A web page for a children's vaccination service, www.babyjabs.co.uk was headed "MMR Vaccine" with a subheading "How safe is the MMR vaccine? Can the vaccine cause autism?" Text then stated, "Fears were aroused that the vaccine might be causing autism and bowel disease in some children following the publication of research in 1998. At the sane [sic] time Dr Andrew Wakefield, one of the paper's authors, recommended giving the three single vaccines separately, instead of the triple MMR. This suggestion has been strongly rejected by the government and medical establishment ... At around the time of the introduction of the MMR, the number of cases of autism being diagnosed started to increase dramatically, and some feared that the MMR might have triggered this rise. There is uncertainty over whether the rise is all due to increased diagnosis or whether some of the rise is real. Research, including large population studies, has since shown that the MMR is not causing the large majority of autism, but has been unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children. The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered BabyJabs to remove information relating to the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Though the medical authorities strongly refute any link between the MMR vaccine and autism we note that an Italian Court, based on independent medical advice, ruled in March 2012 that the MMR vaccine had caused autism in a 9 year old boy".
Text under the subheading "Are side effects less likely after the single vaccines?" stated "Most of the side effects of the MMR also occur with the single vaccines. However, two side effects are over three times more likely to occur after the MMR than after the single vaccines: these are febrile convulsions (fits as a result of a fever) and Idiopathic Thrombocytopaenia Purpura (ITP), a rare bleeding disorder that can be serious ... It is very likely that the MMR causes autism and bowel disease in some children. It is probable that the single measles vaccine can also do this, but, if so, much more rarely than the MMR”.
Under another subheading "Does BabyJabs offer the MMR vaccine?" text stated "We do not offer the MMR vaccine at BabyJabs We [sic] are concerned that the safety of the vaccine has not been adequately demonstrated, and believe that the single vaccines are suitable alternatives that are equally - possibly more - effective and are probably safer".
1. Fifteen complainants challenged whether the various claims and references on the web page could be substantiated.
2. The ASA challenged whether the website advertised prescription-only medicines (POMs) to the general public in breach of the Code.
BabyJabs Ltd said they would remove material related to the MMR vaccine and the brand names of the vaccines would not be used.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA acknowledged the complainants' concerns about the truthfulness of the claims made on the BabyJabs website, some of which were similar to a previous upheld ASA adjudication. We were concerned that the advertiser had continued to make similar claims despite their assurance that they would not do so again.
However, we did not review substantiation for the claims challenged by the complainants because we noted the vaccines being marketed were POMs and the CAP Code prohibited the advertising of POMs to the public. We consulted the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) who told us that BabyJabs' advertising campaign had not been approved by Ministers. Although we noted the advertiser was willing to remove the brand names from their website, we reminded them that this approach would not satisfy the requirements of the CAP Code. Because the claims were directly connected with the supply of goods and services and as the website advertised prescription only medicines, we concluded the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.12 12.12 Prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments may not be advertised to the public. (Medicines, medical devices, health related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told BabyJabs to ensure they did not advertise POMs to the public without the necessary approval.