Anti-vaxxer’s actions prompt TGA statement

Amanda Lyons

14/11/2019 2:26:21 PM

A recent incident saw an anti-vaccination advocate enter a general practice under false pretences to remove National Immunisation Program posters.

Vaccine poster in waiting room.
Following the incident in which an anti-vaccine campaigner impersonated a public health official, the TGA has issued advice to GPs about regulatory visits and advertising of vaccines.

The incident can be seen in a video recently uploaded to YouTube, in which a person affiliated with a Melbourne anti-vaccination group enters a general practice, requesting the removal of posters promoting vaccination under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
The person approaches the reception desk, brandishing what appears to be a print-out from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website detailing advertising standards and guidelines. After gaining access to a GP, their request is agreed to and practice staff can be seen removing the posters from the waiting room as patients look on.
In the wake of this incident, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has advised GPs to keep an eye out for other people employing similar tactics.
The TGA has also released a statement for consumers, health professionals and other stakeholders, clarifying procedure around regulatory site visits.
‘The TGA has strict processes in place for regulating site visits and authorised officers will carry photographic identification cards,’ a Department of Health (DoH) spokesperson told newsGP.
The TGA’s statement explains that while advertising of prescription medicines, which includes vaccines, is broadly prohibited under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (the Act), posters relating to vaccines sanctioned by the DoH under the NIP are permitted.
Advertising therapeutic goods to the public using references to serious forms of diseases and conditions, such as influenza and whooping cough, is also prohibited under the Act; however, the use of such references in Federal Government materials is permitted by the TGA.
‘As part of an important public health campaign, this material is appropriate and legal, and provides important health information to consumers,’ the TGA wrote in the statement.
The TGA also emphasised that impersonating Commonwealth public officials can lead to prosecution, and that it is monitoring the situation.
‘There are criminal offences for impersonating Commonwealth public officials,’ the DoH spokesperson said.
‘The [DoH] is continuing to monitor the response to the video on social media and has lodged requests with YouTube and Facebook to remove the video.
‘It is also considering what other actions it may take.’
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to vaccines as ‘one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine’, resulting in the eradication of once-dreaded diseases such as smallpox and several strains of polio.
But recent growth in vaccine hesitancy has eroded some of these gains, leading to the re-emergence of diseases such as measles in countries in which it had earlier been eliminated, including Australia. These effects have led WHO to name vaccine hesitancy one of this year’s top 10 threats to public health.
‘If herd immunity is not maintained outbreaks can and do happen,’ RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said earlier this year in support of vaccination and the NIP.
‘As a community we cannot be complacent. Vaccines in Australia have been proven to be safe and effective for nearly all members of our community.’
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Anti-vax Public health regulation TGA Therapeutic Goods Administration Vaccination Vaccine hesitancy

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