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Anti-vaccination campaigners slapped with safety warning

By Bronwyn Herbert

Updated July 27, 2010 12:08:00

The New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission has taken the unusual step of issuing a safety warning against a group of anti-vaccination campaigners.

The Commission says the group, known as the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), has refused to include a prominent disclaimer on its website stating the information should not be taken as medical advice.

Australia faced a whooping cough epidemic last year. More than 19,000 cases were reported and three babies died, including four-week-old Dana McCaffery from the NSW north coast.

Paediatrician Chris Ingall treated the sick babies and says immunisation rates have fallen dramatically since the AVN became active in the region.

"They spook many young families into believing that vaccinations are bad, that the risk outweighs the benefit, which is quite wrong," Dr Ingall said.

"Ever since the AVN became active up here, the immunisation rates have fallen. We're the lowest in the state, we have pockets below 50 per cent vaccination.

"Those are the pockets where the pertussis [whooping cough] outbreaks succeeded. Unfortunately it rolls out to the entire community, so everyone gets affected.

"We've seen that in waves over the last two or three years and poor little Dana McCaffery was caught up in one of those waves."

In a statement, the Health Care Complaints Commission said it recognised that it was "important for there to be debate on the issue of vaccination".

"However, the AVN provides information that is inaccurate and misleading," it added.

"The AVN's failure to include a notice on its website of the nature recommended by the Commission may result in members of the public making improperly informed decisions about whether or not to vaccinate, and therefore poses a risk to public health and safety."

AVN spokeswoman Meryl Dorey says people must make informed decisions on all medical issues, including vaccination.

"We already have two of the three items that the Health Care Complaints Commission asked us to put up on the website and we've had these things up there for years," she said.

"The only thing that the AVN refuses to put up on the website [is] the Health Care Complaints Commission wants us to state that we are anti-vaccination.

"We are not, never have been, anti-vaccination. We are pro-information, pro-choice and a health safety watchdog.

"We do refuse to put [the anti-vaccination statement] up and surely this is censorship at its highest level to insist that we [do so]."

Ms Dorey says that since the AVN is neither a healthcare practitioner or educator, it is a breach of the Health Care Commission's jurisdiction to investigate the group.

She says the network is now seeking legal advice.

Tags: vaccines-and-immunity, australia, nsw

First posted July 27, 2010 10:40:00

Comments (41)

Comments for this story are closed, but you can still have your say.

  • ABC (Moderator):

    27 Jul 2010 11:59:31am

    Should the AVN have to state on its website that it is anti-vaccination?

    Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • Simon:

      27 Jul 2010 12:05:35pm

      Perhaps the issue is more one of trade practices and deceptive conduct.

      The sanctions for breeching ACCC / Trade practices are probably more significant anyway.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • Jurassic Quark:

      27 Jul 2010 12:17:41pm

      Oh yes, it is entirely misleading as it stands (doubtless intentionally so) it seems to be run by a lot of well intentioned zealots who have over ingested imported pseudo science from the US Bible belt. They then spook naturally anxious young parents, and we know what the result can be.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

      • dinahmo:

        27 Jul 2010 1:05:43pm

        simplifying the protest clique as being from the bible belt is a little inaccurate, read Dr. Mercolas view at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/07/15/whooping-cough-kills-5-in-california-state-declares-an-epidemic.aspx

        Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • xDonx:

      27 Jul 2010 12:20:48pm

      sorry are you asking:

      1. "Should the AVN have to state on its website that it is anti-vaccination?"

      or

      2. "Should the AVN include a prominent disclaimer on its website stating the information should not be taken as medical advice."

      No to #1, yes to #2.

      Considering Ms Dorey is quoted in this article as stating "the AVN is neither a healthcare practitioner or educator" I can't see why she should have a big problem with putting it in black and white on the website.

      The AVN attempts to influence family medical decisions while at the same time trying to escape any responsibility for decisions made based on the information they provide.

      They can't have it both ways.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • PeterS:

      27 Jul 2010 12:24:57pm

      I don't know that putting a disclaimer on the web site will make any difference to the people who are swayed by this (dis)information. The problem is that only one side of the argument is being made available to the public in a way that the layman can understand. In the absence of official information presented in a way people can understand, they will resort to the information that is there, even if it is obviously biased.

      What may be more appropriate is for the health departments to provide accessible information on the subject, with appropriate statistics so that people can make an informed decision.

      The people who choose not to vaccinate there children are trying to protect there kids, and you could argue that they are being more proactive in protecting there children than those who blindly do what the establishment demands. The fact that they are choosing to not vaccinate there children shows that they are not receiving information that allows them to accurately assess the risk balance between vaccinating and not vaccinating, and where there is confusion on a subject, most reasonable people will take the line of doing nothing.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • StevenC:

      27 Jul 2010 12:25:23pm

      They have stated that they are not "anti-vaccination" so why should they say the opposite? For those who want to be better informed, it can be a useful website.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

      • john :

        27 Jul 2010 12:50:24pm

        That is a lot of crap.
        They are definitely Anti and just say they are not to try and confuse more people.
        They should be held accountable for any deaths that result from parents taking their advice.

        Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • peter:

      27 Jul 2010 12:31:20pm

      No, they shouldnt have to.

      It's a website, an information pamphlet, about vaccination.
      And it's not a Doctor or a Hospital or the Government.

      So it's up to the web surfer to decide if the information is useful to their situation or not.

      Disclaimer:This Post was written by a white male australian using a HP Keyboard.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • seajae:

      27 Jul 2010 12:35:29pm

      It is everyones right to make up their own mind but for this group to not state that this is only their opinion and not medical advice is simply wrong. These people are a danger to everyone, they insist on no needles but cannot produce any medical evidence to back it up, I mean real evidence not their crap. Wait until someone takes these idiots to court over a death that could have been avoided but relied on the info this lot gives, yes there are some allergic reactions to needles but without them a lot more people would die and the epidemics of the past would again kill a lot more people, they need to be made to tell the truth, not just their opinions.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Grumpy old lady:

    27 Jul 2010 12:05:49pm

    Of course they should include this information. Also a statement should be included in their site stating that they are anti-common sense, anti proven medical therapies, anti scientific method, anti-social, as their loopy ideas affect the whole community, when their poor children fall ill.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Aldaron:

    27 Jul 2010 12:05:52pm

    Absolutely. This anti-vaccination stance is in the same class as homeopathy and naturopathic remedies. It's half-arsed, pseudo-scientific quackery, based on rumour and Internet nonsense, and has no place in the 21st century. If they want to use their nonsense to discourage people from helping develop the herd immunity that is so important for immunisation (but which these half-educated twits don't understand), then they're free to do so...but they should under no circumstances be allowed to be mistaken for actual, real medical professionals who know what they're talking about.

    Agree (2) Alert moderator

    • dinahmo:

      27 Jul 2010 12:55:30pm

      Those people who have had adverse reactions to vaccinations would disagree with you I suspect.
      I should remind you that the term "real medical professionals" generally refer to a group who are very respondent to the preachings of the Pharma industry.

      Why don't you go and lookup how much Mercury is in each vaccination, then try and argue that this is good for you.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

      • JH:

        27 Jul 2010 1:05:04pm

        "lookup how much Mercury is in each vaccination"

        None, for more than a decade now, off the top of my head. Get a clue.

        Agree (4) Alert moderator

  • Kramer Watts:

    27 Jul 2010 12:13:10pm

    I do think they (the AVN) should be made to disclose more fully what they are about. The problem with all of these self-appointed 'watchdog' groups is that they are not accountable to anybody. When their actions lead people to make decisions that turn out to be very detrimental (such as the young infant who died according to this news story) they can simply wash their hands of the matter and hide behind an invisible screen of unaccountability. They can claim they are simply providing people with choice so as to make informed decisions when in reality they have a particular agenda, whatever that may be, and the one thing they do not want is to make sure that people can be truly informed of ALL aspects of their particular campaign. I can't see how such people can be held accountable for their actions but it would be nice if they could be.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Dr David:

    27 Jul 2010 12:21:37pm

    I suspect these people have never seen a child die of whooping cough. Failure to immunise IS infection.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • David:

    27 Jul 2010 12:22:14pm

    I have read parts of their website - but fail to see how it is informing people as they say when it does not put any weight to the pro-vaccination agument whilst placing a great deal of weight to the anti vaccination argument. Whilst their is always a small element of risk involved with vaccinations, these risks can be minimised with proper information. When my children were immunised I was informed by the practitioner of risks and asked about any known allergies. I would wonder that if a persons child contracted an immunisable disease as a result of the way thie information is presented whether or not the publishers of the website would be liable? I also wonder whether these people are driven by some supersition,rather than science?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Blue:

    27 Jul 2010 12:24:58pm

    I'd like to know what can be done to shut this group down. They are not medical practitioners, they have no medical qualifications, yet they purport to give out medical advice and information about vaccinations?

    Anyone know?

    And they are not a Vaccination Network - they are anti-vaccination, seeing as how they exclusively support "alternative" methods (which don't work).

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Jane Steinberg:

    27 Jul 2010 12:25:12pm

    Yes it should

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • AM:

    27 Jul 2010 12:25:51pm

    Before you attack AVN and others who caution against accepting vaccines unconditionally, please look into the list of ingredients in vaccines, including preservatives and contaminants. Vaccines are not purely antigen + inert carrier. When you have fully investigated the ingredients list (at which point you will know more about the vaccine than your average doctor), the track record and practices of the pharmaceutical companies which develop vaccines, make up your own mind about whether you want these substances injected into your bloodstream. AVN's stance seems to be that everyone should have the right to decide for themselves whether they wish to accept the risks. This is a reasonable stance, in accord with the core principles of medical ethics: patient autonomy and informed consent.

    Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • Uncle Caine:

      27 Jul 2010 12:50:10pm

      The thing about vaccines and risks is that there are already plenty of real, well-documented side effects that we can all be afraid of, including death. Why make up more? Whats the point? We all know these risks, and we also know that they are far smaller than the risks of actually contracting the diseases themselves. Sometimes they say Oh Im not AGAINST vaccines, I just think people should be more cautious with them.

      Is that so? Then why arent their kids vaccinated? Thousands of people, armed with the certain knowledge theyve gleaned off the Internet, are choosing not to vaccinate their children thereby stripping our society of the all-important herd immunity and allowing wretched, painful, crippling, killing diseases like mumps, measles, rubella, and polio to enjoy a resurgence.

      These people are putting us all at risk. I just dont want to take a chance theyll say. Because any self-deluded researcher seeking publication and fame is capable of fabricating a sensationalist story, and any articulate whackjob with a PhD can publish a book full of questionable research, they choose to take a departure from reality and in doing so give us, everyone, a chance to experience the wonder of infectious disease.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • john :

      27 Jul 2010 12:54:13pm

      They do not just caution, they also bully.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • Thomas:

      27 Jul 2010 12:58:23pm

      The ruling was that they were WERE bias. To say that they "AVN's stance seems to be that everyone should have the right to decide for themselves" is a simple lie.

      There are people banned from their site because they put up PRO vaccination comments. They are ANTI-VACINATION and their site should be labled as such.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • cajan:

      27 Jul 2010 1:06:10pm

      AM What absolute rubbish. Your pseudo expertise is apparent. Vaccines are very rarely "injected into the bloodstream". Patient autonomy is contentious in relation to children who are inflicted with ignorant parents and this, unfortunately, is a circumstance for which there is no vaccination.
      To call themselves a Vaccination Network is designed to mislead.
      I suppose the hold their meetings on a full moon?

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • camchord:

      27 Jul 2010 1:09:45pm

      I think you've provided the perfect example why this organisation needs to state that it is anti-vaccine. You're post poses as information that helps people make informed decisions ('please read the ingredients in vaccines... contaminants'), where clearly you are anti-vaccine. It is a fair expectation to know what is in any vaccine you are having, but so are the very real risks to you, you're children, and everyone you come in contact with. It is easy to scare someone by naming the unpronounceable compounds that make a vaccine but incredibly difficult to convince people who live in clean and disease free suburbs that the benefits far out way the risks...

      This organisation is clearly anti-vaccine.

      Of course, AVN may have thoroughly researched all the information they provide, and I'm no medical professional so for all I know they could be correct. But they are clearly an anti-vaccine organisation.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Trying to be Informed:

    27 Jul 2010 12:28:47pm

    To describe people as twits or anti-common sense is simply not true or fair. My husband and I both well educated and have made it our business to ensure that the decision we make regarding immunisation is the right one for our child. It is an agonising decision and either way they are risks involved. The issue at stake in this article has nothing to do with personal attacks and is about ensuring that information is provided to the public that is reputable and unbiased. Let me assure you, government information is informative at best, but unbiased it isn't.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

    • Blue:

      27 Jul 2010 12:43:42pm

      Of course you should be responsible - as should we all. Which means that you ought to consult with your medical practitioner about vaccination, and seek properly peer reviewed science based articles. The AVN still claim a link to autism (despite that being disproved, and the doctor who did the 'research' discredited and deregistered) and claim that mercury is used as a preservative. Not in childhood vaccines, in Australia - for at least 65 years.

      You see, I did my research.

      The only reason I wouldn't vax my children is where I had reason to suspect an allergy to the ingredients - egg or chicken, for example. And its those kids, plus those that are too young to be immunised, that a global immunisation plan is designed to protect.

      This baby died in an area where children's vaccinations are at a record low. She died unnecessarily. She died because people didn't do their research properly. No-one is attacking Meryl - no-one needs to. However, her information is not reputable, is not reliable, and is not accepted by the medical and science communities.

      Her website needs to close - before some other poor baby dies.

      Agree (1) Alert moderator

    • Thomas:

      27 Jul 2010 1:02:13pm

      The ruling was that the AVN was Bias, which it is. That is the point.

      Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Sam:

    27 Jul 2010 12:29:05pm

    Considering they hounded, attacked and tried to obtain medical records by deception on the poor couple who lost their baby to whooping cough I personally they should have their site removed until they honestly state their intentions.

    Agree (1) Alert moderator

  • Phillip Leeds:

    27 Jul 2010 12:32:01pm

    Absolutely. That should only be the first step until the Federal Government shuts them down permanently. They are a dangerous ratbag fringe who have the needless suffering and deaths of innocent babies as their legacy. I hope they are very proud of their actions. Ironic, given most of them are of a generation who were fully immunised and never had to suffer what they inflict on others. My 85 year old mother recalls the whooping cough epidemics of the 1950s and says anyone who does not vaccinate their children to prevent it is not fit to have children. I agree.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Robert:

    27 Jul 2010 12:40:09pm

    Everyone has forgotten about the epedemics of the past.

    The choice to vaccinate or not should be taken out of the hands of individuals and made compulsory by the Federal Government.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Tom:

    27 Jul 2010 12:42:08pm

    Silly and inflamatory to start the discussion as "..AVN have to state on its website that it is anti-vaccination?"

    The AVN should include a prominent disclaimer on its website stating the information should not be taken as medical advice. Such a statement would support AVN's self declared position on pro-information and pro-choice.

    Common sense suggests AVN would do this for their very own protection.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Vaccinated:

    27 Jul 2010 12:46:00pm

    I was born in a country where vaccinations are mandatory for all new borns and I am glad to have had all those injections. One should respect another's decision but not force it on another. Think of it this way, would you miss your dog's yearly injections and bring it out for a walk or to the kennel?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • stan:

    27 Jul 2010 12:46:37pm

    It's true that vaccination should be about personal choice but that's not the only consideration. Vaccination works when more than a certain proportion of a community are vaccinated. Above this level and everyone can be protected by "herd immunity". Below it, and diseases have a trajectory to spread throughout the community infecting even those who have been vaccinated (vaccines are not 100% effective)
    Perhaps those who choose not to be vaccinated should be restricted from mingling with the rest.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Frank:

    27 Jul 2010 1:00:01pm

    Should the ABC have to put a disclaimer on it's website that not everything it reports on its the truth?

    Should the government have to put on it's website that not everything it says is the truth?

    Why single out one website because they are considered not mainstream?

    While I may not agree with the website they have the right to say what they do..

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Jac:

    27 Jul 2010 1:07:17pm

    No, the AVN should NOT have to say they are anti-vaccination because they are NOT anti-vaccination. Anyone who has had anything to do with them knows that their objective is to educate people into making their own informed decisions. It sounds like the HCCC is on a witch hunt. What about the number of children who became critically ill after receiving the vaccination this winter - we were all then suddenly told NOT to give our kids this vaccination. My own medical record states 'do not give vaccinations' due to a critical long-term reaction I had to Havrix (Hep A). When the specialist told me what was in the Hep A vaccination I was sick just listening to the list! It's about time our government started to better scrutinise drug companies and not those providing impartial information.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • kevin:

    27 Jul 2010 1:07:26pm

    Why can't the parents of children who suffer because this group's advice was followed sue the AVN?

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • chas:

    27 Jul 2010 1:12:02pm


    Yes they should.
    Although my children are now adults I well remember the decision making that we went through when they were born with regards to vaccinations. I was one of the first to receive the polio vaccination and my parents spoke of the relief of knowing that the curse of polio was over ( but not for these people it seems).
    The point was that there was and is a small risk to each child who receives a vaccination. However this is outweighed a thousand times by the benefit to the community. We took the risk with this knowledge. Those who don't risk outbreaks and deaths, as has happened in this case. These people ride the backs of the majority of the population who make rational decisions rather than hysterical nonsense that put all new borns at risk.

    Agree (1) Alert moderator

  • David:

    27 Jul 2010 1:13:21pm

    The last time I took a vaccine I almost didn't survive the night, I had to go through surgery and remained in intensive care for a week, so for those of you saying vaccine's are safe I've had first hand experience to show that they're not

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Cheryl:

    27 Jul 2010 1:13:39pm

    Yes it should but I am sure it is not the only one that needs a disclaimer for the same reasons (think of recent debates about home birth etc)

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

  • Greg:

    27 Jul 2010 1:14:05pm

    To those who want to shut this group down. Get over it. We need groups like the AVN just as we need an opposition in government. Otherwise we have a dictatorship.... we don't want that, understand?

    When it comes to misinformation, you have told us for decades that vaccines were the magic bullet that stopped kids dying from these diseases. You told us that.... you health officials, medical lobby groups, drug companies and your supporters. But now, because of groups like AVN, we can all see how absurd that statement is. It's not even close to correct. But who is going to stand up and say sorry, we we wrong about that?

    Answer.... no-one, except groups like AVN. And that's why you don't want them there. They have pointed out your gross error. You don't like them because they have given you the red face you are now wearing. How can you adjudicate upon the integrity of others? When will you be honest about the fact that vaccination played little or no part in the overall decline in deaths?

    Suspected answer.... never, because it is your trump card in convincing people to vaccinate. As long as there are groups like AVN your dishonesty will be on public display. On behalf of the community I would like to thank the AVN for being there. If their information opposes yours, that's good... that's democracy in action. Get over it.

    Agree (0) Alert moderator

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