Anti-vaccination advert should never have gone up - billboard company

An anti-vaccination billboard that overlooked Auckland's Southern Motorway should never have gone up, according to the advertising agency that installed it.

The billboard, put up beside the Ōtahuhu off ramp by the Warnings About Vaccine Expectations (WAVES) on October 1, showed a man holding a baby and asked: "If you knew the ingredients in a vaccine, would you RISK it?"

By the next morning more than 140 complaints had been lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and the billboard was quickly removed.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now upheld complaints about the billboard, saying it wasn't clear who was behind the anti-vaccination message and that its claim - that vaccination isn't safe - wasn't sufficiently substantiated.

The company which installed the advert, Ad-Vantage Media, said it was a mistake to put it up in the first place.

"Unfortunately, the billboard was installed without going through our vetting process and if we had followed it correctly it would not have been installed," a spokesperson told the ASA.

"In these circumstances, if we have any doubts regarding a creative we run it past the ASA for their initial thoughts. What transpired was the client sent an initial design and my understanding was the creative was to be changed. In fact, all that happened was a higher resolution file was sent. A staff member thought it was good to print and went ahead and did so.

"Once the problem came to light we removed the skin a quickly as possible."

WAVES maintained there was nothing wrong with the billboard, and blamed "group-think discussions on internet groups" such as Reddit and Sciblogs.

"It's notable that no complaints to the ASA were forthcoming from the core medical persons."

A doctor wrote to Newshub to say this isn't true - saying she and several others complained directly to the ASA and the Ministry of Health.

A Counties Manukau District Health Board spokeswoman told Stuff earlier this month the DHB had no direct relationship with the billboard.

"We do not support anti-vaccine messages," the spokeswoman said. "We promote vaccination as a proven step to prevent illness in both children and adults."

There is no evidence vaccines cause autism, as many anti-vaccination advocates claim. There are rare cases of side-effects, but medical professionals largely agree the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.