In 2009, the Health Care Complaints Commission received complaints against the AVN and initiated an investigation. As a result of this investigation, the HCCC recommended that the following statement be put on the AVN’s website.
1. The Australian Vaccination Network’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere.
2. The information provided should not be read as medical advice; and
3. The decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.”
The AVN already had a disclaimer on its website and declined to post the HCCC’s statement. As a result, the HCCC issued a public warning, saying that the AVN website “contains information that is inaccurate and misleading” and that the absence of the HCCC’s recommended statement on the AVN website could affect decisions about whether to vaccinate and “therefore poses a risk to public health and safety”.
The AVN believes the HCCC’s public warning is seriously misguided.
1. 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.
2. 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.
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.
It is widely accepted that campaigners on these and other controversial issues have a right to present strong viewpoints without being subject to HCCC-style “public warnings” for allegedly providing “inaccurate and misleading” information.
Public debate is vitally needed on issues that affect the public. The HCCC has intervened in the vaccination debate in a one-sided fashion. This is completely inappropriate.
3. 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.
The AVN understands that others believe in vaccination and respects their right to present their viewpoints. The AVN invites them to provide information and viewpoints – in other words, to participate in free and open debate – rather than attempting to shut down debate by attacking the AVN