-19, especially those working on the frontlines, and to those who tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Mok made unsubstantiated claims in multiple launch videos that vitamin C reduces the severity of symptoms, duration of illness, and therefore the contagiousness of COVID-19 and significantly increases the immunity system of those who have a high risk for contracting the virus.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned several companies to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their intravenous nutrient drips can treat or prevent COVID-19:

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated July 1, 2020.

Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) contains a 28% solution of sodium chlorite. which, when mixed with an acid such as citrus juice, produces chlorine dioxide (ClO2), a potent bleach used for stripping textiles and industrial water treatment. Sodium chlorite is not legal to sell for human consumption, and legitimate suppliers of the chemical include a warning sheet stating that it can cause potentially fatal side effects if swallowed.

In April, a federal court entered a temporary injunction halting the sale of MMS by Genesis II Church of Health and Healing and its principals, Mark Grenon, Joseph Grenon, Jordan Grenon, and Jonathan Grenon. This action followed a warning letter issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stating that MMS is an unapproved new drug sold in violation of federal law.

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated May 26, 2020.

Ozone (a molecule consisting of 3 oxygen atoms) is a toxic gas that has been promoted by naturopaths and other non-science-based health hucksters as a therapy for chronic diseases, Lyme disease, viral infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases, “detoxification,” and “boosting the immune system” despite the lack of substantiating evidence of safety and effectiveness. Practitioners of ozone treatment administer ozone through several different routes. It is most commonly administered by infusing it into blood drawn from a patient and then re-injecting the blood.

Various drinkable water products are deceptively promoted as being able to enhance health by increasing in the body  oxygen in the form we need to breathe in (molecules consisting of two oxygen atoms).

Hydrogen peroxide administered orally or intravenously is also deceptively promoted as a health enhancing oxygenation therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy HBOT involves breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared hyperbaric chambers for certain medical uses, such as treating decompression sickness suffered by divers, air or gas embolism (dangerous “bubbles” in the bloodstream that obstruct circulation), thermal burns (caused by heat or fire), and carbon monoxide poisoning, However, many promoters advertise the chambers with unproven claims for effectiveness in treating a wide variety of injuries and diseases including COVID-19. Risks of HBOT include sinus pain, ear pressure, painful joints, paralysis, and air embolism. The oxygen-rich environment of hyperbaric chambers pose a risk of fire.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas has entered a permanent injunction halting Purity Health and Wellness Centers of Dallas, Texas, which fraudulently promoted “ozone therapy” as a COVID-19 treatment, from offering unproven treatments for the disease.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned these businesses to stop making unsubstantiated claims for ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and/or other oxygen for treating or preventing COVID-19:

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated July 1, 2020.

Evidence is lacking to support claims that silver products can be used safely or effectively treat or prevent infections. Although silver products are sold as dietary supplement, silver has no dietary function. Silver products are often sold as colloidal silver, a suspension containing microscopic silver particles. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD):

Despite claims to the contrary, there is no good evidence to support using colloidal silver for COVID-19.

NMCD considers colloidal silver to be:

Likely unsafe when used orally, topically, or intravenously. Side effects may include silver deposition in the skin and mucous membranes, seizures, liver and kidney toxicity, and others.

The Office of the Missouri Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Jim Bakker and Morningside Church Productions, Inc. for misrepresentations about the effectiveness of “Silver Solution” as a treatment for 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah has halted the sales of silver products touted as COVID-19 cures by Gordon Pedersen of Cedar Hills, Utah, and his companies, My Doctor Suggests LLC and GP Silver LLC.

U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma entered a temporary restraining order against Xephyr LLC, doing business as N-Ergetics and three individuals associated with the entity, requiring them to immediately stop distributing colloidal silver products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and/or the Federal Trade Commission have warned several companies to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their silver products can treat or prevent COVID-19 including:

For more information:

Submitted by William M. London

First published May 26, 2020, last updated July 1, 2020.

Inoculation Against Misinformation

Drawing upon the unique expertise of institutions such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Quackwatch, the Center for Inquiry is doing what we do best: confronting and exposing pseudoscience and misinformation. View our resources page on the coronavirus and slow the spread of misinformation: