A page on Private Harley Street Clinic’s website https://privateharleystreetclinic.com, seen 13 March 2020, was accessed from a link in the menu titled “CORONAVIRUS PROTECTING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FROM CORONAVIRUS INFECTION”. The web page was headed with a large image of a coronavirus particle and the title “CORONAVIRUS” followed by text which stated “The Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic has now reached British shores and the virus has now mutated to a more aggressive form. The Private Harley Street Clinic has assembled the best advice to boost your immune system and protect yourself from infection. Maintaining a strong immune system and fastidious hygiene is the best way to protect yourself from the Coronavirus infection”.
This was followed by information about how the virus was spread, good hygiene practice and social distancing. Text continued “There is no vaccine available at present so maintaining and boosting your immune system is vital as this is your mechanism of protection against this virus and other pathogens”, described the importance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to the functioning of the immune system, and stated “Apart from your diet, it is possible to boost the immune system by an intravenous infusion of these essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. An intravenous infusion ensures instant and optimal delivery of these nutrients in the body's cells and the nutrients should include vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B12 complex, glutathione, zinc and essential amino acids such as arginine, taurine, lysine and The Immunobooster IV infusion costs £350 and takes 30 minutes to administer. If you have any further questions about protection from the Coronavirus infection or boosting your immune system with an intravenous infusion, please contact us ..]".
The complainant challenged whether the implied claims that the advertised Immunobooster IV drip could help to prevent coronavirus/COVID-19 were medicinal claims for a product which was not licensed as a medicine by the MHRA.
The Private Harley Street Clinic said the ad stated that the Immunobooster IV drip might play a part in boosting the immune system, which was important if and when someone became infected with coronavirus/COVID-19. They did not believe the ad stated that the IV drip would prevent people from catching the virus.
They highlighted that the claim was part of a general web page of advice on hygiene, face masks and other ways to boost the immune system; it was intended as a free public service/advice from a concerned doctor. They said they were now not advertising the IV drip product.
The CAP Code required that medicinal claims and indications could be made only for a medicinal product that was licensed by the MHRA or under the auspices of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). A product could be rendered medicinal by its functional effect on the body, or by presenting itself as having properties for treating or preventing disease. A medicinal claim was a claim that a product or its constituents could be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or could treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition.
The web page was headed “CORONAVIRUS” and began by stating that the advertiser had “assembled the best advice to boost your immune system and protect yourself from infection”. After providing some information and advice which was in line with government and NHS advice, the ad included discussion of the importance of nutrients for maintaining immune function, suggested that Western diets were nutrient deficient, stated that “the immune system, more than ever, is what will protect you from infection and further complications”, and then stated that intravenous infusions could be used to boost the immune system. It then stated “The Immunobooster IV infusion costs £350 and takes 30 minutes to administer.
If you have any further questions about protection from the Coronavirus infection or boosting your immune system with an intravenous infusion, please contact us …”. The ASA sought the view of the MHRA regarding the claims. The MHRA said that any mention of coronavirus/COVID-19 in the promotion of an IV drip product would bring the product under medicines regulations, as would any claim that implied treatment of, or protection from, the virus.
We considered that in the context of a web page that provided advice about how to “protect yourself from infection” by coronavirus/COVID-19, the suggestion that people were likely to be deficient in the nutrients necessary to maintain a normally functioning immune system, and the statement that intravenous infusions could be used to boost the immune system, consumers would understand the reference to the Immunobooster IV drip to be an implied medicinal claim that the IV drip could help to prevent people from catching coronavirus/COVID-19. We understood that the Immunobooster IV drip was not licensed as a medicinal product and because of that, no medicinal or medical claims could be made for it.
We therefore concluded the ad breached the Code. The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Objective claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. Substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.
Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.
Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease. and 12.11 12.11 Medicines must have a licence from the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA before they are marketed. Marketing communications for medicines must conform with the licence and the product's summary of product characteristics. For the avoidance of doubt, by conforming with the product's indicated use, a marketing communication would not breach rule 12.2.
Marketing communications must not suggest that a product is "special" or "different" because it has been granted a licence by the MHRA, VMD or under the auspices of the EMA. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told The Private Harley Street Clinic to ensure that their ads did not contain medicinal claims for unlicensed products, including stated or implied claims that their IV drips could help to prevent or treat coronavirus/COVID-19.