Clive Palmer speaks to the media
Clive Palmer (Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

Australia’s medical regulator has slammed Clive Palmer and a radio network of more than 50 stations for running anti-vaccination radio advertisements over the weekend — but is unable to do anything about it.

On Tuesday, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) put out a statement in response to questions from Crikey saying that misinformation about vaccines, such as Palmer’s advertisement run on Grant Broadcasters radio network, pose an “unacceptable threat to the health of Australians”.

Over the weekend, radio audiences in Queensland heard an ominous sounding advertisement paid for by the Australian billionaire.

The spoken message was an exceedingly misleading statement, bending the truth to falsely imply that the COVID-19 vaccine is more dangerous than the virus.

“Australia has had one COVID-associated death in 2021,” a serious-sounding voice reads. “But the TGA reports there have been 210 deaths and over 24,000 adverse reactions after COVID vaccinations.”

While technically true, this statistic taken from the TGA’s weekly vaccine safety report misrepresents the proven safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

There have been 210 deaths following immunisation, but not necessarily because the patient received the vaccination. The TGA reports literally anyone who died after receiving the jab as a transparency measure and does not claim these were caused by the vaccine.

The number of deaths can be attributed to the at-risk and elderly populations who were first to receive the jab (93% of those deaths were from Australians aged 65 and older) and to the fact that, well, people die. Someone who walks out of a vaccine appointment and dies after being hit by a car would be counted in this statistic.

“Sadly, about 160,000 people die in Australia every year — almost 3000 each week — and therefore it is quite expected that there have been some deaths reported within days or a few weeks of vaccination,” the TGA notes.

In fact, there’s only been a single death linked to vaccine complications in Australia. (Meanwhile910 people in Australia have died from COVID-19.)

Likewise, the adverse reactions include anything including a headache, muscle pain or lethargy — symptoms that aren’t always necessarily caused by the vaccine but are reported nonetheless.

This latest advertisement from Palmer is more evidence of the billionaire’s plunge into anti-vaccine misinformation.

Early on in the pandemic he said he had bought more than 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that has not been widely proven to treat COVID, and donated them to the national medical stockpile.

Now Palmer has become more and more critical of Australia’s vaccine rollout. In February, just after the first vaccines were administered in Australia, Palmer said he was concerned about the vaccine’s safety. In March he shared a video that falsely claimed Annastacia Palaszczuk faked getting the flu shot (a common anti-vaxxer trope).

Soon after, he called for a pause on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And now he’s indicated that he may financially support a campaign to reelect Craig Kelly, another public figure who’s been vocal about his vaccine hesitancy.

With a federal election not far off, Palmer is actively courting vaccine sceptics and conspiracy theorists by loudly sharing misinformation during the most important vaccine rollout of Australians’ lives.

The TGA, however, is unable to do anything about the advertisements. Despite a promise by the TGA’s Professor John Skerrit to write to Palmer and Grant Broadcasters, the regulator is unable to take any further action because the advertisements don’t constitute advertising under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

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Singapore

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