Regulator concerned over spurious COVID-19 information sent by controversial MP
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is looking at potentially taking legal action under the Criminal Code after controversial MP Craig Kelly used the TGA logo and out of context COVID-19 vaccine information in his latest mass text campaign.
The texts, the second barrage of spam messages in as many weeks, came shortly after former Liberal Party MP last month announced his changed allegiance to Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, which he will lead into the next election.
The texts said “Australian Government’s COVID-19 Vaccines Adverse Events Report” followed by a link to the UAP website ending “Authorised by Craig Kelly”.
The link shows several pages of the TGA’s Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN) but doesn’t link to the TGA site itself nor does it give context surrounding the DAEN.
In statement the TGA said it was “very concerned about any information which provides an incorrect picture of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly if that information is distributed widely to the public.” .
“The lists of adverse events reported in association with COVID-19 vaccines linked to from the UAP text message are taken from the TGA’s publicly available Database of Adverse Event Notifications,” the TGA said in a statement.
It pointed out that “reporting of an adverse event on the DAEN does not mean that the vaccine caused the event. Information on the DAEN cannot be used to evaluate whether a medicine or a vaccine is safe.”
The TGA has said it is consulting with with “relevant Commonwealth agencies” about “whether the use of the TGA logo in this way potentially breaches both copyright legislation and the Criminal Code Act 1995”.
“This is an ongoing issue,” it said.
The Federal Criminal Code Act says it is illegal to impersonate or make “false representations in relation to a Commonwealth body”, an offence which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison.
But, the TGA statement said, in this instance, the text messages and website did not appear to constitute advertising under the Therapeutic Goods Act so no compliance action could be taken on that front.
The UAP is no stranger to legal action for ignoring copyright.
It was successfully sued by Universal Music for re-recording the chorus of the Twisted Sister song We’re Not Gonna Take It with new lyrics for its political advertising without a license or permission. It was ordered to pay Universal Music $1.5 million in damages plus all legal costs.
The TGA has also said it was aware of false claims circulating based on misinterpretation of information published on the database, and in similar databases overseas.
“We encourage people to rely on credible information sources when making decisions about vaccination,” it said.
Internationally conspiracy theorists have used a similar tack using information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccine Adverse Event System (VAERS), a similar system to the TGA’s adverse events notification database, out of context.
The CDC has said it welcomed healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public to submit reports to the system but warned that data found on the site “may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”