The Kremlin’s virus blocker Vladimir Putin’s spokesman was spotted wearing a pouch of chlorine dioxide on his lapel to ward off disease. After learning more about the product, he ditched it.
During Vladimir Putin’s televised video conference with Russia’s governors on April 8, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was spotted wearing an unusual green badge pinned to his jacket lapel. The chestwear turned out to be something called a “virus blocker” — a gadget that supposedly helps shield against foreign pathogens. According to product descriptions published on the online marketplace Ozon.ru, these badges are sold as an “individual disinfectant device against bacteria and viruses.”
The main active agent in “virus blockers” is chlorine dioxide, which is used in the pulp and paper industry as a bleaching solution and disinfectant. Chlorine dioxide is also a poisonous gas that can irritate the mucous membranes and cause coughing. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to buy or consume any “miracle mineral solution” products containing chlorine dioxide, which are often marketed on social media as a remedy for autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and flu. “The solution, when mixed, develops into a dangerous bleach that has caused serious and potentially life-threatening side effects,” says the FDA.
Journalists first noticed Peskov’s “AirDoctor Portable” badge this week during Putin’s teleconference with the nation’s governors. The Kremlin spokesman later explained that he bought the product at a pharmacy, though Meduza was unable to find AirDoctor Portables at any pharmacy in Moscow. For example, the “Apteki Stolitsy” state pharmacy chain told Meduza that it has never stocked such products. The antiviral badges aren’t for sale in online drugstores, either.
One pharmacy in the city told Meduza that it used to sell virus blockers, and Peskov later clarified to Meduza that he bought his roughly four weeks ago at a pharmacy in downtown Moscow.
On VKontakte, AirDoctor’s Russian distributor is already bragging that Vladimir Putin’s press secretary is a client, though Peskov told Meduza that he plans to stop wearing the badge. The company is still accepting delivery orders for its virus blockers. In Russia, you can find AirDoctor Portables at websites like Yandex.Market, where the product is described as a chlorine-dioxide based air purification device with an operational radius of one cubic meter (35 cubic feet) and a 30-day lifespan. The description says nothing about how the product works or what side effects it may cause.
Despite the Kremlin’s passive endorsement and the promise of a purified cubic meter, Russians can’t currently get their hands on one of these devices. At the time of this writing, the virus blockers were out of stock at every major online market.
At Ozon.ru, Air Doctor is described as “a new achievement by Japanese scientists.” Meanwhile, the website blokator-virusov.ru says the company’s products are “manufactured only in Japan” and warns that generic, lower-quality imitations from other countries do not offer the same lasting effects.
As it happens, the online store for the Russian distributor of “Air Doctor’s badges against flu and colds” belongs to a businesswoman named Natalia Marinich, who registered her sole proprietorship in Vladivostok in January 2017, according to the Spark-Interfax records database. According to her patent attorney, Marinich transferred the Air Doctor trademark in early 2019 to the Japanese firm “Kiyou Jochugiku Co., Ltd.,” a business based in the city of Wakayama that sells fumigators and fragrance diffusers. For some reason, however, Air Doctor’s virus blockers aren’t listed on Kiyou Jochugiku’s official website.
There are other options when shopping for protective pouches of chlorine dioxide. For example, there's “Nanoclo2” from a company called “Protex Ltd,” which is also apparently manufactured in Japan, judging by the product’s label. Import and distribution rights for these badges belong to a sole proprietorship in the Novosibirsk region.
Meduza contacted Air Doctor’s Russian distributor and asked if the company has medical certificates or licenses to sell the product in Russia. A spokesperson for the firm responded that the virus blocker “is a disinfectant, not a medical product.” “We have the documents for it,” the spokesperson said, though she was unable to explain anything more about the paperwork. When Meduza asked to speak to Natalia Marinich, the company’s representative promised to pass along our questions and then hung up the phone.
Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, admitted to journalists on April 9 that he doesn’t know if the badge helps at all against viruses. When told about medical warnings that such products are potentially dangerous and unhealthy, Peskov responded, “You know, everyone is wearing what they can to take preventative measures.”
On April 9, the Russian company “Innocolloid,” which manufactures a similar “virus blocker,” told the website Open Media that it is shutting down production of its product “for ethical reasons.” That same day, the St. Petersburg Epidemiology and Microbiology Pasteur Institute publicly denied endorsing the effectiveness of virus blockers. While acknowledging that its researchers have tested blockers against influenza and adenoviruses, the institute says it’s issued “no certificates confirming the product’s antiviral activity” and in fact lacks this authority. “In light of these facts, we consider it inappropriate to mention the institute in the commercial use and advertising of the “blocker” product developed by ITMO University and produced by the small innovation enterprise “Innocolloid.”
Later on April 9, just a day after he attracted so much attention to Air Doctor and the “blocker” industry, Dmitry Peskov attended a Russian Security Council meeting, now without his antiviral badge.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock