FTC seeks fines against marketer of vitamin D, zinc over claims products can replace COVID-19 vaccines

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - serggn
©Getty Images - serggn

Related tags Dietary supplement industry COVID-19

A St. Louis-based chiropractor and dietary supplement marketer faces monetary penalties for continuing to market vitamin D and zinc products that purport to prevent COVID-19 infections.

It’s the first case brought by the US Federal Trade Commission under a new law enacted after the start of the global pandemic.

Case filed under COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act

The case, which has been filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri​, alleges that chiropractor Eric Anthony Nepute, who markets supplements under the company Quickwork LLC, continued to market vitamin D and zinc supplements that make COVID-19 treatment claims even after receiving a warning letter about the practice on May 21, 2020​.  The case was filed under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act​.

The claims for the supplements, marketed under the brand name Wellness Warrior, now go even further, according to FTC.  The supplements now claim to be a suitable substitute for getting one of the several vaccines that have been developed to fight against the spread of the disease.  

Appealing to the anti vaxxer crowd?

This might be a ploy to capitalize on the stubborn vaccine resistance in the United States.  A recent poll found that 20% of Americans say they will not get the vaccine​ unless required to do so by their job or school.  The resistance was highest among respondents who identified themselves as Republicans (29%) or evangelical Christians (28%).

“The defendants’ claims that their products can stand in for approved COVID-19 vaccines are particularly troubling: we need to be doing everything we can to stop bogus health claims that endanger consumers,”​ said Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter. “With this case, the Commission has quickly put to use its new authority to stop false marketing claims related to the pandemic.”

The complaint seeks both monetary penalties and a ban against Nepute or his company from making such claims in the future.  The monetary civil penalties amount to not more than $43,792 for each violation.

There is mounting evidence that vitamin D status plays a role​ in how well individuals deal with a COVID-19 infection.  Some studies have also found that individuals with higher vitamin D status are less susceptible to infections in the first place. But Nepute took things a step further to claim that vitamin D was the only way to prevent the spread of the disease.

Marketer:  Vitamin D, not vaccines, answer to pandemic

“The only thing that stops the spread of a virus is to take high dose vitamin D,” ​Nepute said on a recent video posted on his Facebook page.  “The World Health Organization is trying to dupe you into thinking that herd immunity only comes from a vaccine,”​ he went on to say.

According to FTC’s complaint, Nepute operated a Facebook page under his own name until February, then created another page under a different name shortly thereafter.  The video with the claims above, which was filed the day before the Department of Justice filed the case on behalf of FTC, is still running on Nepute’s page, which is called Common Sense Health Nation.

Nepute sent this statement in response to FTC's action:

"I feel that I have not done anything wrong and that any statements I have made are supported by scientific studies or articles I’ve reviewed.  I encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle during this unprecedented time.  My attorneys are reviewing the complaint and I have no further comments at this time."

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