Doctors are warning parents not to trust homeopathic whooping cough vaccines while health authorities fail to stop those advertising them during a deadly epidemic.
Whooping cough is at an all-time high, with more than 13,000 cases in Australia last year, claiming two babies' lives. It’s especially dangerous to unvaccinated babies.
Several homeopaths are advertising alternative vaccines, but Dr Nigel Crawford, immunisation specialist at the Royal Children's Hospital, said there was no evidence to support the homeopathic vaccines.
"There's no scientific evidence for homeopathic medicines either preventing whooping cough or treating it," he said.
Public health expert Dr Ken Harvey, of La Trobe University, said one group in particular has ignored repeated warnings from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to stop.
There's no scientific evidence for homoeopathic medicines either preventing whooping cough or treating it
In a new complaint to the TGA and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Dr Harvey said Homeopathy Plus! was advertising a "safe and sensible" way of preventing and treating whooping cough without the risk of "dangerous side-effects". The organisation’s website also said that traditional vaccines contribute to a range of illnesses.
This was despite the TGA ruling that the group had misled the public about homeopathic remedies for serious infectious diseases, including whooping cough, and was exploiting consumers' lack of knowledge.
It ordered the group to replace the information with retractions, but the orders have been ignored.
Fran Sheffield, director of Homeopathy Plus!, said although she had no scientific evidence to support her whooping cough option, homeopaths had seen them working for more than 200 years. She said she was not pushing an alternative whooping cough vaccine, but rather another option for people who don’t want to use the medical vaccine, or wanted back-up for it.
When asked why she had ignored requests for retractions, she said she had not been given a fair right of reply and no one had followed up with any further action.
"By and large, I let it slide," she said.