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Chiropractor suspended in relation to promotion of anti-vaccination statements

Insurance law & litigation
Model of a section of a spine, representing chiropractic practice.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) recently found a chiropractor guilty of professional misconduct for his promotion of dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation.1 As a result, the chiropractor was reprimanded, had his registration suspended for six months, and conditions placed upon his registration relevant to the provision of vaccination advice.

Background

In November and December 2016, Simon Floreani (Chiropractor) participated in a YouTube video titled "Nazi vaccine regime in Australia". During the interview, the chiropractor made several anti-vaccination statements, including that there was no evidence demonstrating the efficacy of childhood vaccinations and likening childhood vaccinations to injecting poison. The chiropractor also encouraged listeners to attend a screening of "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" (Vaxxed) at his clinic.

The Chiropractic Board of Australia (Board) took immediate action and referred the matter to the Tribunal, stating that the chiropractor's conduct was completely at odds with his professional obligations as a chiropractor. The Board referred to the Code of Conduct, which requires chiropractors to work within their scope of practice and ensure that their personal views do not adversely affect the care of their patients.

Decision

The chiropractor argued that his conduct was not professional misconduct as it did not occur during the course of his professional practice. His evidence was that he made the statements as a private citizen, in the comfort of his home, with no patients present. Further, he was not present at the screening of Vaxxed at his clinic and did not advise patients to attend.

The Tribunal disagreed, noting that that during the interview he identified himself as a registered health professional and referred to the regulation of chiropractors. As such, they found he made public comments in his professional capacity. Further, they did not accept that he was simply a property owner leasing out his clinic for the screening, noting that he was aware of the content of the film.

In determining what regulatory action to take, the Tribunal noted that the chiropractor was highly experienced, having practised for 27 years, and therefore should be held to a higher standard than a naive practitioner. The Tribunal considered that the chiropractor had demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the standards of the profession and that his evidence demonstrated he appeared to maintain a level of scepticism about vaccination.

The Tribunal concluded that the chiropractor's actions constituted professional misconduct under the National Law, and noted that there was a need to send a clear message to the profession that anti-vaccination sentiment will not be tolerated.

Comment

This decision is of particular relevance in the current climate, with the National Boards recently releasing a joint position statement in relation to COVID-19 vaccination, accessible here. The position statement outlines that health practitioners play a vital role in educating the public on the importance and safety of COVID-19 vaccinations, with an expectation that all health professionals provide accurate information and advice about vaccination. As such, we consider advice in relation to vaccinations to be a key area of focus for AHPRA.

In addition, this decision highlights that allied health practitioners must work within their scope of practice and should refer patients to qualified medical professionals for advice on vaccinations.

Finally, the decision also noted the higher standard that a practitioner with significant experience may be held to.



1 Chiropractic Board of Australia v Floreani (Review and Regulation) [2021] VCAT 1094.

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