On April 24, the Colorado Attorney General’s office sent out three cease and desist letters to companies advertising COVID-19 antibody and home test kits. One is based in Boulder — Red Tail Wellness, a functional medicine clinic led by chiropractor Dr. (Francis) Ian Hollaman. The others are based in Lakewood and Fort Collins.
“You cannot make claims that are deceptive, and in each of the situations we had reason to believe that they were making deceptive claims,” Attorney General Phil Weiser says. “We weren’t saying that their products were illegal or dangerous. We’re just saying they were not being marketed accurately and they were deceiving consumers. And that’s wrong.”
The letter specifically addressed to Red Tail Wellness says the company has made false or misleading claims that the test they offer has been reviewed and authorized by the FDA, that the test results are conclusive and that a positive test results in immunity to COVID-19 and means the person can’t transmit it to others. It also charges that Red Tail failed to disclose the limitations of the test, including that it does not rule out COVID-19, that having antibodies doesn’t affirm immunity from COVID-19, shouldn’t be used to diagnose COVID-19 and could simply indicate exposure to other coronaviruses.
In response, Joy Straka, the office manager at Red Tail Wellness, says the company has pulled down all their advertising for the test from social media and other platforms, although a pop-up window on Red Tail’s website advertises a “coronavirus care package” that includes “COVID-19 testing and follow-up” for $240.
Straka says the test is not an official COVID-19 test, but rather tests for antibodies. Red Tail Wellness, she says, has never sent anyone home with a test, rather it’s all done in the office through a blood draw with a certified phlebotomist. She also says that she’s personally talked to almost every client that has taken the antibody test (about 50 so far) and made sure they know it’s not FDA approved. The test is done through Vibrant America Labs, which does disclose the limitations of the test as well as its pending status with the FDA on its website. Straka maintains the tests are accurate and helpful to their patients, most of whom are simply looking for “peace of mind.”
“Dr. Ian wants to be compliant. He doesn’t want to lose his license or get in trouble by any means. We’re just trying to offer service. We’re trying to serve the community,” Straka says. “We wouldn’t risk his reputation or his license or his good standing in the community to offer fake tests for no gain.”
Weiser says the cease and desist letter from his office isn’t calling into question the test itself, but that the way in which Red Tail is talking about the test is deceptive to consumers, whether intentional or not.
“We don’t judge products for their quality. We judge them for deception,” he says. “There are lots of people who give lots of treatments that are questionable but are not deceptive and we don’t go after them based on sort of their value proposition. People have to be informed consumers. If they are deceived, that’s where we come in.”
The cease and desist letter says Red Tail Wellness must stop making false and misleading claims about the test by April 30. If not, it could be subject to “penalties of up to $20,000 per violation or up to $50,000 per violation if the consumer victim is 60 years of age or older.”