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Anti-vax group ordered to inject some reality into its name

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A controversial anti-vaccination group has been ordered to change its name after a New South Wales tribunal ruled that it was misleading.

In a victory for the NSW Government, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has directed the Australian Vaccination Network to ditch its title and develop a name that accurately reflects its scepticism about vaccinations.

The decision is the latest victory in efforts to boost the nation’s immunisation rates amid warnings that vaccination coverage in some parts of the country was so low that there was risk of a sustained outbreak of serious diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

It follows the introduction of new laws in NSW that, from 1 January, will allow childcare centres to refuse enrolment for children whose parents cannot provide proof of vaccination or an approved exemption, and comes after the nation’s Health Ministers agreed to work on developing nationally-consistent immunisation requirements.

Concerns about the nation’s vulnerability to serious infectious diseases have been stoked by evidence that in parts of the country, particularly northern NSW and south-east Queensland, vaccination rates among young children have slipped to as low as 81.1 per cent – well below the level considered necessary to ensure a level of herd immunity.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said it was no coincidence that low vaccination rates were recorded in areas where anti-vaccination groups were active, and he welcomed the Tribunal’s ruling to force the AVN to be more open about its opposition to immunisation.

NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts told the Sydney Morning Herald the ruling was an important result for the community.

“This is about being open and upfront about what you stand for, not hiding behind a name which could mislead the community about a very significant public health issue,” Mr Roberts said. “The time has come for AVN to find a name which reflects its anti-vaccination stance.”

The Tribunal’s Deputy President, Nancy Hennessy, found that the AVN was sceptical about vaccination, and that its main purpose was to disseminate information and opinions highlighting the risks of vaccination, yet its name suggested a pro-vaccination, or at least balanced, approach to the issue.

Ms Hennessy suggested the group consider adding the words “risks” or “sceptic” to its name to ensure people understood what its purpose was, the report in the SMH said.

The Tribunal’s decision came more than a year after the AVN won a Supreme Court appeal against an order by the Health Care Complaints Commission that the AVN include a disclaimer on its website that its information should not be considered as medical advice.

The appeal was won on a technicality after the AVN successfully argued the Commission had exceeded its authority in issuing the order.

Adrian Rollins