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- Media Release, July 12, 2010

NSW Health Care Complaints Commission confirms AVN is an anti-vaccination group

Today, the McCaffery family have welcomed the investigative report of the Health Care Complaints Commission’s (HCCC) investigation, which has found the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) provides misleading and inaccurate information to support an anti- vaccination position.

The 29-page report details how the “AVN provides information that is misleading for the average reader by inaccurately representing information, selectively reporting information, and giving non-peer reviewed and anecdotal material the same authority as peer-reviewed literature. The HCCC found in all cases, the AVN and Ms Dorey were doing so to maintain an anti-vaccination position.”

The recommendation of the report is that the AVN should include a prominent statement on its website which states that its purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information elsewhere. The information should not be read as medical advice and the decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.

These findings are the result of a 12-month investigation into two complaints: one from Mr Ken McLeod lodged in 22 July 2009, and a second complaint lodged by Toni and David McCaffery on 16 December 2009.

Toni and David are the parents of Dana McCaffery, who died of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) at just 4 weeks of age on 9 March 2009, a year with a record 29,000 notifications. Dana was also one of five babies airlifted from Lismore Base Hospital to the Brisbane Mater Children's Paediatric intensive care unit with Pertussis over four weeks.

“We allowed NSW Health to confirm Dana’s death on 10 March 2009 in a media release, because we did not receive one warning about Pertussis or the need for boosters, including no warning sticker on Dana’s health record. We wanted to warn other parents of how dangerous this disease is, which killed three babies in Australia last year and is the top ten causes of paediatric deaths worldwide. In that release, NSW Health announced free Pertussis boosters for new parents and grandparents of newborns, with the ACT and Queensland following suit,” said the McCafferys.

The McCafferys released Dana’s photo later that week after seeing comments in media and blog sites claiming that Dana was ‘just one baby’, and criticisms they had not acted quickly enough.

“People needed to know how dangerous this disease was, and that it can and does kill 1 in 200 babies. However, this is when the harassment from the AVN started, with Mrs Meryl Dorey trying to get Dana’s medical records from NSW Health on 12 March 2009—the day before her funeral,” said the McCafferys.

Within weeks of going public, the McCafferys received letters to their home, emails to a site dedicated to Dana (www.danamccaffery.com) and posts on Internet blog sites. The McCafferys became aware of Mr McLeod’s complaint in August 2009 and wrote a letter to the HCCC in support in September 2009. They decided to make their complaint formal in December 2009 after nine months of harassment and requests to the AVN to retract information had been ignored.

“We were so shocked at the vitriol and lunacy over vaccination. Yes the comments are hurtful, but we objected to the AVN publishing false information about Dana, inferring that she did not die of Pertussis and that this disease is not dangerous. We feared this would mislead other parents and expose a vulnerable child to a dangerous and insidious disease.

“The AVN has accused us of running a fear campaign. We call it a reality check. We only wished someone had warned us of the epidemic. We do not know how Dana became infected, but we now know that the Northern Rivers of NSW has the lowest rates of vaccination in the country, and in 2009 had a Pertussis notification rate that was twice the State’s average. We saw the healthiest, most beautiful baby suffer the most agonising death – and there was nothing we could do. We will not stand by and let this happen to another family.

“We respect parents’ rights to making an informed choice and understand they have concerns over vaccination. But we plead with parents, before you make a decision, please access factual information on vaccines, and understand how dangerous the diseases are that they prevent. Stay away from the AVN and be very careful of the Internet,” said the McCafferys.

The McCafferys have repeated calls to all levels of government to rollout an education campaign on vaccination and the dangers of diseases such as Pertussis.

Since May last year, three consecutive NSW Health Ministers and the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon have announced a national review of education and prevention measures, and a national information campaign on immunisation. It has been over 12 months and NSW Heath has confirmed that they have been asked to wait by the Federal Government. The McCafferys are deeply disappointed by the failure of all governments and health authorities to take action as promised.

“Diseases like Pertussis are cyclical, and we ask all governments to act. Don’t wait for another child to die to raise awareness – the price has been too high for us.”

Please direct enquiries to Info@danamccaffery.com.