Pandemic Exploitation

How the Unscrupulous Profit from Plague

In a search for silver linings I saw the COVID19 pandemic as a potential to sanitize our collective health house from infectious disinformation. While tens of thousands suffered in hospitals, the need for medical professionals exploded. We did not witness a flood of faith healers, crystal rubbers, energy-field manipulators, homeopaths, or naturopaths showing up to cure the afflicted. Now is their time to shine, yet they are strangely absent.

I thought the pandemic would usher in the end of faith-based medicine, bogus nostrums and exploitation of the chronically misinformed. Science might actually win, and the future of health decisions would be based on evidence.

My lofty dreams were a set up for disappointment.

I’ve been hiding out at home for days, but yesterday I broke my lockdown isolation to pick up a prescription at a local pharmacy, and was reminded that bad science and faith in bogus health claims is alive and well.

Shame on pharmacies that sell active-ingredient free solutions to real problems.

Under the banner of “cold and flu” a local pharmacy was down to its last boxes of Airborne, a product with no active ingredients to address symptoms of colds or flu.

It is a concoction of herbal squeezins, a megadose of vitamin C, and is devoid of gluten, yet also contains no “gluten free”.

The nutrition label shows that it contains exactly 0% of the recommended daily allowance for proprietary herbal blends, which is spot on. It has some other vitamins and minerals. It also costs about 80 cents per tablet, and they recommend taking one 3–4 times a day. It is a lot of money to pay for an elaborate vitamin that has no active ingredients, and states clearly on the label that the product cannot treat the problems you purchased it to cure.

There is no question that we need to protect ourselves from SARS-COV2, and isolation is the best bet. Products like this provide a false sense of security and could potentially even worsen the pandemic. “I’ll just venture out to the store, heck, I took my Airborne, I’ll be just fine.”

My dad once bought “Wal-Borne” the Walgreen’s generic equivalent to medications that contain no medicine. Let’s get this straight, he was sick and wasted his money on a generic form of something that can do nothing at a lower cost. He had a bad cold, and complained that, “This medicine doesn’t help at all.”

When I explained that he was taking a garish placebo he asked the most important question, “How can it be legal for them to sell something like that?”

Exactly. He needed medicine, trusted his local national pharmacy to provide that in their colds and flu section, and all he got was very expensive pee.

Of course, it says it does nothing right on the box. CVS has a CYA.

The package freely admits that it cannot treat or cure your cold or flu, yet it is sold for a handsome sum in the section claiming solutions for colds and flu. It is shameful exploitation of consumers that do not understand medicine, the root causes of illness, or the effective ways to treat them.

I thought that when COVID19 was finished shaking the health snow globe that we’d view public health issues with a new resolution. Unfortunately it has only become clearer that in times of desperation people continue to shun critical evaluation of medicine and double down on wacky claims they believe will cure them.

I think it is shameful exploitation. A company is selling belief in a box, peddling a friendly placebo that can only provide false confidence in a patina of protection. The retailers are to blame too. They see easy money in preying upon the ignorant.

While I was hoping that the COVID19 pandemic would re-align our trust in science and support of real medicine, it appears to have only bolstered faith in baloney. It is a sad reminder that we have a long way to go in educating about science and health.

And now more than ever, scientists must insist on being part of that conversation.



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Kevin Folta

Professor, podcast host, fruit tree grower, keynote speaker, good trouble.