NCL testimony before ACIP on crucial vaccines

February 24, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today, February 24, 2022, NCL submitted comments to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in support of new recommendations for the influenza, pneumococcal, and tick-borne encephalitis vaccines. NCL comments appear below.

February 24, 2022
Grace M. Lee, MD, MPH, Chair
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, N.E., Mailstop A27
Atlanta, GA 30329-4027

RE: Docket No. CDC-2022-0015

Dear Chairwoman:

Founded in 1899 by the renowned social reformer Florence Kelley, the National Consumers League (NCL) has long championed vaccines as lifesaving medical interventions. General Secretary Kelley’s support of vaccinations played a key part in mitigating a critical smallpox outbreak towards the end of the 19th century, and her stalwart advocacy for immunizations has informed NCL’s bedrock principles for increased access and vaccine confidence. 122 years later, we are honored to persist in our fight to protect consumers from vaccine preventable illnesses and we extend our gratitude to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for the opportunity to present public comment.

Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE) Vaccine

During the pandemic, Americans are spending more time in nature and participating in outdoor activities. The majority of TBE virus infections are acquired in forested areas through activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, and bicycling; and case numbers peak when ticks are most active, during early and late summer. In addition, incidence rates and severity of disease are highest in people aged ≥50 years.

NCL applauds the FDA for its approval of Pfizer’s TBE vaccine last year as an important step in making a vaccine more accessible for TBE, and preventing illness from tick bites. It is critical that access to this vaccine is expanded so that individuals and families feel safe and protected from TBE when outdoors. Being that there is no specific treatment for TBE, the preventive measure of vaccination is a significant means for keeping Americans healthy.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

While we are encouraged that ACIP recommendations increase access to the pneumococcal vaccine for adults ages 19-64 with underlying health conditions, we were disappointed that ACIP did not lower the overall age recommendation to include adults aged 50 and older. Moreover, there is a lot of confusion about which vaccine or combination of vaccines is needed for complete immunization. Confusion about the pneumococcal vaccine can cause vaccine hesitancy among patients, and makes it difficult for providers to make informed decisions for their patients. We would like the CDC to provide clearer recommendations to help increase the rate of vaccine uptake; including physician and patient education. NCL will continue to encourage consumers to ask their healthcare provider about being fully protected against pneumococcal disease.

Influenza Vaccine

Protecting older adults from influenza is now critically important as COVID-19 continues to plague the nation. We are pleased that ACIP is considering recommendations for preferential use of enhanced seasonal influenza vaccines (e.g., high-dose, adjuvant, and recombinant) over standard vaccines in adults aged 65 and older. Updating decades old recommendations will prevent hundreds of thousands of outpatient/ER visits, hospitalizations, and deaths due to influenza each winter. During the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 35.5 million people got sick with influenza and 34,200 people died.

Because of the pandemic, more Americans have come to understand how vaccines work and value the protection that they offer to prevent infectious disease. However, millions of people have missed their routine shots during the shutdown. It is important that we seize this moment to educate consumers about their recommended immunizations across lifespan. NCL will continue working to ensure equitable access to vaccines and instill vaccine confidence in consumers. We look forward to clear recommendations by ACIP on the use of vaccines. We appreciate your consideration of our views on this important public health topic.

Sincerely,

Jeanette Contreras, MPP
NCL Director of Health Policy
National Consumers League

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

Nancy Glick

Consumers need accurate product names and labeling of plant-based meat products

Nancy GlickBy Nancy Glick, Director of Food and Nutrition Policy

With mounting information that plant-based diets are generally better for people’s health and the environment, many consumers are giving “meatless meats” a try.

About two-thirds of Americans consumed “plant-based meat alternatives” – or PBMAs – in the past year, with 20 percent eating them at least weekly, according to an August 2021 survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).[1] As a result, current estimates put the market for PBMAs at $1.4 billion – up from $962 million in 2019[2] –and a Bloomberg Intelligence Report predicts a 500 percent increase in global sales of plant-based foods globally by 2030.[3]

It is easy to understand consumers’ excitement about meatless products that closely resemble the look, feel and taste of burgers, sausages, deli meat and other products made from beef, pork, chicken, eggs and seafood. Polling shows consumers’ top reason for buying these products is the perceived healthfulness of PBMAs. The most sought-after benefits consumers cite are heart health and a good source of high quality and complete protein.

Yet, the reality is that plant-based meat products vary in their formulations, nutritional content and can be high in saturated fat and sodium. These products are often packaged in the same way as their animal protein counterparts and routinely sold next to the meat section in supermarkets. Thus, consumers need clarity in labeling to ensure product names, descriptions and packaging are not misleading and consumers have the qualifying terms to make informed decisions.

As the agency that regulates plant-based foods in the US, the Food and Drug Administration shares this viewpoint. Later this year, FDA will issue draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based milks and plant-based alternatives to “animal-derived foods” (meats) under the umbrella of the agency’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy. The strategy addresses the need for FDA to modernize its regulatory approach for new categories of foods, like PBMAs, developed through the latest technologies.

In developing its draft labeling guidance, FDA has sought information on a range of issues related to labeling, including whether consumers understand terms like “milk” when used in the name of plant-based alternatives and are aware of the nutritional differences between traditional meat and dairy products and their plant-based substitutes. In response, the agency has received thousands of comments from industry groups, manufacturers, academic institutions and professional societies offering their viewpoints. However, the National Consumers League contends that the consumer’s voice must be articulated and heard. Unless the information needs of consumers are clearly defined, FDA’s goal of labeling for transparency and clarity will not be realized.

To provide the consumer perspective, especially regarding decisions about plant-based meat alternatives, in November 2021 NCL and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) convened a panel of experts to assess consumers’ needs for accurate naming, labeling and claims on the package of PBMAs. Comprising regulatory specialists, market researchers, consumer advocates and food industry leaders, the panel also addressed how some key principles laid out in FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy – a common nomenclature, accurate naming and labeling, and elements that assure honesty and fair dealing — can be applied to improve consumer understanding, perception, and decision-making of PBMA products.

In the near future, NCL will issue a full report of the findings of the expert panel and the implications for consumer education efforts and public policy. However, the need to articulate the consumer perspective on labeling PBMAs shouldn’t wait. Therefore, NCL has translated the consensus from the expert panel into a blueprint for FDA and the food industry.

The following are the seven priorities for labeling, naming and marketing plant-based meats alternatives that are in the best interest of consumers:

  1. Establish a definition for the category of “plant-based meat alternatives” that will unite all stakeholders
    Today, many brands, companies and organizations define the term “plant-based” differently and there is not collective agreement on definition of a “meat alternative.” Since these terms represent an entire class of food products, FDA guidance should define what constitutes a “plant-based meat alternative” to promote consistency in labeling across the category.
  2. Ensure brand names are not deceptive
    NCL’s position is it is a deceptive practice to use brand names for PBMAs that suggest a product contains meat, seafood or eggs when none is present or is better/healthier than the traditional animal protein product. Even when the label states the product contains no meat or eggs, consumers are influenced by the brand name, especially if the packaging and content on the website, social media platforms and in ads shows pictures and iconography of animals or the type of meat. 
  3. Require that labels on PBMAs are standardized and clarify the protein source

For labels of PBMAs to be transparent, the naming and labeling of PBMAs must be uniform and consistent and ensure that consumers can readily identify the protein source. Accordingly, FDA should require that all labels and advertisements for PBMAs must:

  • Use a common name that links the protein source and the form, such as “soy burger.”
  • Make clear that the product contains some animal protein in addition to plant-based proteins like soy. Qualifying terms can include “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Make clear when the PBMA contains no meat. These terms can include vegan,” “meatless,” “vegetarian,” “veggie,” and “veggie-based” as well as “plant-based” and “made from plants.”
  • Place the phrase “contains no meat,” “contains no poultry,” or “contains no eggs” on the principal display panel of vegan PBMAs near the common name and in letters at least the same size and prominence as shown in the product’s common name.
  • Not use pictures, icons or vignettes on the packaging, in marketing materials or in advertising that suggests nutrition superiority or that the product is the same as the comparable meat product.
  1. Regulate health/nutrition claims for PBMAs
    Consistent with how FDA regulates the health claims allowed on traditional food products, FDA must make clear in its guidance that nutrition/health claims must undergo review by the FDA through a petition process and there must be significant scientific agreement that the claim is supported by available scientific evidence.
  2. Ensure website, social media, and advertising content for PBMAs conforms to what is on the product label

The guidance must make clear that FDA considers websites and social media to be an extension of the product label, meaning the claims and information that PBMA manufacturers put online must conform what FDA allows on the label.

  1. Address the nutritional composition of the PBMAs in FDA guidance
    In Canada, regulation of PBMAs includes nutritionally required amounts of vitamins and mineral nutrients that must be added to the PBMA product and a minimum limit of total protein content, among other requirements. While NCL supports this approach, FDA should at least recommend levels of key vitamins and nutrients in its guidance and address concerns, such as allergenicity with labeling requirements to flag known allergens, such as soy.
  2. Educate consumers about the nutritional composition of plant-based protein alternatives

It is in the public interest for FDA and the US Department of Agriculture – along with nutrition societies – to conduct education programs that explain the nutritional composition of plant-based protein food products. This will allow consumers to make informed decisions based on science-based information.

Plant-based meat alternatives are a popular and valued part of our food supply. That is why the public needs regulatory policies that ensure the labels on these products are accurate, complete, and provide the qualifiers necessary for consumers to understand what they are purchasing.


[1] International Food Information Council. “Consumption Trends, Preferred Names and Perceptions of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. November 3, 2021.

[2] Good Food Institute. US retail market data for the plant-based industry. Accessible at: https://gfi.org/marketresearch/

[3] Fortune. Plant-based food sales are expected to increase fivefold by 2030. August 11, 2021. Accessible at: https://fortune.com/2021/08/11/plant-based-food-sales-meat-dairy-alternatives-increase-by-2030/

NCL applauds the Senate for confirming Dr. Robert Califf as FDA commissioner

February 15, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy group is welcoming news from the Senate that Dr. Robert Califf has been confirmed to serve as the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The following quote can be attributed to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg: 

“Califf gained the trust of the nation during his previous term as Commissioner of the FDA and is all the better prepared to step into this role to get up to speed quickly.  

“We look forward to continuing our work with the FDA under Califf’s leadership to ensure equitable access to vaccines and novel therapeutics to improve the health of consumers regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. Today, consumers have a better understanding of what the FDA does to make their lives safer and healthier on a daily basis. We support the role of the FDA as a regulator and look forward to seeing further enforcement from the agency to ensure accurate labeling of ingredients and warnings on products sold in the marketplace.

“NCL frequently engages with the FDA to ensure consumer access to safe and effective medicines, foods, and medical devices. We appreciate the leadership Janet Woodcock has provided the agency as acting commissioner during this incredibly tumultuous time for our nation.”

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

NCL applauds House vote to extend protections to consumers and workers by passing the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act

February 11, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), with a 120+ year old mission to champion the interests of workers and consumers, is applauding the House of Representatives’ action to overwhelmingly pass the bipartisan bill H.R. 4445, the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.”

The FAIR Act, passed with a 335-97 vote, creates a rare opportunity for employment legislation to pass Congress. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it into law.

“I attended the press conference in 2017 where this bill was first introduced in the Senate. It was a powerful experience to stand with former Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson and then-Senator Al Franken (D-MN), the bill’s sponsor, and to hear her describe the sexual harassment she endured at Fox News and the forced arbitration language she had to sign when she joined the company Five years later, it’s exciting to see this bill pass the House and move on to the Senate,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director.

“This is a groundbreaking bill and a big win for people like Carlson, who are simply seeking their day in court,” said Greenberg. NCL joined a coalition of organizations that urged lawmakers to approve the legislation and has supported the rights of consumers, workers, and small businesses to be free from forced arbitration clauses, calling for passage of the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act.

H.R. 4445 upholds the right of those who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment in their workplace to hold the abusers accountable in court, rather than being sent to a closed-door arbitration forum often controlled by the employer or company.

“We believe the strong bipartisan support for this bill shows a clear recognition that forced arbitration is fundamentally unfair, hopefully signally a path to ending forced arbitration once and for all,” said Greenberg.

Forced arbitration provisions are ubiquitous in the fine print of contracts as a pre-condition for obtaining basic products and services such as a credit card, bank loan, apartment lease, or mobile phone. Arbitration is a skewed process, and fundamentally undemocratic because the law does not apply, there is no right of appeal, and the outcome is secret. The arbitrator, too often chosen by the corporation, is likely to heed the interests of the company in hopes of repeat business. And too often companies can dictate where the arbitration will take place, what the rules will be, and how the costs will be borne.

As a reference point, Consumer Reports reviewed consumer products in the most popular product categories it rates – and in two additional categories where safety is a paramount concern, bike helmets and child car seats – and published its findings in 2020. Of the 117 brand/category combinations examined, 60 percent included arbitration clauses. 

Under the FAIR Act, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), companies would be prohibited from requiring consumers, workers, and small family businesses to give up fundamental legal protections as a precondition for obtaining a product, service, or job. Once a dispute actually arises, and the stakes are clear, consumers, workers, or family businesses could choose arbitration if they determine it to be a better option than the courts.

“If — as so many businesses argue in support of arbitration — it is a process that is more favorable to consumers, then they will voluntarily choose it,” said Greenberg. “But never should arbitration be a consumer’s only choice. We applaud the House, the Senate and President Biden for their support of this landmark legislation.”

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

 

Why we need more Black health professionals in the workforce

By NCL Health Policy Associate Milena Berhane

A lack of diversity in the health care workforce has been a persistent issue in the United States, posing significant implications to health equity, particularly for the Black or African American community.

An estimated five percent of physicians identify as Black, despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population. A recent study utilizing U.S. Census Bureau information found that the proportion of Black physicians in the United States has only increased by four percent in more than a century — from 1900-2018. This study also reported that the percent of Black male physicians has remained relatively stagnant since 1940. Diversity issues also exist in other health care professions, with an estimated 7.8 percent of nurses, 3.8 percent of dentists, and 2.5 percent of physical therapists being Black.

The education, testing, application, and interviewing process required to pursue a career in health care is rigorous and costly. In addition to a four-year degree, candidates are also required to take standardized exams, pay expensive application fees, and pay for travel to interview. Most medical students expect to spend up to $10,000 for the application process. Once accepted to a health professional program, the tremendous monetary and time costs of schooling are immense obstacles for many. Medical school attendees accumulate an average $200,000 of student loans by the time they are finished with their programs.

Due to generations of systemic racism in our country, Black Americans are less resourced — financially and in terms of social capital — than their white counterparts. The rigorous process of applying to and remaining in health professional programs creates a pipeline that excludes disadvantaged students from the ability to pursue careers in clinical care.

The barriers to enter the workforce have further negative impact on communities and health equity. Black patients face a variety of issues that can influence their ability to access medical care, including medical mistrust caused by historical unethical medical mistreatment faced by Black Americans, dismissal of health concerns that Black patients express to health care providers, and others. Time and time again, Black patients have shared their experiences of medical providers ignoring their health concerns, and therefore being undertreated and going undiagnosed for their conditions. In addition, research indicates that Black patients report poorer patient-provider communication and shared decision-making. These issues lead to Black patients receiving lower quality care from medical providers, further worsening health conditions that could be treated.

Racial bias and a lack of culturally competent medical care in the healthcare system has led to poorer health outcomes for Black patients. Black Americans of all ages already face higher rates of hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and other health issues due to systemic racism and how it has affected the environments they live in, the food they have access to, their education prospects, income, etc. These inequities compiled with a culturally incompetent and bias medical system leaves Black Americans with little ability to receive proper medical treatment and improve their health and well-being. Although medical schools are attempting to teach the importance of culturally competent care, it is crucial that Black patients are also able to access healthcare providers that look like them and come from their communities.

Clearly, the current make up of racial diversity of the health care workforce has failed to keep up with the demographic shifts in the United States. Although public health efforts are important in addressing and improving health equity, inequities within the medical system must be addressed simultaneously. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted and exacerbated health inequities. Increasing the amount of Black health professionals across the United States is a critical step in ensuring better health outcomes for Black patients and their overall well-being.

New We Can Do This! podcast episode featuring conversation with feminist Karen Mulhauser tackles reproductive rights, women’s history, and today’s challenges

For immediate release: February 9, 2022
Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering worker and consumer advocacy organization, has released “A woman’s right to choose: Equal access to health care threatened,” a new episode in its  We Can Do This! podcast series. Hosted by NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, the episode features a conversation with Karen Mulhauser, longstanding champion for women’s rights. Mulhauser served as the first appointed executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) in 1974, shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade case was decided by the Supreme Court, securing the right to abortion. After leading NARAL, Mulhauser’s work took many directions, including empowering women to register and vote, and the founding of Every Woman Vote 2020.

“With NCL’s long history in advocacy for safe, effective access to health care, we welcome Karen Mulhauser’s perspective on the historical fight for a woman’s right to choose. Mulhauser gives us an intimate view into why these protections are so important and so fragile,” said Greenberg.

An excerpt of Karen’s interview: “One in three women have an abortion. … My story is one that when I was in college and got pregnant unintentionally, I self-induced, and for decades I didn’t talk about that. But part of what I think needs to happen is that people have to tell their stories. … We are losing our democracy, and that’s why I’m building a voter initiative for this. In my long years of life, this is the most important election of my life. And I want to do whatever I can to mobilize as many people as possible.”

This episode contains sensitive topics. Listener discretion is advised.

This episode is now available on nclnet.org and on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

NCL’s We Can Do This! Podcast | Episode 16 

“A woman’s right to choose: Equal access to health care threatened”

Episode description: The National Consumers League believes in equal health care access for all, and that includes a woman’s right to choose. With the looming possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned and new laws adopted in states around the country restricting women’s access to abortion and other reproductive services, we sat down with pioneering abortion rights champion  — Karen Mulhauser  — NARAL’s first Executive Director, for a historical perspective on abortion. Mulhauser discusses her personal story, political organizing and her work to secure rights and protections for women.

### 

About the National Consumers League (NCL) 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org. 

Annual fraud report highlights crypto insecurity

By Eden Iscil, Public Policy Associate

Earlier this month, NCL’s Fraud.org project released its annual Top Ten Scams report. After collecting thousands of consumer complaints, we sorted through the data to share the major trends from the past year. We saw some interesting trends! 

As the pandemic has entered its third calendar year, notable patterns included median dollar losses from fraud reaching a 10-year high and investment-related scams increasing by almost 170 percent, likely due to the rising popularity of cryptocurrency. So, consumers who lose money to scams are losing more of it. And cryptocurrency-related scams are something we all need to start paying attention to. 

These are the top ten scams reported to Fraud.org in 2021: 

  1. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts  
  2. Internet: General Merchandise  
  3. Phishing/Spoofing  
  4. Fake Check Scams  
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles  
  6. Investment: Other (incl. cryptocurrency scams)  
  7. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers  
  8. Family/Friend Imposter  
  9. Computers: Equipment/Software (incl. tech support scams)  
  10. Scholarships/Grants 

The categories with the highest median losses were fake check scams at $2,000 and investment scams at $1,750. 

Focus: Cryptocurrency driving investment fraud 

Fake check scams have often scored near the top on our annual trend reports, but investment scams jumped several ranks, more than doubling their share of consumer complaints. Given the explosive growth of cryptocurrency usage in 2021, the emerging market likely provided an opening for fraudsters to take advantage of still-developing regulations and a lack of consumer knowledge about these new forms of investing.  

Fraud.org’s data appears to take the same shape as trends from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had reported a ten-fold increase in cryptocurrency fraud. The FTC’s data spotlight on cryptocurrency scams also included a median loss of $1,900, a figure further demonstrating the heightened risk that consumers face within this sphere. Unfortunately, consumer protections in cryptocurrency usage are largely a patchwork of state-by-state rules, with some trading regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

Notably, Bitcoin and Ethereum (the two most popular cryptocurrencies) have so far been exempt from the SEC’s strictest oversight requirements, as it is considered a commodity rather than a security. The lack of comprehensive, nationwide protections coupled with the fact that these coins exist to be anonymous, instant, and irreversible creates an unsafe environment for consumers—especially ones who may be entering this space for the first time.  

Although media buzz has generated a lot of interest in crypto, with reports often centered on the potential for eye-popping returns, these articles do a disservice to readers if they don’t include the risks involved. Market volatility, a lack of consumer protections, and environmental damage only scratch the surface when it comes to hazards related to virtual currencies. These liabilities can be minimized by sticking with traditional forms of payment and investment—pending comprehensive regulation of digital coins. 

The full Top Ten Scams Report for 2021 can be found here. Additionally, Fraud.org’s February Fraud Alert includes great tips to help consumers better protect themselves against 2021’s top scams. 

NCL calls for Spotify removal of Joe Rogan episodes that contain harmful misinformation

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today, February 5, 2022, the National Consumers League sent a letter to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek to call for the removal of episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” that contain demonstrably harmful misinformation related to masks, vaccines, and other public health measures. The text of the letter appears below.

February 5, 2022

Daniel Ek
Chief Executive Officer
Spotify USA Inc
150 Greenwich Street, 62nd Floor
New York, NY 10007

RE: COVID-19 misinformation on The Joe Rogan Experience

Dear Daniel Ek:

Since late 2020, highly effective mRNA vaccines have been accessible for free to the general public. Despite this, millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, which has been a major contributing factor to the deaths of nearly 900,000 Americans during the pandemic.[1] Spotify has a civic responsibility to do everything in its power to help prevent future COVID-19 deaths—including (but not limited to) removing episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, that contain demonstrably harmful misinformation related to masks, vaccines, and other public health measures.

The National Consumers League (NCL), which I lead, has worked hard to combat COVID-19 misinformation.[2] Guided for more than a century by the legacy of our first General Secretary, Florence Kelley, NCL has championed vaccines as lifesaving medical interventions. General Secretary Kelley’s support for inoculations played a key part in mitigating a critical smallpox outbreak at the end of the 19th century and her stalwart advocacy for immunizations has informed NCL’s efforts to increase access to and confidence in vaccines for more than 120 years. Recently, we demanded that the Small Business Administration (SBA) rescind Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds that were granted to anti-vaccine groups.[3]

On episode #1639 of his podcast, Rogan recommended that young people not get the vaccine, stating “if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.”[4] On episode #1737, Rogan stated, “they’re trying to say that children need it when they don’t. They don’t need it.”[5] This is but one of many instances of Rogan making statements on his podcast that are clearly misinformation. Data from the CDC shows that over 6,000 individuals under the age of 30 have died from COVID-19 to date.[6] Just last month, almost 800 children under the age of 18 were hospitalized with COVID-19 daily, with young adults’ hospitalization rates being nearly double that number.[7] Unfortunately, Rogan’s harmful rhetoric is not limited to just episodes #1639 and #1737; The Joe Rogan Experience has a long and well-documented history of spreading misinformation that clearly violated Spotify’s Platform Rules.[8]

Spotify’s Platform Rules state that “[c]ontent that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medial information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” is prohibited on the platform. The Platform Rules further state that violation of these rules may result in violating content being removed by Spotify and the content publisher’s account suspended.[9] Spotify does not appear to have applied its Platform Rules regarding COVID-19 misinformation to The Joe Rogan Experience despite the fact that the platform has removed 20,000 episodes on other podcasts for containing false claims related to COVID-19.[10] We urge Spotify to enforce its COVID-19 Platform Rules consistently, regardless of who the content creator may be.

Spotify’s failure to police The Joe Rogan Experience, creates serious, and potentially deadly risks for his listeners. Research shows that misinformation has a tangible impact on individuals’ willingness to take measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission. For example, being exposed to false claims reduced vaccination intent by 6.2 percentage points.[11] Another study showed that misinformation led to a decline in individuals’ reception to authentic COVID-19 health guidance.[12] Given the platform’s massive reach, Spotify is uniquely positioned to help protect its hundreds of millions of users from the harm that flows from incorrect statements, false claims, and lies promulgated on the streaming service.[13]

As Spotify’s most popular podcast, Joe Rogan’s audience includes millions of listeners who view him as a trusted source of information, even when his claims are nonfactual and unfounded.[14] Compared to the $0.0032 per stream rate that Spotify reportedly pays other content creators on the platform,[15] Spotify has clearly decided to make a major investment in The Joe Rogan Experience. I understand that Spotify is a commercial business and not a charitable organization. Still, NCL believes that when the world’s largest digital service provider invests $100 million in an endeavor, the results should better the common good—rather than contribute to the world’s most pressing public health crisis.

We urge you to take action and remove episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience which violate Spotify’s COVID-19 Platform Rules.

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League
email: sallyg@nclnet.org

 

cc:       Regan Smith, Head of Public Policy, Government Affairs, Spotify

[1] Note: Unvaccinated persons had 53.2 times the risk for COVID-19 associated death compared with fully vaccinated and boosted individuals. Johnson AG, Amin AB, Ali AR, et al. COVID-19 Incidence and Death Rates Among Unvaccinated and Fully Vaccinated Adults with and Without Booster Doses During Periods of Delta and Omicron Variant Emergence — 25 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–December 25, 2021. (2022). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 71, 132–138. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e2

[2] National Consumers League. Get the facts on the COVID-19 vaccine. (2021). https://nclnet.org/vaccines

[3] National Consumers League. No PPP for anti-vaxxers! (2021). https://nclnet.org/ppp_antivaxx/

[4] #1639 – Dave Smith. The Joe Rogan Experience. (2021). https://open.spotify.com/episode/7taqki4fGUkcXESbaUzjgh?si=4VNiaS32TKCiLILuTXiv0Q

[5] #1737- Tim Pool. The Joe Rogan Experience. (2021). https://open.spotify.com/episode/1vnRz7xfy27VFTHVeK740V?si=6541c03af7da47fd

[6] Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Provisional Death Counts for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm#SexAndAge

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker: New Hospital Admissions. (2022). https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#new-hospital-admissions

[8] Paterson, A. Joe Rogan Wrapped: A year of COVID-19 misinformation, right-wing myths, and anti-trans rhetoric. Media Matters. (2021). https://www.mediamatters.org/joe-rogan-experience/joe-rogan-wrapped-year-COVID-19-19-misinformation-right-wing-myths-and-anti-trans

[9] Spotify. Spotify Platform Rules. (2022). https://newsroom.spotify.com/2022-01-30/spotify-platform-rules/

[10] Note: While Spotify has removed at least 40 episodes of the Joe Rogan Experience, those episodes do not appear to have been removed due to violations of the Spotify’s Platform Rules related to COVID-19. (Source: Resnikoff, Paul. “Spotify Has Removed 40 Joe Rogan Episodes To Date — Here’s the Full List.” Digital Music News. (2021). https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/03/30/spotify-joe-rogan-episodes-removed/

[11] Loomba, S., de Figueiredo, A., Piatek, S.J. et al. Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nat Hum Behav 5, 337–348 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01056-1

[12] Kim, H. K., Ahn, J., Atkinson, L., & Kahlor, L. A. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 Misinformation on Information Seeking, Avoidance, and Processing: A Multicountry Comparative Study. Science Communication, 42(5), 586–615. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547020959670

[13] Spotify. About Spotify. (2022). https://newsroom.spotify.com/company-info/

[14] Variety. Joe Rogan Had the No. 1 Podcast in 2021 on Spotify. (2021). https://variety.com/2021/digital/news/joe-rogan-experience-most-popular-podcast-news-roundup-1235123361/

[15] Justice At Spotify. Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. (2022). https://www.unionofmusicians.org/justice-at-spotify

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Testimony at CDC advisory committee on Moderna COVID-19 vaccine approval

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Today, February 4, 2022, NCL Health Policy Associate Milena Berhane provided oral testimony to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in support of the approval of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and pediatric COVID-19 vaccines. Her comments appear below.

February 4, 2022

Thank you, Dr. Lee. My name is Milena Berhane, and today I am representing the National Consumers League. Since NCL’s founding in 1899 by social reformer Florence Kelley, we have advocated for the critical role immunizations play in the preservation and improvement of public health. We extend our gratitude to this Committee for the opportunity to present public comments.

An estimated 890,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 during this pandemic that has persisted in the U.S. for the past two years. The COVID-19 virus continues to threaten the health and safety of many, especially vulnerable populations such as the elderly and immunocompromised groups. The currently available COVID-19 vaccines have worked to save lives, and avoid preventable illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in our communities.

The National Consumers League commends the FDA and the CDC on the approval of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which will continue to be a key tool in the public health response to this pandemic. This vaccine has been, and will continue to be, a safe and effective measure to protecting Americans 18 years of age and older.

America’s families are hopeful that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be granted Emergency Use Approval for children under 5 years of age. Hospitalization of children under 5 years of age has soared, further evidence of the need for expanding vaccine access to children in this age group. Vaccinating children under the age of 5 will protect them from illness, but also protect their families, caretakers, and teachers from contracting COVID-19 as well.

We are also concerned about the widespread drop-in routine childhood immunization rates during the pandemic. According to CDC data released last May, over 11.7 million children have missed doses of their recommended vaccines.  We are particularly worried that our nation’s most vulnerable children, those who qualified for the Vaccines for Children program, are getting caught up at a much slower rate than children with commercial insurance.

The National Consumers League recognizes the extreme importance of immunizations in protecting the health and safety of all Americans, and will continue its efforts to increase vaccine confidence and uptake across lifespan. We look forward to the upcoming recommendations by this committee regarding these COVID-19 vaccines.

Thank you.

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.