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Advertising watchdog bans “misleading” commercial on rotavirus vaccination

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8682 (Published 27 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8682
  1. Patralekha Chatterjee
  1. 1New Delhi

A complaint from a Delhi doctor to the advertising watchdog has led to the withdrawal of a television campaign on rotavirus vaccination from manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Nalini Abraham, a doctor in Delhi, complained to the Mumbai based Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) that GSK’s advertisement, shown on local television channels, wrongly claimed that vaccination is the only way to reduce the incidence of rotavirus infections. Abraham and many others say that the virus is ingested through contaminated food and good hygiene can lessen the spread of the infection.

Alan Collaco, secretary general of the council, said the television commercial had said, “The vaccine is the only way to reduce the incidence of infection and that techniques like hand washing do not help.”

He added, “This is a misrepresentation of facts. Rotavirus is spread by ingestion of the virus from contaminated food and water. Hygiene helps reduce the spread of infection. The vaccine causes a fivefold increase in intussusceptions, a serious surgical condition that can result in death if not treated urgently. This is not explained in the advertisement. The issues raised by the vaccine are complex and it cannot be allowed to be a direct to public advertisement in this misleading fashion.”

A spokesperson for GSK said in a statement: “As per our communication to ASCI, we had provided sufficient scientific references that substantiated claims made in the awareness campaign. The campaign does not refer to any product/brand and advises audience to consult doctors. In fact, prior to ASCI having raised the inquiry, the campaign was off the air.”

In its defence GSK told the council that “It may be noted that the campaign in no way mentions or alludes to any particular brand name. In fact, even the word ‘vaccine’ hasn’t been used. Rather vaccination which refers to the process is mentioned as a mode of protecting against the rotavirus diarrhoea. Most importantly, the campaign directs the audience to his/her doctor for more information rather than making a direct-to-consumer sale pitch.”

The consumer complaints council agreed with Abraham that the advertisement’s claim was inadequately substantiated and upheld her complaint.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8682