Online contact lens retailer, Vision Direct UK, to halt sales without required prescriptions after AOA complaints
Written by Pamela A. Lowe, O.D., immediate past chair of the AOA Contact Lens Cornea Section.
For years, United Kingdom-based Vision Direct brazenly sold contact lenses online in the U.S. without requiring prescriptions. After years of the AOA alerting the company of regulatory and legal requirements regarding contact lens sales, Vision Direct recently announced on its website that it was halting its no-prescription service Dec. 31.
“I wanted to reach out as a series of restrictions we’re expecting next year mean our no-prescription service will be discontinued as of December 31st 2020,” CEO Michael Kraftman says in the message on the site. “This is completely out of our hands—and trust me, we did everything we could to avoid it happening.”
Kraftman encouraged customers to stock up in the meantime. Vision Direct calls itself Europe’s largest online contact lens supplier. Though the message on the site does not indicate what prompted the company to act, it has had legal troubles in European court in the past over its sales practices.
Paul Velting, O.D., vice chair of the AOA.s Contact Lens and Cornea Section, says he’s pleased that Vision Direct is complying with the law and regulations regarding prescriptions and contact lens in the U.S.
However, Dr. Velting preferred the company cease sales immediately rather than the end of the year.
"While the AOA continues to fight against the biased update to the contact lens rule, many companies still blatantly disregard the rule in its original form,” Dr. Velting says. “The fight against these companies is met with resistance in many forms, and rarely comes with instant success. After years of effort on the part of many doctors and our staff at the AOA, one of the companies overtly advertising their ‘no-prescription service’ for contact lenses, Vision Direct, has announced they will be discontinuing this practice at the end of the year.
”It's sad to see Vision Direct make one last effort to profit at the expense of our patients’ safety, but it shows that these companies will not comply with the law on their own,” he adds. “Without the consistent work of the AOA staff and reports from doctors, Vision Direct would continue to put our patients in harm's way. We need doctor’s help to continue this effort. Send a quick email to stopillegalCLs@aoa.org any time you come across an illegal contact lens sale, especially if the patient has experienced harm. With your help, we can continue to put our patients’ safety first.”
AOA puts patient safety first again and again
While the AOA is not a regulatory enforcement entity, a significant part of its mission is to serve as a resource to the public for reliable and current information related to eye care and health care policy. Through its annual ’31 in 31’ campaign, the AOA keeps the pressure on retailers who may be selling contact lens illegally online.
In 2018, former AOA President Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., pointed out in an Oct. 2 letter to Visio Direct that the company might be in violation of regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which considers contact lenses “medical devices.”
“As such, we believe it is dangerous to consumers to sell such devices to individuals within the United States without appropriate prescriber supervision,” Dr. Pierce wrote.
A year later, AOA also informed the company it could be in violation of the Contact Lens Rule and the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) in a letter from then AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D.
“The ‘FCLCA states, ‘Any person who engages in the manufacture, processing, assembly, sale, offering for sale, or distribution of contact lenses may not represent, by advertisement, sales presentation, or otherwise, that contact lenses may be obtained without a prescription,’” Dr. Horn says in the letter.
Yet the company makes it a key selling point on its website. saying “no prescription needed” or even verification required.
“When you made the business decision to sell contact lenses. you may not have been fully aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that surround these medical devices in the United States,” the letter concludes. “At this point, we believe it is your responsibility to guarantee compliance with federal laws and regulations governing the sale, marketing, and distribution of these devices in the United States. We urge you to review these legal and regulatory requirements carefully and consider the public health risks associated with the illegal sale of contact lenses without a prescription.”
AOA members and other professionals object to a national high school federation no longer mandating protective eye gear for field hockey players, illustrating how AOA advocacy is fueled by doctors of optometry and their leadership on the local, state and national levels.
The annual campaign directs scrutiny on retailers skirting contact lens market protections. Help support the AOA’s contact lens advocacy by reporting such illegal sales or adverse events.