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FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf says “regulation” is needed to target “misinformation”

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In an interview with CNBC, FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said that online misinformation was harming the life expectancy of people, there is a need for “better regulation” on how to handle health misinformation and that “specific authorities at FDA, FTC, and other areas are going to be needed.”

“We know more and more about misinformation. It relates back to this life expectancy,” Califf said. Why aren’t we using knowledge of diet? It’s not that people don’t know about it. Why aren’t we using medical products as effectively and efficiently as our peer countries? A lot of it has to do with choices that people make because of the things that influence their thinking. The COVID vaccines and the antivirals give us an easy way to talk about it, but this is not limited to those areas. In heart disease, so many people don’t take their medicines, even though they’re now generic and very low-cost, often [they’re] deluded into taking things that are sold over the Internet that aren’t effective.”

According to the FDA commissioner, one of the solutions is telling the “truth is a louder volume.”

“In the good old days, when I was a practicing cardiologist, for the most part, people developed products, they got through the FDA, the label determined what was talked about, the Internet didn’t exist, you advertised in medical meetings and journals. There was sort of a hierarchy of information that went through the prescriber or the implanter in the case of devices to the patient. Of course, the problem in that system is it left a lot of people out. We now know about that. Now, everyone’s included because everyone’s connected to the Internet. But we can put out a statement about what we’ve determined based on the highest level of evidence, within ten minutes, someone who’s thought ten minutes about it can reach a billion people. And there’s nothing that restricts them from telling things that are not true. This has always existed. … But they couldn’t reach so many people,” he explained.

He added that there isn’t enough regulation on health information and that is “impacting our health in very detrimental ways.” As such, he thinks “there is a real need for better regulation of how to deal with this complex information.”

Califf noted that the FDA already has regulatory authority over advertisements content on tech platforms. But he feels the agency could do it better.

“And there are so many avenues now by which that information goes around that we have to think hard about what the right regulation is,” he added.

Using COVID-19 vaccination to explain his point, he said: “I’m highly aware that, in our society, people don’t want the government to have too much power, but I think specific authorities at FDA, FTC, other areas are going to be needed. I’m not saying what they are, because I don’t really know, but I do believe we’re going to need to, when we see people being harmed — like, let’s look at vaccination again, very few people are dying from COVID who are up to date on their vaccination. And if – beyond that, even if they get infected, almost no one is dying if they’ve been vaccinated up to date and they’ve gotten an antiviral that’s approved by or cleared by the FDA. So, why is this not happening? We need to work on this.”

Reiterating that misinformation should be countered with truthful information, he said that those who are succumbing to COVID “are the people that are not up to date on their vaccination and don’t encounter clinicians who are up-to-date on the advantages of antivirals. But they’re also people who have been heavily influenced by people on the Internet telling untruthful things about the vaccination. And I’m not arguing here that we should suppress free speech, that’s not — the First Amendment is the First Amendment. But we have to counter that information with truthful information and reach many, many more people.”

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