Antivaxxers – you have been warned

The New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission has said that the recently renamed Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network disseminates “misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination [that] engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers”.

The warning is the second time the HCCC has issued a statement criticising the anti-vaccination organisation, both times in strong, unambiguous terms.

The most recent warning follows an investigation by the HCCC that focussed on information provided on the then AVN’s website and some information disseminated on its Facebook page.

“The investigation found that AVN provides information on vaccination that is misleading to the average reader because it is either incorrect, inaccurately represented or because it has been taken out of context.”

The statement by the HCCC then goes on to list nine substantive instances in which the AVsN provided incorrect information.

The Commission urged that “general caution is exercised when using AVsN’s website or Facebook page to research vaccination and to consult other reliable sources, including speaking to a medical practitioner, to make an informed decision”.

The Commission recommended that the AVsN amend its published information with regard to the issues cited and that it would monitor the implementation of these recommendations.

Needless to say, the AVsN’s response was typically restrained: “In a move that displays the worst of medical politics, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission has once again issued a public warning against the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. This office and the way in which they have carried out their ‘investigation’ are an absolute disgrace. They have made themselves into a laughing stock. Far worse, they have clearly demonstrated that nobody can have faith in any statements made by this government body when they continue to rely upon verifiably incorrect and biased information.”

The response says that the HCCC’s previous investigation into “our citizen-run healthcare consumer watchdog group” was at the behest of “the Australian Skeptics and their splinter group, Stop the AVN – organisations with close ties to pharmaceutical and mainstream medical interests”.

Neither group has any such “close ties”.

The latest warning follows a string of set-backs for the AVsN, including its loss of charity status, and its being forced to change its name to one that more properly reflects its attitude and profile. Prior to the decision by the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Australian Skeptics and others had objected to the potential use of the word “skeptic” in the new name, considering that it was an obvious ploy to confuse people with genuine skeptical organisations. In the end, the name was allowed, but it does at least indicate that the AVsN is not a balanced “consumer watchdog group” but a single-issue single-attitude organisation that presents only an anti-vaccination view point, and that the information it presents is “incorrect, inaccurately represented or taken out of context”.