’Snake oil salesmen’: COVID-19 claims under microscope as disinfectants boom


The Therapeutic Goods Administration says it will take swift action against companies that have not registered with the watchdog before claiming their disinfectant products work against COVID-19 amid a sharp increase in advertising complaints related to the pandemic.

“If a therapeutic good is not entered in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), the TGA cannot vouch for the safety, quality or efficacy of that product,” a TGA spokesperson said.

Since the advertising of unregistered therapeutic goods was prohibited, the watchdog wouldn’t have to look into whether they were effective or not in the fight against coronavirus to take compliance action against manufacturers, she explained.

Disinfecting of public spaces has become a “common sight since the pandemic hit.

The TGA has sped up processing times for therapeutic goods related to the virus, but all items including surface disinfectant still have to meet hurdles in order to be registered.

The watchdog issued its warning after receiving a rising number of complaints about disinfectants and products claiming to be disinfecting surfaces that hadn’t been registered.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of advertising complaints received by the TGA,” the spokeswoman said. “Consistent with our advertising complaints handling policy, the TGA is prioritising cases which have the highest risk of public harm and is taking strong action where necessary.”

Fines or court proceedings

There are currently 25 disinfectant products registered in Australia that are allowed to make specific claims about their use against COVID-19.

Multinational giants including Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser are among the brands that have successfully registered products for legal supply in Australia.

To be able to claim that a product can help curb the spread of COVID-19, the TGA accepts evidence that it works against surrogates of the virus, including Human Coronavirus 229E and Murine Hepatitis Virus.

For brands that aren’t registered and still make these claims, the administration has the power to correct advertising, issue fines or take companies to civil or criminal court.

“The TGA reminds advertisers to be very careful when considering making therapeutic claims about SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and other related claims,” a spokesperson said.

The scrutiny comes as operators prepare for a long-term boom in demand for surface disinfectant as societies reopen in the aftermath of the pandemic outbreak.

ASX-listed Zoono is one of the brands with ARTG registration for its hospital-grade product. Chief executive Paul Hyslop said the company is eyeing global opportunities for its products and is already selling surface sanitiser to the London Underground and German train systems.

“The public now are demanding companies have hygiene protection within their facilities,” he said, echoing recent predictions by biotech firms that there will be long-term demand for surface cleaning and testing for coronavirus.

There will be all sorts of snake oil salesmen out there, and I’m sure there are now.

Mr Hyslop said he was concerned about competition from companies making claims about the virus without having those claims tested by authorities.

“There will be all sorts of snake oil salesmen out there, and I’m sure there are now,” he said.

The World Health Organisation has advised that surface disinfectant is important for reducing the spread of the virus at home and in the workplace. The WHO advises surface disinfectant should not be sprayed onto surfaces in indoor spaces but instead applied via a cloth or wipe.

The organisation has also said large-scale spraying or fumigation of open air public spaces is not recommended as streets and sidewalks are not considered routes of infection for the virus. Widespread use of sprays in public spaces can cause respiratory symptoms or skin damage, the WHO warns.

22 October 2019

The Age, 10 June 2020
; https://www.theage.com.au/business/small-business/snake-oil-salesmen-covid-19-claims-under-microscope-as-disinfectants-boom-20200610-p5514p.html