Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A paid-for Facebook post by Stop Mandatory Vaccination, seen on 2 July 2018, featured the text “Parents, not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child, but if this unthinkable tragedy does occur, doctors will dismiss it as ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’ (SIDS). If you are on the fence about vaccinating, read this story and then join our Facebook group to talk with likeminded parents”. The post also featured an image of a baby with his eyes closed. Text In the image stated “Owen Matthew Stokes (Aug 18, 2017 - Oct 25, 2017). Text underneath the image stated “stopmandatoryvaccination.com - 2-month old Dies 48 hours After 8 Vaccines: Owen’s Mom.”
The complainant, who was a mother of a young baby, challenged whether:
1. the claim “Parents, not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child” was misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. the ad was likely to cause undue distress.
1. Larry Cook t/a Stop Mandatory Vaccination provided a copy of a data and statistics information sheet published by the Health Resources and Services Administration (a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The document reported the number of claims filed for compensation as a result of alleged injury or death caused by vaccinations and the amount of compensation awarded as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. They said that the document showed that in the US, the Vaccination Injury Compensation Act had paid out over 4 billion dollars for death and injury because of vaccinations.
Stop Mandatory Vaccination said that parents who raised concerns about vaccinations causing deaths were often dismissed by doctors. They described an example of a woman who was compensated $250,000 for her child’s death caused by vaccinations under similar circumstances.
2. Stop Mandatory Vaccination said that the ad featured an image of a sleeping baby. They said they targeted users with an interest in parenting because they intended to cause parents some concern before choosing to vaccinate their children. They said that they wanted parents to make an informed choice before proceeding with a vaccination that definitely had the potential of killing or injuring their child. They also provided a link to a story on their website about a UK based teenager who was bedridden with chronic conditions which was allegedly caused by vaccinations.
The ASA noted that the ad featured the name of the group “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” and encouraged readers to join their Facebook group. We therefore considered that readers would understand that the ad was by an anti-vaccination campaign group. In that context, we considered that readers would appreciate that the ad represented Stop Mandatory Vaccination’s own perspective, but would nevertheless understand from the definitive language of the claim “Parents, not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child” that all vaccinations were proven to have the capability of causing death in children.
Stop Mandatory Vaccination provided a copy of a data report published by the US Health Resources & Services Administration which discussed the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The data report showed that between 10/01/1988 and 8/08/2018, a total of 6,122 claims were compensated for injury and death alleged by vaccinations and 11,214 claims were dismissed. While we acknowledged that those figures showed that a large number of claims had been compensated in relation to alleged injury or death caused by vaccinations, we noted that the report stated that settlement was not an admission of liability and did not determine whether the vaccine had conclusively caused the injury or death. Furthermore, we noted that the report was only based on injuries and deaths to children in the US and did not cover the UK, where the data could be different. We considered that the evidence did not demonstrate that all vaccinations were capable of causing death to children.
Because we had not seen sufficient evidence that showed all vaccinations were proven to have the capability of causing death to children, we concluded that the claim “not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child” had not been substantiated and was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
We noted that the ad featured an image of a baby with its date of birth and death. We considered that the image of a baby lying down with its eyes closed accompanied by its date of death suggested that the baby was dead and was likely to be distressing to readers, especially to parents. Alongside the image was a definitive claim about the risk of vaccinations, “any vaccine given at any age kill your child”. As mentioned above, we considered that this would be understood to mean that all vaccinations were proven to cause death to children. The ad also featured the claim “doctors will dismiss it as ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’”, which suggested that doctors did not realise that the vaccines were capable of killing children. We considered that those claims were likely to cause fear or distress to readers, particularly parents who may be looking for factual information about the risks associated with vaccinations for children.
Because we had not seen evidence to demonstrate that all vaccinations were capable of causing death in children, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause fear without justifiable reason in breach of the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and Offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Stop Mandatory Vaccination not to state or imply that all vaccinations could cause death to children unless they held sufficient evidence to demonstrate that. We also told them to ensure their marketing communications did not cause unjustifiable fear or distress.