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COVID-19 scams in Australia: The role of regulators

Following on from April’s talk on COVID-19 myths, May brought a more closer examination of these scams and the role of regulatory bodies in reducing misleading advertising from skeptic Dr Ken Harvey, the president of Friends of Science in Medicine.

In such uncertain times, it’s no wonder companies are taking advantage of the confusion to trick vulnerable and uninformed customers. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has received over 500 complaints in the last couple of months regarding everything from sanctified bleach to magical ‘Biocharger’ devices (we will hear more on those in July's GC SitP).

Dr Harvey’s talk explored a range of these scams, including how they supposedly work and why they actually didn’t, as well as assessing the types of regulations they’re subject to by the TGA. Some of them received infringement penalties, most notably a $50,400 fine for Hydrogen Technologies, or had their claims removed, the majority of cases have not been not published in the TGA database.

So what’s stopping us from getting scammed? Independent reviews of advertising standards and the TGA’s complaints system are currently underway. These include an improved framework for advertising conduct, including warning notices and enforceable undertakings, up to criminal prosecution. There’s also a push to change the current performance measures from ‘process KPIs’ (the time to resolve a case) to ‘outcome KPIs’ (the compliance achieved), which will hopefully encourage the TGA to address complaints properly to ensure safe practice and non-misleading advertising, rather than just sending a warning letter and dismissing the case for the sake of efficiency.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay home – the only way next month’s meetup can be in person is if everyone follows the rules.

Listen to Ken's talk: here Slides: here

Useful websites:

About the speaker:

Dr Ken Harvey

Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine - Monash University

President, Friends of Science in Medicine

Choice representative on Therapeutic Goods Advertising Consultative Committee (TGACC) and the TGA Medical Devices Consumer Working Group

Director, Medreach Pty Ltd

Dr. Harvey has been awarded life membership of the Australian Skeptics in recognition of his relentless campaigning against shonky medical products and claims. In 2016 he was awarded the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) Medal for, “the teaching of science throughout Australia and New Zealand and contributions to science which lie beyond normal professional activities.” In 2017 he was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia, “for significant service to community health and the pharmaceutical industry through roles in developing guidelines for the ethical use of antibiotics”. Dr Harvey is currently President of Friends of Science in Medicine and an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University.

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