Stop online censorship by the TGA!

Stop online censorship by the TGA!

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Minh Le Cong started this petition to Therapeutic Goods Authority

We are a concerned group of medical practitioners writing to you regarding the media statement about speaking about COVID-19 vaccines on social media [1]. From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation has made note of a concurrent ‘infodemic’ where misinformation and disinformation has been readily and rapidly shared on social media platforms (including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp). Such misinformation has the ability to cause significant harm to the community at a time when we need as many people as possible adhering to public health advice.

 

As the TGA would be well aware, antivaccination sentiment is growing online and largely exists in an unregulated vacuum, with slow or inaction from social media platforms and difficulty of other agencies (e.g. government agencies, WHO) to keep up with the sheer volume of disinformation shared online. 31 million people follow antivaccination content on Facebook and exposure to such information contributes to vaccine hesitancy [2]. Any form of distrust in scientific expertise is dangerous, and in the case of any treatment, regulation or in this case, vaccination, could amplify outbreaks and lead to prolongation of the pandemic which will inevitably have grave health, social and economic consequences [3].

 

The statement regarding advertisement of COVID-19 vaccines seems to have the consequence of silencing health care practitioners from sharing any information, save for mentioning the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine on any social media channels. This unfortunately prevents sharing of important information such as promoting people to receive a vaccination when it is their turn, reassuring those who are hesitant or providing general information (e.g. how an mRNA vaccine works, the low probability of significant side effects). It will also allow anti-vaccination sentiment to exist in an environment where there is no argument to counter it which increases the likelihood that that information goes unchecked and permeates the population. Many doctors have a social media presence that places them as trusted messengers that public health organisation, regulatory bodies and government agencies can collaborate with and support, to allow broader and more effective communication with an increasingly vulnerable community [4].

 

 

As medical practitioners in Australia, we feel very fortunate that strong regulations do not permit the advertisement of medications to consumers in order to protect them. This statement is however clumsy and inadvertently does the very opposite of protecting Australians; it exposes them to an environment where dangerous and unscientific antivaccination can circulate unchecked. We implore the TGA to retract this initial statement and instead, provide more nuanced guidance that allows medical practitioners to share accurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccinations online, allowing us to work alongside and in conjunction with any government campaign that may eventuate.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

References
 

[1]
[Online]. Available: https://www.tga.gov.au/advertising-covid-19-vaccines-australian-public
[2]
T. Burkhi, "The online anti-vaccine movement in the age of COVID-19," The Lancet, vol. 2, no. 10, pp. E504-505, 2020.
[3]
N. F. Johnson, N. Velasquez, N. J. Restrepo and et al., "The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views," Nature, vol. 582, pp. 230-233, 2020.
[4]
R. M. Merchant, E. C. South and N. Lurie, "Public health messaging in an era of social media," JAMA, vol. 325, no. 3, pp. 223-224, 2021.
[5]
[Online]. Available: https://www.tga.gov.au/advertising-covid-19-vaccines-australian-public
[6]
https://www.tga.gov.au/advertising-covid-19-vaccines-australian-public [Online].
 

 

 

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