HCCC says the AVN is “misleading and inaccurate”

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission has found that the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) provides “misleading and inaccurate information on the subject of vaccination”.

The HCCC undertook a long and detailed investigation in response to complaints lodged by individuals Ken McLeod and Toni and Dave McCaffery. While the Skeptics were not involved in the actual complaints, it – along with other scientific and medical groups and individuals – strongly supported the complaints. These groups and individuals have been campaigning for some time to bring to the public’s attention the misleading activities of the AVN.

The AVN has regularly defended its position as a provider of ‘fair and balanced information’ on vaccination. In reality, it has only ever taken an anti-vaccination stance, and in so doing has used ‘information’ that is misleading, inaccurate, selective, unreferenced, a misrepresentation of other views and scientific studies, and unsupported by any reliable and, in some cases, even real evidence. It has also made statements verging on the slanderous (if not crossing over into that territory) against individuals and professions in the medical field, including a supposedly venal and self-interested approach by medical practitioners and researchers.

The HCCC’s report finds the complaints about the AVN substantiated, and has made the recommendation that the AVN’s website should include a statement in a “prominent position” that “The Australian Vaccination Network’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is a substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere”; and that “the information provided should not be read as medical advice; and the decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider”.

While this recommendation falls short of suggesting the AVN close its operations – which is beyond the HCCC’s purview – it does clearly pin the AVN’s activities as anti-vaccination, something that the AVN has denied being for some time, despite continued and accurate claims to the contrary.

The response to these findings by the AVN’s current president, Meryl Dorey, has ranged from the pathetic (that certain information and a position statement had been placed on her website without her knowledge) to the downright bizarre (she admits that the AVN has drawn conclusions from scientific studies not supported by the study’s own conclusions and summaries because “we actually read the studies”, despite Dorey’s acknowledged lack of scientific or medical qualifications and expertise).

The area where the HCCC did not find for the complainants is in the AVN’s lack of adherence to a code of conduct for unregistered health practitioners. These complaints were largely rejected on technical and definitional grounds, such as that the relevant code applies only to individuals rather than organisations, and that as an individual Dorey does not provide health care. However, the HCCC did accurately find that the AVN supplies health education – a point earlier denied by Dorey – and as such falls very much within the HCCC’s area of activity and expertise.

Overall, the HCCC found that “The AVN provides information that is misleading for the average reader by inaccurately representing information, selectively reporting information, and giving non-peer reviewed and anecdotal material the same authority as peer-reviewed literature. On all cases of misrepresentation, selective and inaccurate reporting and indiscriminate use of research material, the AVN and Ms Dorey were doing so to maintain an anti-vaccination position.”

Meryl Dorey announced in February that she would be standing down as president of the AVN as soon as a replacement could be found. Almost six months later, no replacement has been found and, considering the HCCC’s findings, the Skeptics believe that finding a competent replacement will be difficult, and anyone who does step into that position would likely have to undertake extensive revision and curtailment of the AVN’s current positions and policies.

The HCCC report is available at http://www.stopantivaxnetwork.com/