Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday filed a lawsuit against a Seattle-based scientist-turned-entrepreneur who had peddled an unauthorized coronavirus vaccine on Facebook for $400 a person.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges Johnny Stine and his North Coast Biologics company violated the Consumer Protection Act by advertising his supposed treatment and cure for COVID-19 despite not having undergone any tests for regulatory approval. The suit seeks a permanent injunction barring Stine from further such efforts and maximum fines of $2,000 each for dozens of alleged violations.
“Although numerous COVID-19 vaccines are currently in early stages of clinical trials, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any vaccine for use to prevent COVID-19,’’ the lawsuit states, adding Stine “capitalized on this crisis by marketing a substance they misrepresented as an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19 that was available to consumers immediately.’’
Among those offered Stine’s “nCOV19 spike protein’’ mixture was his longtime friend Farhad Ghatan, the mayor of the San Juan Island town of Friday Harbor. Some residents of the island — where a travel restriction was in place — were outraged when Ghatan in April accepted Stine’s offer to travel there and let him sample his alleged vaccine.
They later put off the visit amid the uproar, though residents complained to Ferguson’s office and federal regulators, who sent Stine warning letters to cease and desist attempts to sell and market his spike protein. Stine replied to Ferguson’s office that he would comply, but the attorney general is suing him anyway, citing Facebook posts in which he admittedly injected up to 30 people primarily in Washington but also in Montana, Arizona and Texas.
Among those cited in the lawsuit is an Arlington, Texas, woman who’d written to Stine on Facebook thanking him for injecting her and four others. She declined comment in April when reached by The Seattle Times.
The lawsuit asks that fines be imposed not only for Stine attempting to market and sell his spike protein, but also for a series of at-times vulgar Facebook arguments he engaged in with consumers telling him that what he was doing was illegal. In those arguments, Stine touted his scientific credentials and background.
“Oh please let me come up there and give you a lecture on science, biotechnology, and how we make drugs and vaccines,’’ he wrote. “Give me a room and I’ll give a lecture and you’ll all go home feeling more stupid than you already are. All of those comments … coming from people who praise their naturopath and homeopath doctors — practices based on ZERO science. … Then a guy comes in using basic science and tools that a high school kid can do today and you’re not even able to understand that.”
Stine worked as a scientist for a Bothell company, then founded the biotech firm Spaltudaq in 2005 to create targeted cancer drugs with minimal side effects. He later founded the smaller North Coast Biologics in Wallingford, planning to make rabbit-derived antibody drugs for bigger companies that would develop them further.
But in more recent Facebook posts, he’d made clear he’d grown weary of the time-consuming FDA process to approve vaccines. Some of his posts suggested he’d been administering unapproved treatments to cancer patients before his COVID-19 efforts.
The lawsuit suggests that Stine touting his credentials in online arguments to support the validity of his supposed COVID-19 vaccine was akin to engaging in “unfair and deceptive conduct’’ for which he can be fined for each separate reply to Facebook users.