In April, more than three months before any coronavirus vaccine would enter large clinical trials, the mayor of a picturesque island town in the Pacific Northwest invited a microbiologist friend to vaccinate him.
The exchange occurred on the mayor’s Facebook page, to the horror of several Friday Harbor residents following it.
Several residents interjected skepticism in the exchange. They were swatted down by the mayor, who defended his friend of 25 years as a “pharmaceutical scientist on the forefront.” When residents raised additional concerns — about Stine’s credentials and the unfairness of encouraging him to visit San Juan Island despite travel restrictions — Stine lobbed back vulgar insults. (The geekiest and least R-rated: “I hope your lung epithelial cells over express ACE2 so you die more expeditiously from nCoV19.”)
Several residents reported all of this to a variety of law enforcement and regulatory agencies. In June, the Washington attorney general filed a lawsuit against Stine not only for pitching the mayor with unsupported claims but also for administering his unproven vaccine to about 30 people, charging each $400. In May, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter warning Stine to stop “misleadingly” representing his product.
Although his promotional tactics were unusual, Stine was far from the only scientist creating experimental coronavirus vaccines for themselves, family, friends and other interested parties. Dozens of scientists around the world have done it, with wildly varying methods, affiliations and claims.
“Should I pop up and get your vaccine started?????,” wrote Johnny Stine, who runs North Coast Biologics, a Seattle biotech company with a focus on antibodies. “Don’t worry — I’m immune — I have boosted myself five times with my vaccine.”
“Sounds good,” Farhad Ghatan, the mayor, wrote after a few follow-up questions.