It was April 2020. The virus had already killed 50,000 Americans, a number that has since grown to more than 200,000. And scientists were scrambling to find a safe and effective treatment — a search that continues to this day.
[Dominique] Fradin-Read is a prominent figure in the wellness community. She owns the medical practice VitaLifeMD in Los Angeles and helped formulate the “Madame Ovary” supplement for actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand Goop.
[Editor’s note: Many experts, doctors and scientists say the Goop Madame Ovary line promotes quackery and “pseudoscience”.]
This time, on Instagram, Fradin-Read was promoting more than just “wellness.” In the face of a deadly pandemic, she claimed to have an “FDA-approved” medicine that worked like “magic.” Fradin-Read made similar claims on her practice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. If patients followed her advice, including getting regular injections of this drug, she said, “maybe the virus will not be that hard to fight.”
Such claims were, at best, misleading. At worst, the recommendations could put patients’ health at risk. The drug, thymosin alpha-1, has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any condition, nor has it been proven safe or effective for treating COVID-19.
An NPR investigation has found that Fradin-Read’s practice is one of more than 30 medical practices and compounding pharmacies across more than a dozen states that have made unproven claims about this drug on their websites and on social media. It remains unclear how many Americans may have taken the drug since the pandemic began, though one doctor told NPR that she had prescribed it to more than 100 patients. The cost of the drug can run up to $400 for a month’s supply — all out of pocket.
Experts said misleading claims about drugs like thymosin alpha-1 proliferate not just because there’s a motive to make a profit, but also because the consequences for breaking the law are often low.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that compounding pharmacies, while an important part of the health care system, can present serious risks to American consumers.