March 03, 2020

Senators Warren and Casey Request Information on FDA and FTC Efforts to Protect the American Public from Coronavirus Scams

To date, coronavirus has infected over 89,000 people and killed over 3,000 worldwide; Scammers marketing fraudulent coronavirus "cures" to a nervous public

Text of Letter to FTC (PDF) | Text of Letter to FDA (PDF)

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Senate Aging Committees, and Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a member of the HELP Committee and Ranking Member of the Aging Committee, sent letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting information on their efforts to protect the American public from coronavirus scams. Online scammers have urged Americans to try drinking chlorine dioxide to "wipe out" coronavirus; others are pushing the falsehood that "boiled garlic can cure the virus;" and television programs are promoting fraudulent miracle cures, such as a "Silver Solution" that can "eliminate (coronavirus) within 12 hours" and "boost the immune system."

"Though the Administration is working with both federal researchers and private sector companies to develop a vaccine and therapeutics, there is currently no cure for COVID-19. However, as public concern over the new coronavirus has grown, scammers have begun marketing fraudulent coronavirus 'cures' to a nervous public--placing vulnerable Americans at risk," wrote the lawmakers in their letters to FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons and to FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn.

The FTC and FDA work in close collaboration when combatting health fraud. The FTC "enforces truth-in-advertising laws," which require ads--including those making health or fitness claims--to be "truthful, not misleading, and when, appropriate, backed by scientific evidence." The FDA "regulates safety, manufacturing, and product labeling" for foods, drugs, and devices, and can take action when individuals or manufacturers misbrand or promote unproven health or medical claims about their products.

Senators Warren and Casey asked the FDA and FTC to respond to their letters by March 16, 2020.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include the following:

  • Last week, she sent letters to the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- the U.S.-based "Too Big to Fail" banks with the largest foreign exposures -- asking about how they are monitoring and preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus. 
  • She also introduced legislation on February 27, 2020 requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall--including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts--to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed their concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.