19 December 2012

Names and Quackery

The NSW Minister for Fair Trading has confirmed that the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) - the voluble but in my opinion disingenuous entity noted for its very problematical opposition to vaccination - has been ordered to change its name on the grounds it is misleading the public. The order is under Section 11 of the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 (NSW), which authorises the state's Commissioner for Fair Trading to direct an association to adopt a new name if the existing name is unacceptable.

In Australian Vaccination Network Inc v Health Care Complaints Commission [2012] NSWSC 110 earlier this year the AVN illustrated deficiencies in the legislation regarding the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC).

The Minister indicated that
NSW Fair Trading has received complaints that the Australian Vaccination Network’s name is confusing and has misled the public as to its operational intention.
The Commissioner for Fair Trading, Rod Stowe, has therefore written to the Australian Vaccination Network, directing the association to change its name.
The Australian Vaccination Network does not present a balanced case for vaccination, does not present medical evidence to back-up its claims and therefore poses a serious risk of misleading the community.
The Australian Vaccination Network can therefore find a new name that is more appropriate given its anti-vaccination stance.
We are asking the Australian Vaccination Network to be honest and upfront about what they stand for and to choose a new name reflecting their beliefs.
The AVN is required to lodge an application for registration of a new name by 21 February 2013. If an application for registration of a change of name is not made on or before that date its registration may be cancelled.

Action by the Government reflects criticism by consumer advocates, health specialists and parents about potential confusion or deception.

The AVN is reported as claiming that the action is an attack on free speech by a bullying government and associated interests such as the medical profession.

Those interests have of course freed most of the world from scourges such as smallpox and polio, so the problematical rhetoric from the AVN shouldn't be taken at face value. The Friends of Science in Medicine notes that 1 in 12 babies in Australia are not fully immunised. AVN enthusiasts expose babies to potentially serious injury: those minors and their parents do not have a choice.

The Australian Academy of Science has meanwhile released a cogent and resolutely fact-based guide - The Science of Immunisation: questions and answers - that
aims to address confusion created by contradictory information in the public domain. It sets out to explain the current situation in immunisation science, including where there is consensus in the scientific community and where uncertainties exist.
The document is structured around six questions:
1. What is immunisation?
2. What is in a vaccine?
3. Who benefits from vaccines?
4. Are vaccines safe?
5. How are vaccines shown to be safe?
6. What does the future hold for vaccination? 
It was prepared by an AAS Working Group of eight members (co-chaired by Professors Tony Basten AO FAA FTSE and Ian Frazer AC FAA FRS FTSE) and reviewed by an Oversight Committee chaired by Sir Gus Nossal AO CBE FAA FRS FTSE.