UPDATE: Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd, the organisation run by noted homeopath and alt med spruiker Fran Sheffield, has apparently been playing cat and mouse with a statement on its website regarding whooping cough vaccination which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has ordered be removed.
Within 24 hours of the initial order and removal of the relevant page, it was up again … and then down … and then up again, but with question marks attached to the claims as opposed to more definitive full-stops.
The page now seems to be down again, although there is a page titled “Whooping Cough Strain ‘Breaking Through’ Vaccines” which does have the statement that “Lack of vaccination is often blamed but now information from the Australian government shows that the whooping cough vaccine has been incredibly ineffective.” The page then goes on to list a number of homeopathic ‘cures’ for whooping cough.
In a press statement, the ACCC said it considered claims made on the site regarding the ineffectiveness of anti-pertussis vaccines were “misleading and deceptive and … could lead to serious health risks for consumers”.
The claims, which also suggested that homeopathic remedies were an effective alternative to vaccines, were made on the ‘Whooping Cough – Homeopathic Prevention and Treatment’ page, now removed from the Homeopathy Plus! website.
“The combination of claims that the vaccine was ineffective and that the homeopathic remedies listed on the page were an alternative prevention and treatment regime elevated this matter to one of extreme concern,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
The ACCC says it examined content on the Homeopathy Plus! website following a complaint from the medical profession. The organisation said that the claims made “were likely to be misleading or deceptive”.
“Reliance on these claims may influence consumers to avoid the whooping cough vaccine and rely solely on the homeopathic approach for treatment and prevention of whooping cough, which is strongly discouraged by medical professionals,” the statement says. “Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection which can cause a long coughing illness and is life threatening for babies.”
The ACCC says its result was “considerably assisted by the engagement of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and NSW Fair Trading with Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd in resolving this matter”.
However, the effectiveness of the TGA in this matter has been questioned, as it had earlier ordered Homeopathy Plus! to take down the same information, withdraw the claims that homeopathic products could prevent or have benefits in relation to infectious diseases, and publish a retraction, but the website failed to comply.
Speaking to The Australian newspaper, La Trobe University public health researcher Ken Harvey said he welcomed the ACCC’s intervention, but added that the situation “highlighted the ‘craziness’ that the TGA lacked effective powers to enforce its own decisions”.
In the same article, Sheffield was quoted as saying she had taken down the information voluntarily pending a review of the content, and “it could very well go up again” once this was completed. The review she referred to would be conducted by herself and other homeopaths, she said, and would assess “compliance with ACCC regulations … whatever replaces it will be ACCC-compliant”.
Whether the page that is currently up (as of 3.30pm on Friday, May 11) complies with the ACCC regulations is to be determined. It does, however, carry the same disparaging remarks on the effectiveness of vaccines against whooping cough, and lists a number of homeopathic treatments.
The ACCC says it will continue to monitor the Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd site for potential breaches of the Australian Consumer Law.