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10 December 2018

Public Warning under section 94A of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 - Misleading and Unsafe Practices by Anti-Vaccination Campaigners

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission has received multiple complaints regarding misleading and unsafe practices by anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) campaigners and the potential risks that such persons and associations pose to the public health and safety.

Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them. Immunisation protects individuals and the community by reducing the spread of preventable diseases.

Complaints have been received in relation to individuals (including registered and unregistered health practitioners, as well as academics) and organisations engaged in the widespread promotion of dangerous anti-vax messages.

Why is this warning being issued?
Misleading and inaccurate information communicated by anti-vax campaigners has the potential to engender fear and alarm in the community and result in fewer people being vaccinated. This information commonly quotes scientific research and studies in support of anti-vax claims, but is often selective, including exaggerating the risks and minimising or discrediting the benefits of vaccines. The research presented does not align with the true evidence-base on which independent and government bodies worldwide make vaccination recommendations.

This is likely to have a detrimental effect on the health care decisions of individuals and may lead them to make decisions not to vaccinate which pose an avoidable risk to their own health and to the safety of the wider community.

It is unfortunate that anti-vax campaigners are also known to target particularly vulnerable members of the community, including impressionable young parents who are concerned about making the right health decisions for their infants.

The spread of misleading and false information by anti-vax campaigners presents an ongoing challenge for government agencies, particularly due to the rise in use of social media and the proliferation of information concerning vaccinations available via the internet.

Given the continuing efforts of anti-vax campaigners to mislead and misinform members of the public, the Commission considers it necessary to warn all health consumers of the danger of relying on information that is not from a reliable and trusted source. This can include websites that appear to be “professional” and groups that are well-organised in their approach. Some persons and associations will go as far as to distance themselves from “anti-vax” campaigners, while essentially promoting the same message.

What should consumers do to protect themselves?
The Commission strongly urges consumers to exercise caution in relying on information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations which is promoted via social media and websites that are not government affiliated or endorsed. Further, consumers should be cautious of persons or groups spreading anti-vax messages via other means, including face-to-face information sessions and other public events.

In all cases the following factors should be considered by consumers when presented with any information or advice concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines and immunisation programs in Australia.

To ensure that you are receiving reliable information concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccinations and to assist you in making an informed decision concerning the benefits and risks of particular vaccines, it is recommended that you consult a registered medical practitioner (e.g. your family GP or paediatrician).

Health consumers should be particularly wary of persons claiming to be “experts” or to have conducted “research” into the safety and efficacy of vaccines or immunisation programs in circumstances where they do not hold relevant medical qualifications and are not a registered health practitioner. 
Consumers should be wary of persons holding themselves out to hold qualifications that cannot be verified. If you wish to ensure that the person providing advice is a registered health practitioner you should check on the National Register of health practitioners – https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Registration/Registers-of-Practitioners.aspx

Health professionals play a role in health education and administration of vaccines, however it is not appropriate for health professionals to promote anti-vax messages via their personal social media pages or other online forums.  Consumers should avoid placing any reliance on “comments” made via social media that are not from a reliable and trusted source.

When researching online, it is recommended that you visit trusted government websites including the NSW Health and Commonwealth Department of Health websites and also the National Centre for Immunisation Surveillance and Research (NCIRS) website, which provide reliable information concerning immunisation and Immunisation Programs:
https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation/Pages/default.aspx

https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation

http://www.ncirs.edu.au/

 

 

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