A Washington man was arrested last week on federal charges after allegedly selling injections of a self-made and untested COVID-19 “vaccine” to customers online.
Johnny Stine, 55, who also allegedly peddled cancer vaccines, presented himself as a biotech expert who for $400 to $1,000 would travel across the country to inject people with his purported coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Justice said in a release.
“Untested, untried and potentially unsafe — this defendant was injecting people with an unknown substance claiming it was a vaccine for COVID-19,” U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a statement.
Stine, who operated under his business North Coast Biologics in King County, was arrested on Thursday on a federal warrant for allegedly introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. He did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Authorities say Stine advertised injections of his vaccine online as early as March 2020, when the COVID-19 outbreak was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
“Stine claimed that his main biotech effort was creating vaccines that attack cancer tumors. He indicated that he had used a similar method to develop his COVID-19 vaccine,” federal prosecutors said in a release.
Stine told potential customers on Facebook that he developed a vaccine for the virus in “half a day” and that he did not want to wait months to obtain proper approval for it due to regulatory testing, according to a lawsuit filed against Stine by Washington’s attorney general in June. This lawsuit followed the Food and Drug Administration sending a warning letter to Stine’s company in April about its vaccine postings online.
At least one person who was injected with Stine’s vaccine was hospitalized this month for COVID-19, the Justice Department stated in its release.
One of Stine’s early prospective clients was reportedly the mayor of the San Juan Island town of Friday Harbor who in March invited Stine to visit and potentially give him the injection, the Seattle Times reported. Mayor Farhad Ghatan later told the Times that they ended up canceling the visit amid public uproar over Stine potentially violating a travel ban that was imposed at the time due to coronavirus safety concerns.
Stine, shortly after the lawsuit was filed in June, agreed to repay around 30 of his victims and was permanently barred from marketing vaccines without testing and evidence, according to the Washington attorney general’s office.
“This resolution ensures Mr. Stine refunds the individuals he swindled. He will pay an even steeper cost if he ever tries it again,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at the time.
Rather than fully complying with this order, however, authorities said Stine rebranded his injections as an “immunogen” instead of a vaccine. In August, Stine then traveled to Idaho to vaccinate an undercover agent where his product was seized.
Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer denounced Stine’s actions as “not only despicable, but potentially deadly behavior.”
“Equally appalling is the exploitation of vulnerable cancer patients and their families, desperate for treatment,” said Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Pacific Northwest. “Snake oil salesmen, such as this, who endanger consumers should take this arrest as a stern warning.”
The charges filed against Stine are misdemeanor federal crimes and punishable by up to one year in prison.
Only two COVID-19 vaccines, by Moderna and Pfizer, have been approved for emergency use by the FDA.
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