Major step against antivaxxers in Australia

By Phil Plait | September 25, 2009 11:30 am

I am very pleased to report that, through the Facebook group Stop the AVN, I heard that the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission has determined that the Australian Vaccination Network — a rabidly antivax group that is spreading misinformation and propaganda about vaccines — falls under the jurisdiction of the Health Care Complaints Act and a full investigation is warranted.

As you may remember, a complaint was filed against the AVN, claiming they were dispensing medical advice. Meryl Dorey, the mouthpiece for AVN, denied that, saying they are not a medical group. This determination by the HCCC contradicts her… and the HCCC is the actual official agency that can say that.

I’m glad to see this! Dorey says a lot of things that don’t come within a glancing blow of reality (like the AVN is not antivax, when their slogan is "Love them, protect them, never inject them"), so I’m very happy that they will get scrutinized by the HCCC. This could result in anything from an official censure to having the AVN shut down completely. That wouldn’t break my heart, though I know that, like a virus, the AVN would mutate slightly and rise again.

I love free speech, but the cost of free speech is never free. With words comes responsibility, and the AVN needs to be held responsible for what they say.

For more info, go to the Facebook page for Stop the AVN.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Skepticism

Comments (38)

  1. Woot! WTG Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN! Thanks for the update.

  2. Yoweigh

    “…things that don’t come within a glancing blow of reality (like the AVN is not antivax, when their slogan is “Love them, protect them, never inject them”)

    I never knew they were really that blatant about it.

  3. @Yoweigh

    They sell T-shirts with that slogan on them. Also, Dr. Rachel Dunlop mentioned in a presentation to the Boston Skeptics that Meryl Dorey, despite protestations that she does not provide health advice or act as a health provider or educator, lectures at a university on the subject of vaccines, as well as lecturing on pre-natal topics.

  4. This could result in anything from an official censure to having the AVN shut down completely.

    …and a bunch of rabid antivaxxers screaming from the top of their lungs EXPELLED! CENSORED! TRAMPLED FREE SPEECH! CONSPIRACY! PRETTY UNICORNS!

  5. Greg

    > lectures at a university on the subject of vaccines, as well as lecturing on pre-natal topics.

    Ugh. What university would accept such a person for a lecture? Someone should provide a list, so that people know where NOT to go.

  6. @Greg

    I can’t recall the university. Boston Skeptics has a video of Dr. Dunlop’s presentation up on their web site.

  7. Zyggy

    I’m not sure if there is any connection (official or not), but there is another like-minded group here in the U.S. with a similarly misleading name, “National Vaccine Information Center”.

    Their tactics seem to (sometimes) be a bit more subtle, and there are definite “conspiracy theory” undertones to this one, but the MISinformation still abounds (and astounds). They also do reprehensible things like post cute pictures of babies with a count of “people killed by vaccines” underneath.

    Sample quote from the top of their page:

    “If the State can tag, track down and force citizens against their will be injected with biologicals of unknown toxicity today, there will be no limit on which individual freedoms
    the State can take away in the name of the greater good tomorrow.” — Barbara Loe Fisher, Co-Founder NVIC

    GRRRRR….just GRRRRR.

    A friend posted a link to their site on my facebook page the other day along with the note: “Everybody needs to read this” and he instantly got an earful from me. I don’t think he’ll make that same mistake again.

    Seriously, there ought to be laws against this blatant misuse of “free speech”.

  8. @Zyggy

    Barbara Loe Fisher is totally a conspiracy nut. I looked through her blog a little when I was working on a paper on vaccines. Lot of comments that screamed at me “conspiracy!” One example I use is her comment along the lines of “If it’s not the thimerosal, then it must be something else in the vaccines.”

    The NVIC tends to be a little more subtle about their conspiracy-mongering than the AVN, it seems. They are also not as blatantly antivax as the AVN.

  9. Muzz

    Folks, apologies, but I can’t find a single thing about this at any of the links provided. Is it because I’m not on facebook? (have we gotten to the point where we assume everyone is on facebook?) Or maybe preliminary decisions aren’t made public?

  10. Blashy

    For a country that is going backwards when it comes to internet freedom I am surprised at this turn of events… but very happy about it!

  11. Robert E

    @Muzz

    I’m not on facebook [I refuse to join the herd] and I can still see it.

  12. Muzz

    Robert: I can get to the page ok (I think. It’s a bit funky looking), but I can’t can’t see even the briefest mention of the HCCC (or much of anything for that matter. A video about something else and that’s it). Should I be able to? I was hoping to read the decision.
    cheers.

  13. Another horrible site, Homeopathy+ has been reported to the TGA again. http://www.smh.com.au/national/homeopath-sites-immunisation-claims-criticised-20090924-g4sc.html

    I’ve reported them numerous times as have others but they never do anything about it. Due to the strength and type of claims made this site IS covered by the TGA, but they always see the “homeopathy” and say “not our problem” then ignore it.

    Here’s hoping that now it’s gotten national press coverage the TGA will actually get off their arse and do what they are meant to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the TGA has been stacked with alt-med loons by how they respond to valid complaints most of the time.

    For those not familiar with Homeopathy+, it’s run by a Mr and Mrs Sheffield from rural NSW. If you check his multiple twitter accounts you’ll see he’s in to anything and everything scam related. His twitter accounts send out a stream of automated “click hear to earn money fast” messages as well as his alt-med crap. There’s no way he can be mistaken for an unfortunate true believer.

  14. Chris

    They are moving to a new Facebook page, try the old page:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=76305414878&ref=ts … and read the discussion on the HCCC .

  15. Chris

    Aagh… caught in moderation. Here is the discussion with munged URL from their older Facebook page (they are changing their Facebook address, and it is accessible to those without Facebook accounts):
    dub dub dub dot facebook.com/topic.php?uid=76305414878&topic=11509

    Here is a pertinent quote:

    I misunderstood the advice I was given; they have not finalised the report, what they have done is issued a progress report to me, which is quite different.
    However, it is still good news. The Commissioner has determined that the AVN are subject to the Health Care Complaints Act, and that the matters raised are serious enough to warrant a full investigation.

  16. I went into a Melbourne, AU, bookshop last week and saw Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax book “Healing and Preventing Autism” on the “popular” shelf. So I picked up the whole stack and moved them to “science fiction” [pic]: http://twitpic.com/heaek

  17. Deb

    @TechSkeptic – This is something I really thought about before getting involved with Stop the AVN. In the end I decided it was better to get rid of them. These sorts of nuts already believe in conspiracy theories, so it’s not as if we are going to lose anyone who might have listened to the truth. And the AVN is getting more and more dangerous because they have gone from obscure meetings and magazines to the mainstream media. They’ve gone from being audience members asking questions, to ‘balance’ in a report, to the main source on swine flu within a couple of months. If they say it’s a conspiracy that’s good – mainstream parents need to see they are lunatics, not reliable news sources.

  18. Naomi

    All of the people talking about free speech – we do have it here, generally, but it isn’t actually in the bill of rights. (We, uh, don’t HAVE a bill of rights.) Their free speech is NOT guaranteed here, and when their words are causing direct harm, they DON’T have any legal grounds to protest attempts to get them to stop saying it.

    I would dearly love them to spout off about freedom of speech. We’re not America!

  19. Helen

    Tim Bennett:

    What a fantastic thing you did! I’ve a mind to tour the book shops here and do likewise

  20. Paul M.

    Tim… only thing is there’s no science – it’s just pure fiction!
    funny though :)

  21. Thank you again for covering this campaign, Phil.

    When the insane exploit natural parental concern and doubt to spread dangerous lies, we need a big ol’ syringeful of science, so please join us on Facook and follow @stopavn on Twitter!

    Time for Meryl Dorey to get a definitive credibilitectomy.

    Harpoons!

  22. Charlie Foxtrot

    “…falls under the jurisdiction of the Health Care Complaints Act and a full investigation is warranted.”

    YES! *Double fist sky punch!*
    (^–this actually happened, then I stopped to described it here )

    :)

  23. @Greg

    Regarding the university Meryl Dorey lectures at, I got an e-mail informing me that it is Southern Cross University in Lismore. It is apparently the regional university and is about 30km from Dorey’s home in Bangalow.

  24. skylyre

    Ahhhhhhhh *joyful sigh*

    This is just as refreshing as the Saturn image :)

  25. Jason

    Southern Cross University: Any university that offers a Bachelor or Naturopathy should not get government funding IMO
    http://www.scu.edu.au/coursesin2010/?action=matrix&command=matrix_temp_load&spk_no=10209

  26. Rob

    “the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission has determined that the Australian Vaccination Network falls under the jurisdiction of the Health Care Complaints Act and a full investigation is warranted”
    woot! The issue of whether the AVN fell within the relevant laws struck me at the outset as the biggest hurdle at which the complaint could stumble. Good to hear that one’s been cleared.

  27. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    My wife seldom vacs, so I have been doing it. Australian houses must be exceptionally dusty, especially with those dust storms blowing now. And, I thought it was just my wife .

  28. Damon

    What is the HCCC’s argument that AVN is dispensing medical advice? It sounds like they’re just throwing their weight around.

    The AVN may be out of line, but they have a right to their opinion– and let’s be honest, vaccines are a little flaky.

  29. Lawrence

    28. Damon – actually, no they are not (flaky, not one bit).

  30. Anthony

    In America, you can basically say anything you want, no matter how blatant and obvious a lie, and no matter how clearly it is wrong in an objective, and not merely subjective, sense. There is no responsibility for your speech – Helen Clark’s claim that she could cure all cancers lead to the death of hundreds, and she never paid any price for it.

  31. Mark Hansen

    Damon, how are vaccines flaky?

  32. Muzz

    Damon Says:

    What is the HCCC’s argument that AVN is dispensing medical advice? It sounds like they’re just throwing their weight around.

    They organise and hold seminars on specific diseases and their treatments for money (ie there’s an admission fee). If they were just talking on the web about conspiracy theories or running a shop, and therefore caveat emptor, they’d probably be ok. But they are pro active and specific about the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, well travelled and charging for it.
    It’s pretty clear cut, despite what they say about it.

    Incidentally, the HCCC probably doesn’t have all that much weight to throw around. The public have to bring cases to them.

    (thanks to Chris, btw. I’ve seen the link now, cheers)

  33. Nigel Depledge

    Tim Bennet (16) said:

    I went into a Melbourne, AU, bookshop last week and saw Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax book “Healing and Preventing Autism” on the “popular” shelf. So I picked up the whole stack and moved them to “science fiction”

    Damn you, sir! Stop trying to give sci-fi a bad name! JMcC’s brand of nonsense should be under “romantic fiction”.

  34. Nigel Depledge

    Damon (28) said:

    What is the HCCC’s argument that AVN is dispensing medical advice? It sounds like they’re just throwing their weight around.

    How can you say this?

    The AVN is telling people not to vaccinate their kids. If that ain’t medical advice, then I’m a surgeon.

    The AVN may be out of line,

    No, not merely out of line. They are spreading lies about beneficial medical treatments. This has the potential to cause a great deal of harm.

    but they have a right to their opinion–

    But they don’t have a right to dispense medical advice, because that kind of status must be earned. They have a right to hold their opinion, no matter how flaky and fantasy-based it may be, but they don’t have a right to confuse concerned parents with misinformation.

    and let’s be honest, vaccines are a little flaky.

    The day you show some intellectual honesty about vaccines, I’ll eat my hat. Unless you can refer to some statistically-significant experimentally-controlled trials to support your claim, it is no more than wishful thinking on your part.

    Vaccines are effective prophylactic treatments. They have prevented countless deaths and a great deal of human (and animal)suffering.

    You are, of course, entitled to express your opinion, and in the same way I’m entitled to tell everyone here that your opinion about vaccines is worth less than nothing – because you refuse to inform yourself about reality.

  35. @Damon

    A couple points. First, Australia, unlike the U.S., does not have a free speech clause in its constitution. Second, in addition to dispensing medical advice as an organization through seminars, pamphlets and their web site, Meryl Dorey, as I mentioned above, lectures at a university on vaccines and prenatal topics.

    So, the AVN and Meryl Dorey are, under Australian law, health education providers. As such, there are certain standards that must be followed. The Australian Skeptics made a complaint to the HCCC, including numerous citations and references to the appropriate legal code.

    As to whether vaccines are “flaky”, well, Nigel already addressed that. You can also take a look at Science-Based Medicine, Respectful Insolence and Antiantivax (click on my name for the last one).

  36. reasonablehank

    @Damon. Please, think first.

    @Todd W. A small correction regarding the author of the complaint. The author was not The Australian Skeptics. It was a private citizen named Ken McLeod. Ken’s views, like those of most of us here, correlate with the views of The Australian Skeptics, however, he is not a member. Nor am I.

    As a little teaser for this wonderful blog, I am happy to announce that another HCCC complaint, pertaining to another ‘practitioner’, has been mailed to the HCCC today. The practitioner in question is another vocal anti-vaxxer, who also deals in the prescription of water-based ‘medicines’ for the treatment of serious conditions. I can also happily advise everyone that, all going well, he will not be the last. We won’t know anything for some weeks, so fingers crossed.

  37. @reasonablehank

    Ahh…thanks for the correction. Now that you mention that, I recall from Dr. Rachie’s talk at Boston SitP, that it was a private individual who made the complaint right around the same time as the Australian Skeptics ran a full-page ad critical of the AVN in Australian newspapers.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  38. reasonablehank

    @Todd W.

    Don’t apologise. I only raised the point because the AVN continually accuse Ken of being a member of the Skeptics, despite his own protestations, so as to further their conspiracy rubbish.

    Cheers.

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