Everyone’s favorite joke the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is hitting back against the New South Wales; Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) for issuing a public warning about the information that the AVN has been distributing. The public warning can be found here. The HCCC recommended that the AVN place disclaimers on their website to inform the public that they are an Anti-Vaccination Lobby Group.
Meryl Dorey, who runs the AVN and considers herself above jurisdiction of the authorities refused to comply with the recommendations of the HCCC which then issued the public warning resulting in a media storm around Meryl and the AVN. In a recent media release the AVN has stated.
The HCCC does not have the authority to recommend that the AVN put this or any other statement on its website. The AVN is not a health service provider in the usual sense: it does not provide clinical management or care for individual clients. Instead, the AVN is a non-government organisation providing a point of view on a matter of public debate.
The AVN may not provide clinical care to patients but it does take on the role of a public health educator and even holds lectures in public academic institutions such as the State Library. The AVN also claims to be a “Vaccine Safety Watchdog” and requests that members of the public report any adverse health problems to them.
The HCCC misunderstands the role of public debate on controversial issues affecting public health. In the vaccination controversy, different participants operate on the basis of different assumptions and values, for example about the importance of individual choice. The HCCC has adopted pro-vaccination assumptions and values. In other words, it has adopted a partisan position. That is not its role.
The HCCC is not a debate moderator. The purpose of their investigation was the asses and evaluate the accuracy of the information appearing on the AVN’s website. Science does not care for debate on matters of opinion science is all about verifying the evidence to confirm a hypothesis, personal opinion holds little value. Upon investigation the HCCC found that the AVN
- provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
- contains information that is incorrect and misleading
- quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.
This is not opinion but is the result of thorough investigation into the accuracy information being distributed by the AVN.
By issuing a public warning about the AVN, the HCCC overstepped its mandate. By the logic of its stand, it might also investigate complaints against organisations presenting information and viewpoints about pesticides, climate change, nuclear power, stem cells, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and nuclear weapons, because, in each of these areas of debate, incorrect statements might pose a risk to public health and safety.
Not a single organisation presenting information on any of these topics is immune from scientific scrutiny. If any of them do provide misleading information in order to support a belief they are often exposed by regulatory authorities and the media. Perhaps the AVN have their head in the sand if they believe they are the only organisation to ever get busted spreading false information.
The complaints to the HCCC against the AVN are part of a systematic campaign to shut down the AVN and deny its ability to provide information about the disadvantages of vaccination. Those who have attacked the AVN have ridiculed and slandered AVN members, made false claims about their beliefs, made numerous complaints to a variety of official bodies, and made personal threats against individuals. The HCCC has allowed itself to be a tool of opponents of the AVN.
Yes, it’s true there is a campaign to shut the AVN down. Many people feel the social responsibility to speak out when they see anti-vaccination kooks spread misinformation and fear mongering in order to drive the rates of vaccination down. However no evidence can be found to support the AVN’s claim to have received death threats. Allot of people accused of threatening the AVN have asked for the evidence to be made public. So far the AVN has refused to provide supporting evidence for their accusations, this should not come as any surprise since the AVN seem to have a real problem with evidence.