Issue 15 / 23 April 2012

THIS country’s most prominent anti-vaccination group, the confusingly named Australian Vaccination Network, had a legal win last week when NSW authorities restored the organisation’s charitable fundraising authority.

The AVN’s licence to seek public donations had been revoked in 2010 after the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) warned the network posed “a risk to public health and safety” when it refused to publish various caveats on its website, including a clear declaration of its anti-vaccination stance.

An investigation by the state authority responsible for regulating charitable activities, the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (go figure), also found other breaches by the AVN such as, for example, directing donations towards general operating costs rather than to the purposes stated to donors.

Well, apparently that’s all changed now and the AVN can get back to business as usual, spreading its alarmist anecdotes about vaccination, and raising funds from the public to help it do so.

The key factor in the about turn by NSW authorities appears to have been the AVN’s successful legal challenge to the HCCC warning.

Earlier this year, the NSW Supreme Court found the HCCC had acted outside its jurisdiction in issuing the warning, which has now been removed. That decision did raise quite a few eyebrows, including in MJA InSight.

NSW authorities have apparently received legal advice that the revocation of the AVN’s fundraising licence would not stand up in court given that the HCCC’s warning was no longer deemed valid.

If that’s their legal advice, then so be it, but what is not clear to me — and nobody from either the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) or the responsible Minister’s office would respond to my questions about this last week — is how the AVN ever came to be considered a charity in the first place.

The OLGR spells out on its website that there is no statutory definition of a “charitable purpose”, saying the meaning of the term is largely based on previous court decisions.

Charitable purposes fall into four broad categories — the relief of financial hardship, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community — but also include any benevolent, philanthropic or patriotic purpose, the website says.

So how does the AVN fit the description?

This is an organisation established to argue the case against vaccines though — for reasons I’ve never understood — its leaders have always displayed a strange reluctance to make a clear public declaration to that effect.

I certainly can’t see how its essential purpose could be defined as the “relief of financial hardship” or “advancement of religion”. Nor would it come under the “education” category, since this specifically rules out “propagandist or political activities”.

That leaves only the category of “other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community” or those general grab-bag terms of “benevolent” and “philanthropic”.

Call me naive, but I would have expected the onus to be on the AVN to prove its activities provided benefit to the community or were otherwise benevolent or philanthropic if it wanted official recognition as a charity.

Legal victories notwithstanding, I can’t see how it would pull that one off.

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer.

Posted 23 April 2012

28 thoughts on “Jane McCredie: Charitable questions

  1. Sian Morton says:

    Yes, I agree.

  2. marianne trent says:

    Like you I have always been at a loss to explain how the AVN got charitable status. If I started an organisation that said that smoking was beneficial I don’t think that organisation would qualify for charitable status.

  3. Guy says:

    Like your average religious sect, AVN contains a small vociferous group of educated middle class with a fervour for fanciful principle in some and barely concealed vested interest in others. The courts have little stomach for a fight with fanatics. Moreover, courts sacifice principle while hiding behind the “letter” of the law as they indulge themselves. Who gains most from repeated court appeals and a failure to stand by the first decision in the absence of new information? The well paid debaters-for-hire of course! Let me hear you say, “Appeal again!”.

  4. Paul Gatenby says:

    I agree, but sadly this is a fundamentalist religious organisation which like the rest of them inappropriately gets charitable status.

  5. RayT says:

    I don’t believe any group should be given tax exempt charitable status, but simply allowed to tax deduct what they spend on charitable works and pay tax on their remaining income. The AVN may qualify as a religion, because they are certainly not rationally based.

  6. Graham Chaffey says:

    I look forward to a charitable organisation set up to fight the anti-vaccination lobby and fight this legal misadventure in particular. That will be evidence based charity, and it will be getting my donations!

  7. Aribert Deckers says:

    The anti-vaccination indoctrinators are directly responsible for the death of children. Germany, as you perhaps may know, is an area infested with lots of anti-vaccination indoctrinators, so it is no wonder, that again and again measles outbreaks occur. Germany is one of the leading measles exporters in the world.
    To give pediatricians material about the backgrounds, I compiled a mass of details at http://www.pharmamafia.com
    This is one of the girls who died of SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis):
    http://transgallaxys.com/~kanzlerzwo/index.php?topic=5826
    Alarming results show a much higher risk of SSPE. Instead of 1:100,000 or less, the figures went up to 1:3000. But newer studies in Germany found a risk of higher than 1:200.

  8. drjohn says:

    It seems anti-scientific attitudes are the flavour of the times. It is a pity the HCCC’s ruling was overturned. I wonder who else could make a complaint with more clout?

  9. Jenny KTS says:

    Hi Jane

    Eudcational activities. That is how the AVN has got charitable status. It says its role is to inform the public about vaccines. It says the medical profession is not providing the full story. Is it? Are we? Perhaps the AVN would die away if doctors gave the full story, warts and all, and refused to take part in the ethical quagmire created by the GP bonus.

  10. Mia says:

    On the other hand, there are some questions that need to be answered:
    “Mandatory influenza vaccination in healthcare professionals? Strong arguments are missing and important risks are taken”
    http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e2217/rr/580256

  11. Rod says:

    This organisation, according to ABN Lookup on 23/4/12, is not eligible to receive tax deductible donations.

  12. Carolyn Bursle says:

    I thought the other issue with the AVN’s charitable status is that they are not very transparent with their accounting. Funds have disappeared. If they want to be a charity, they should demonstrate that their money is going to charitable works. Which in my opinion is not what any of it is doing.

  13. Judy says:

    Perhaps Marianne Trent has forgotten that it was doctors in the 1950s/60s who were promoting cigarettes and smoking to the public? And we have had many medical controversies since then. It is time to take your blinkers off and assess the ingredients of vaccines. I do not know of a single adult who puts 12 vaccines in their own body yet by 1 July 2012 the medical profession will be recommending that an infant under 1 year of age gets vaccines against 12 diseases. That’s 7 before 2 months of age. If you are reading this and cannot list 5 or more ingredients in a vaccine then it is time to educate yourselves by visiting the AVN website. Perhaps Ms McCredie herself will find this educational.

  14. Trevor says:

    Whilst adults may not put 12 vaccines into their body, it is not a consequence of lack of willingness but rather lack of need. Ask most adults whether they would have had those vaccines as children to avoid some of the diseases they encountered, (chicken pox, measles) they would say yes and so also say yes to their own children being vaccinated. If going overseas many adults would willingly have multiple vaccines against exotic overseas diseases also.
    Also, check your smoking story properly, Judy; you may well find you are misquoting this episode.

  15. Sian Morton says:

    Judy, perhaps you would like to research the British Doctors Study of the 1950s which began the significant shift in public and professional attitudes towards smoking. Your reference to smoking is outdated and irrelevant to any discussion about vaccination. No one with any scientific credibility would use the AVN website as a primary resource. PhD candidates should recognise this without any difficulty. And the ability to recite a list of ingredients on vaccines proves nothing. Critics of public health policy related to vaccination need to be very sure they have at least a basic understanding of immunology and vaccine schedules. There is much more to understanding the science behind immunisation policy than a personal belief that allergies and chronic diseases in children are all caused by vaccination.

  16. bruni brewin says:

    I recommend that you read the article on vaccines from a book called Pulp Med, by Peter Arguriou and Beldeu Singh, with inclusions from prominent contributing authors and medical scientists. 2010, ISBN: 9781846946998

    The authors nor the including medical people have an affiliation with either the skeptics nor AVN interests. Neither do I – I have a vested interest in open transparency.

  17. Judy says:

    Firstly, I have a copy of an advertisement of doctors promoting cigarettes in the 1950’s. Secondly, most adults do not use 12 vaccines in a 1 year time period and those that have, for example military personnel, have developed Gulf War Syndrome. You will also find that the individuals who are prepared to use multiple vaccines in a one-year time frame cannot list more than 2 ingredients of a vaccine. This is called ‘blind faith’ not evidence-based science. No-one is suggesting that the AVN should be used as a primary source but as the government is not providing all the information on its website it has become necessary for the public to use other sources of information.

  18. Sue Ieraci says:

    Judy – your contention that the medical community only presents “one side” is simply not true. Did you read the extensive documentation in MJA about WA flu vax? Do you read any of the sections in vaccination information sites about reactions and side-effects? Have you read this (easily accessible) document – “Adverse effects of vaccines, evidence and causality” (available for free on the net)? There are also many studies of the safety of vaccines on neonates and premature babies – easily accessible. Finally, “Gulf War SYndrome” has been de-bunked – it is not a discreet syndrome, and certainly has nothing to do with vaccination.

  19. Judy says:

    Claiming that a cause is ‘debunked’ does not make it debunked. Black is not white. Similarly,your claims that the government is presenting all the information does not make it true. There may be many studies that examine the adverse effects of vaccines, but Sue – have they been designed properly? It is time to discuss the detail and stop claiming things are ‘debunked’ without providing the evidence.

  20. Judy says:

    Ms.McCredie is not being fair to consumers who wish to participate in discussions on vaccination and whose only avenue is through organisations such as the Australian Vaccination Network.I am also surprised by her mis-represenation of this organisation. The AVN is a parent group, including many professional parents who have a right to discuss the pros and cons of using multiple vaccines in children. This organisation represents consumers with a range of opinions therefore the position it promotes is choice in the use of vaccines – without completing exemption forms and linking vaccines to financial or workplace benefits. There is nothing confusing about this position Ms.McCredie it is clearly stated on the AVN website.

  21. Judy says:

    In response to Sian Morton, there are many factors that influence immunisation policy and a basic knowledge of immunology and vaccine schedules is only a starting point. Public health policy includes cultural and political factors as well as the certainty that government claims are based on empirical research. It would be tragic for public health if the government’s claim that 12 vaccines in an infant are ‘safe and effective’ was being made without funding the appropriate long-term health study in animals first. All scientists are aware of the latent, synergistic and cumulative effects of the chemicals in vaccines. Where are the appropriate animal studies demonstrating the safety of 12 vaccines in infants over 5-10 years? As a consumer I am entitled to see this evidence before the government links vaccines to financial rewards and work placements.

  22. drjohn says:

    If I understand the stance of the AVN as stated by Judy encapsulated in quote,
    “It would be tragic for public health if the government’s claim that 12 vaccines in an infant are ‘safe and effective’ was being made without funding the appropriate long-term health study in animals first.”
    I would have to ask what length of time should we wait; what number of vaccines does she consider to be safe and effective now?
    Quote “All scientists are aware of the latent, synergistic and cumulative effects of the chemicals in vaccines.” What evidence does she have for this sweeping generalisation about supposed current detrimental effects that countermand the current views of expert immunologists in the field?
    Is the complaint that the vaccines don’t work? Is it that the excipients are toxic?
    What exactly is the benefit of suffering native diseases compared to vaccinating against them?
    Is the debate about medicine or “free will”?

  23. Sue Ieraci says:

    I suspect Judy knows that Ms Dorey and the AVN are not objective about vaccines. Ms Dorey has claimed, openly and repeatedly, that she not only believes vaccines are universally harmful, but that they are not effective (at all). She does not accept that antibodies reflect immunity. Ms Dorey is not trained in any form of science or health care – she just expresses personal opinions. However, this is done under the guise of an information service, which has the potential to misinform people seeking information. Judy – there is no hidden body of secrets about vaccination. There has been extensive research on both safety and efficacy. Here is just one study looking at the safety of vaccinating newborns:http://journals.lww.com/pidj/Abstract/2001/11000/Safety_of_neonatal_hepa
    There are many others. Judy – do you think that the very nurses and doctors in NICU who work to keep these tiny babies alive are blind to the effects of vaccines?

  24. Judy says:

    Thankyou Dr.John and Sue for asking the questions. These are the questions that are being answered on the many consumer websites that have now been set up around Australia. As a PhD candiate who has researched vaccination for 8 years(previously for a Master of Science) I can vouch for the educational material on these websites and it is time to have a proper debate. Sue is incorrect to assert that Ms Dorey is only presenting personal opinion. Dr.John is welcome to visit my website at http://www.vaccinationdecisions.net to see some of the answers.

  25. Sue Ieraci says:

    Judy – thanks for the reference to your website. I note that, from the opening papge, the links your provide are unusually selected. Firstly the “vaccine ingredients” link you provide is for the US vaccine schedule – not the Australian one. I also notice that your front page links to this site: “World Association for Vaccine Education” – a US anti-vaccination site. (Quote from the site: “While the medical profession appears to be unified in praise of vaccination, there are thousands of doctors, historians, researchers and government authorities who have not hesitated to voice the truth.”)
    On your site, you also make statements like “There are also lobby groups in Australia who promote the government’s vaccination schedule.These groups incorrectly call all consumers questioning vaccines ‘anti-vaxers’. Many consumers are fighting for the fundamental human right to choose how many drugs they put into their healthy bodies and their children’s healthy bodies without losing benefits and filling out exemption forms.”
    This is not the language of scientific debate, but of ideology. I understand that your research is in the area of vaccine POLICY – not vaccine development or effectiveness.
    I was unable to find an answer to my question on your site: if NICU nurses and doctors are able to provide life-saving care for fragile premature and sick neonates, why would they be ignorant about vaccine safety?

  26. richard gordon says:

    The failure of the law to prevent the AVN from charity status shows that “any connection between justice and the law is pure co-incidence”.

  27. Sian Morton says:

    Sue Ieraci makes excellent points.

  28. Dr Michael says:

    The Australian Vaccination Network is deliberately deceptive – it should be named the Australian Anti-Vaccination Network, given that this is their stated aim. Unfortunately, the information that is provided causes a great deal of confusion in parents and causes some children to suffer diseases that could have been prevented. In 10 years of work in a paediatric emergency department, I have yet to see Haemophilus Influenza B rearing its ugly head in the form of a meningitis or epiglottitis thanks to vaccinations. I, for one, have no desire for this to become widespread through our paediatric population again. Herd immunity will work, as long as you stay within the herd. If a visit to other parts of the world is on the cards, then the danger of getting the native disease (with its attendant risk of morbidity and mortality) is a distinct possibility. The only blessing when the child comes home, is that (hopefully) most of his or her friends will be immune to the disease that he or she is suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.