Big news in Australia on Friday night as a news article appeared describing an order by the Department of Fair Trading ordering the notorious Australian Vaccination Network to change their name or face deregistration.
See the media release here
The move follows what has been described as “numerous” complaints from both the public and the Australian Medical Association that the name is misleading to the public and confuses parents when searching for reliable information on vaccination.
Several of these instances have been reported publicly including a misunderstanding by The Australian College of Midwives’ who mistakenly sent out invitations for an AVN seminar to all its members. In a story published in Medical Observer magazine, the Executive Officer, Ms Ann Kinnear, said; “Subsequent information that’s come to hand has made me realise it’s a mistake.” She was unaware until her membership informed her that the AVN was an “anti-immunisation lobby”.
In a media release in July Dorey said; “It is not up to a third party to say what we can and cannot call ourselves. Will they be coming for our books next?”
In 2009, the Australian Skeptics, with sponsorship from Dick Smith, took out an ad in the Australian to warn parents not to look to the AVN for health information. During the flurry of publicity that ensued, Dick Smith said.
“They are actually anti-vaccination, and they should put on every bit of their material that they are anti-vaccination in great big words. They have every right for that belief but they should communicate it clearly so people are not misled.”
In 2001, The Minister for Health. The Hon. Geoff Wilson MP, (Qld) and the Qld Chief Health Officer issued a statement about the AVN saying; “… fringe groups like the misleadingly named ‘Australian Vaccination Network’ are wrong to discourage people from getting vaccinated.”
Parents commenting on the Stop the AVN Facebook page share similar stories;
“Dear Meryl, I was attracted to the AVN several years ago because the name suggested that you might be a reputable source of information about vaccination (I was preparing for an overseas trip). I found nothing of the sort on your site (neither did the HCCC, as I recall). I was indeed misled and deceived by your name. And I’m not the only one.”
Of course the AVN have good reason to hide their true agenda. After all, what parents would seek information from the Anti-vaccine Network. But if you scratch the surface of their slick, “pro-choice” website you quickly find an anti-vaccine agenda.
Never has this been more obvious that in the T-shirts they sell emblazoned with “love them, protect them, never inject them ”. Or the book “Melanie’s Marvellous Measles ” which is supposed to educate kids to embrace infectious diseases. I know right….
And then there was this comment from Meryl Dorey just two days ago to her Yahoo list which said:
“…Just like there is no evidence that vaccination prevents most diseases. If there is evidence, I’ve yet to see it.” (December 13th, Y! List).
But in recent years things have changed for the AVN, and the media has been challenging them on their alleged “pro-choice” stance. Listeners may recall a radio segment with the Two Murrays where they suggested Meryl was anti-vaccine and she screeched “I AM NOT!”. Yet, when journalists as the question “so which vaccines would you recommend?” the silence is deafening.
A twelve month investigation by The Health Care Complaints Commission also deemed the AVN website to be anti-vaccine and misleading;
“The Commission’s investigation established that the AVN website:
• 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.”
Even more recently the AVN has been referring to themselves as “Australia’s vaccine safety watchdog”, which of course they’re not but it certainly makes them sound more credible.
The practice of anti-vaccine groups using misleading names is not new. In the US there is the National Vaccine Information Centre run by Barbara Loe Fisher (NVIC). In New Zealand there is VINE or Vaccination Information Network.
It took Meryl longer than expected to bash out a blog post about this latest “threat to free speech” and “suppression of information”, but she didn’t disapppoint. She suggested that if the AVN were to change their name then why can Greenpeace continue unabated?
“Greenpeace is not green, nor do they go around looking for peace, therefore, would the Department tell them to change their name too?”
“And what about the cancer council? Won’t people think they are pro-cancer?”
But in contrast to her usual rabid foaming blog post, today’s just seems defeated and tired. In addition, the AVN recently spent a wad of cash and substantial time migrating their website to WordPress only to have it infected with a CHEAP PILLS hack. Yesterday I was not even able to reach their site as I was being redirected to Direct Pills from three different browsers. This morning the entire site was pinging 403 errors. This also raises issues of privacy as they have a shop and an adverse reaction reporting form, both of which contain personal information.
The cracks are beginning to show for the AVN and Meryl Dorey. The Dept of Fair trading have indicated that they can cancel the AVN’s registration if they do not comply by February 21st, 2012.
But not only does this mean they lose their “incorporated” status, they will also be subject to an audit, their assets seized and distributed as the Commissioner sees fit (and that does not incude to the committee). So this is a very serious matter indeed. The AVN has a right to appeal and a Tweet from Tracey Spicer today indicated that they already have.
However, with the missing financial statements from 2011 and the already suspicious looking ones from years prior to 2010, this could be a very interesting exercise indeed.
In any case it seems Meryl’s fans have missed the point of the reason for the name change – that it is misleading – and have offered some suggestions for a new one,
“Vaccination Troof and Transparency Network”,
“Australian Vaccination Information Network”,
“Australian Vaccination Choice Network”,
“Australian Vaccination Information Network”, and my personal favourite
“telling the truth about things that big pharma whores and useless media will not.”
Of course she would do well to retain the acronym “AVN” as a way of keeping her domain name, so I’m suggesting the Anti-Vaccine Network.
Last time Meryl had the government come down on her, she took them on and won. But this time, well things don’t look so cut and dry. Methinks this could be the end for the AVN and I don’t just mean the name.