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Latest update on Healthy Kids checks

Some aspects of this policy have started to become a lot clearer after discussions with a representative of the Department of Health, but there are still grave concerns about the implications of requiring that certain segments of Australian society (this check is only required for families who are eligible for the Family Tax Benefit Part A – in other words, those who have a lower income than the average) must comply with this policy and how these checks can be used by certain medicos to harass, abuse or victimise those who have made choices the doctor does not agree with.

Here is where all of this stands so far. I will be writing up a facsimile letter and giving out a list of politicians who need to be contacted to oppose this legislation and its implementation either today or tomorrow as well so please be ready to get involved with this initiative and to let others know about this as well.

Right now, due to the introduction of new legislation, anyone with a child aged between 4 and 5 years of age will be required to submit their child to a special medical examination in order to receive their Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement payment which is close to $800 from the government. This examination is basically a report card on your ability to parent your child ‘properly’ according to mainstream medicine. Next year, a mandatory mental health check will be added to the mix though as of Friday when I spoke with a representative of the Department of Health, they had no idea how this would be implemented – whether the checks would be performed by GPs or psychiatrists or specially-trained clinic nurses. Talk about legislation on the fly!

Now you MUST give your child all vaccines up to the age of 4 in order to get one of these Healthy Kids Checks (part of the Healthy Start to School initiative) but if you don’t vaccinate, you can still get the examination – you simply will not be able to get the same medicare rebate. This is a special medicare code which is used to reimburse doctors for this check since it is a long office visit and would generally cost more money. The government has agreed to pay this extra amount for the long visits as long as doctors use this code. They can ONLY use this code if your child is vaccinated up to the age of 4 years old – and many people will be getting the checks at the same time as they get their children vaccinated.

If you are not vaccinating or not vaccinating fully, the doctor can’t use the code but will have to use one of the other, regular codes and from what I understand, this may cost parents more money out of pocket.

Also, please read the following text which is concerning:

In circumstances where a parent/guardian chooses not to immunise their child, the Healthy Kids Check cannot be provided as a service for which an MBS rebate may be claimed. A medical practitioner may choose to provide a service that mirrors the Healthy Kids Check, but that service would not be regarded as a Healthy Kids Check for the purpose of Medicare billing.

It is left up to the doctor to choose whether or not to provide a service that mirrors the healthy kids check but if they don’t choose to do so, then the visit will most likely cost the parents quite a bit out of pocket. Since many doctors have become quite abusive to families who have chosen not to vaccinate, I can imagine that we may see a lot of parents paying quite a bit of money to get these checks performed in order to get their supplementary payment.

There are a couple of questions that I have which the contact at the Department of Health says she will be looking into and get back to me on.

Has the government put in place exemptions for religions which do not ever see medical doctors such as Christian Scientists?

How does a parent let the government know that the Health Check has been completed? Is there a form that needs to be filled in and is the doctor required by law to fill this in if the parents present for the health check? (believe it or not, there was no immediate answer to these two questions which seem to me at least, to be pretty basic!)

It seems that these Health Checks for parents who were receiving certain government payments have been around and included in the health budget for some time now. Parents were not using them though so the government has decided to make them mandatory. Unfortunately however, neither the government nor the Department of Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (who is administering this policy) have considered the implications of this potentially quite discriminatory policy. To me, this policy resembles the Northern Territory’s aboriginal intervention where a group is targeted due to their social or economic status and – due to the all-encompassing nature of the intervention – will help some but may harm others who are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Aside from the issues of religious freedom which must take precedence over government requirements such as this, there are the following points which will need to be addressed:

What if a parent brings their child to see the doctor and for whatever reason (the child is unvaccinated, he or she is being raised a vegetarian, the mother home-birthed or is using extended breastfeeding etc.) the doctor does not agree with the parenting of this particular child. What is in place to stop this doctor from stating that they feel this is an at-risk child and the parents need to do what they are told (vaccinate, feed meat, stop breastfeeding, etc.)? What is to prevent this doctor from reporting the family to the  Department of Community Services (DOCs) since it only takes the word of one doctor to ruin a family forever and there have been many examples of this happening before. I have seen this happen without the backing of legislation – how much more likely is it to occur when the legislation is there and the parents are going to be forced to front up to a GP?

I asked the representative I spoke with this question. Her answer was that it would be unfortunate if such overzealous behaviour were to be displayed but that parents would need to seek out a doctor who agrees with their health and parenting philosophies and who they feel comfortable with. I told her that there are many doctors like this in Australia but that most of them have waiting lists of 6 months or more and some have even closed their books for new patients. She had no answer for this except to stress that parents needed to be cautious about who they choose to see.

She said a notification that a child is ‘at risk’ was supposed to only be for emergency situations, but you reading this and I know very well that there are some doctors out there who are so arrogant, they believe their opinions are the only ones that matter and parents who don’t listen to their advice are obviously not doing the best by their children so those children need to be taken away.

The representative suggested that I read through the various Health Department Charters and the Charters on Patient Rights which are available in each state. I now have a list of willing volunteers who I hope to put to work doing just that this week to see if there is any information that can be used to help protect families against any of these abuses by the medical profession. The best result, however, would be to overturn this legislation and get rid of the legal requirement for families to take their children for these health checks.

Below is a link to a flyer that has been prepared for parents by the government on the requirement to get this Health Check for your child. There are links to the legislation and the ‘template’ of questions that doctors will be asking parents on an earlier blog. Please consider sharing this blog with friends and family members and, when the facsimile letter has been finished, sending a copy off to the politicians noted as the more people who write, the greater the effect will be when we lobby Parliament next month.

health start



URGENT ACTION ALERT – preliminary – please share widely

I am hoping that everyone who reads this email will share with all of their friends and family. This is happening in Australia right now but it is planned for most Western nations down the track and if it is allowed to stand…well, that doesn’t really bear thinking about.


The Australian government has just instituted a requirement for all parents to bring their child into a GP for a health assessment. Compliance with this requirement will determine whether you do or you don’t get the family allowance. Letters are going out to parents this week – some have already been received.


Vaccination is a big part of this requirement and it is not impossible that doctors will deem unvaccinated children to be ‘at risk’ with an intervention such as forced vaccination or removal from families for these kids. Remember, Australia is the home of the Stolen Generation and that  happened because one group of people considered themselves to be experts in how children should be raised.


Next year, mental health assessments will be added to the mix – there are questions on here already in that regard but they are not required at this point. Imagine when they are, the number of children who will be medicated as a result! Please read this excellent blog for more information on this situation – Unfit Until Screening And Intervention Says Otherwise!


  • What if your primary care practitioner is not a GP? What if your health philosophy has indicated that mainstream medicine is not in your child’s best interests? What if you are a Christian Scientist whose religion says that you don’t see doctors?
  • Are there exemptions available for those who don’t normally see doctors? And if the doctor – whose philosophy and practices differ from you own – determines that your child is at risk, what are the potential outcomes?
  • Will breastfed babies be at risk because of their slower weight-gain as compared to those fed artificial breast milk (ABM?)


Will children who are not using full sentences at 3 years of age be labelled as developmentally delayed and forced into treatment even though a proportion of children at this age will not be speaking in sentences but will catch up later without intervention?


Will this one doctor’s word be taken as gospel even though his training does not give him any expertise in these areas (they are actually meant to assess the nutritional requirements of children when doctors learn almost nothing about nutrition in school).


It is hard to imagine anything good coming of this move and the downsides could be disastrous for many families who are not mainstream in their lifestyle and health choices. After all, the government is proposing a ‘report card’ on your parenting skills and if anyone wants to see a dysfunctional family – just watch question time in Parliament any day of the week when they are sitting! Who are they to try and tell us that our children are healthy or well-adjusted?


You can click here to download the letter that has been sent out. Please watch this space as we will be having an action alert in the next few days to get the ball rolling on overturning this requirement. This information needs to go viral – please forward as much as you can and you have my permission to post this to your blogs, websites or anywhere else you think it will be read by those who need to be aware.



Update August 10, 2011

Is Immunisation Child Protection?

“Similarly, anti vaccine campaigners have achieved prominence and influence in the media and political debate.4 Although mainstream trends promoting public consultation and professional accountability give some legitimacy to such individuals and groups, such public debate can become distorted and harmful to the interests of children.”

“The second parallel relates to the role of parents in protection of their children’s health and welfare. In general, society rightly entrusts the welfare of children— the future society—to parents, who have to bear the burden of care for bringing up children. …But as vulnerable and dependent individuals, children’s rights have to be protected ultimately by the state in its parens patriae role. In some situations, the best interests of the child diverge from the views and actions of the parents, unless an extreme version of ethical relativism is accepted. In the case of a violent or neglectful parent, well defined mechanisms are in place to protect the child. But should the same principle pertain to parents who refuse immunisation and thereby fail to take the necessary action to protect their children from preventable and potentially serious infection? Does the failure to immunise a child against a serious infection with a safe vaccine constitute child abuse? Should the state intervene to ensure children are protected from serious infectious diseases?”

My comment:

A scary article from a scary new feature on the ‘decade of vaccinations’ in the latest Lancet (freely available on registration). Entitled, Is Immunisation Child Protection? It attempts to justify taking this decision away from parents ‘for the child’s protection’. What else can we extend this same strategy to? Education as the government wants? Religious instruction or lack of thereof? Nutrition according to some multinational corporation’s food pyramid with sugar, fat and excess salt at the top and fresh fruits and vegetables nonexistent? One has to wonder where this will end and what will cause the population to finally revolt against this erosion of our rights to choose. If not now, then when?

Antidepressant Use Up Among Undiagnosed Americans

Antidepressants are increasingly prescribed for people who have not been diagnosed with an actual psychiatric disorder, according to a new study that raises questions about whether or not the drugs are being prescribed inappropriately or too often.

According to the new study, published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs, nearly three-quarters of prescriptions written for antidepressants in 2007 came from non-psychiatrists, up from 60 percent a decade earlier.

Notably, the percentage of patients prescribed antidepressants without having been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition more than doubled during that period — up from 2.5 to more than 6 percent of visits to non-psychiatrist providers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, antidepressants are now among the top three classes of medications prescribed in the U.S.

My comment:

This situation is paralleled within Australia. Aside from the fact that antidepressants seem to be handed out as though they were lollies, our own government’s advisors on mental health are now being cited for their close financial ties to the companies that produce these drugs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why these prescriptions are so popular? When those who the government trusts to write its prescribing policy are being paid by the companies whose drugs they are meant to evaluate, it is no wonder that so many Australians are also being prescribed antidepressants off-label.

Marie McCormick’s IOM Remarks Leave A Bitter Taste

Why does Marie McCormick – former chair of the panel that produced the botched IOM report claiming vaccines do not cause autism – currently serve as co-chair of the “Vaccine Safety Working Group” of the National Vaccine Advisory Council? Her past remarks should disqualify her from serving on any committees concerned with vaccine regulation as illustrated by the following examples retrieved from the leaked transcripts of the January 12, 2001 closed session of the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine at the National Academies Building in Washington DC.

Here is a comment she made in 2001, justifying a preconceived conclusion about autism and vaccines:

“What I am trying to get at is, do we want to simply, on our gut, say looking at the significance of the wild disease that you are protecting, and the seriousness and potential association with the vaccine — because we are not ever going to come down that it [autism] is a true side effect — is that going to be sufficient for you to judge public health impact?” (p. 97)

My comment:

Well, there you have it. The person who has already said that they will NEVER look at or find a link between vaccination and autism is now the co-chair of a group that is supposed to make sure that vaccines are safe and free of side effects. If any of you out there have a hen house, I think I can find a fox to guard it for you…








Forced Vaccinations: Musings on what the road to Hell is paved with – update

Today’s guest blogger is the incredibly prolific Sandy Gottstein of Vaccination News. I have been blessed to have known Sandy for many years though we have never actually met in person. Her Scandals columns are renowned for their no BS approach to vaccination and health issues and for their investigations into how we have been kept in the dark in regards to many issues which affect our health and our freedom.

The article below struck me as particularly apt for what is happening in Australia today in regards to actions that are occurring that threaten our right to freedom of vaccination and health choice.

For an archive of all past Vaccination News Scandals columns, please click here. Sandy’s writings will provide you with an education on just why forced vaccination and medication will always be immoral and unethical.

Forced Vaccinations: Musings on what the road to Hell is paved with

by Sandy Gottstein

It’s been more than two years since parents were threatened with fines and/or jail in Maryland and elsewhere if they didn’t vaccinate.  And now we have the news about the snatching of an unvaccinated, home-schooled child from an airplane by the Swedish government as the family was about to move to India, as well as a Christian sect in Malawi barricading itself against being forced to vaccinate their children against measles.

Clearly, until and unless we support organizations that support our rights as parents, we are all at risk.  In honor of the launching of the first “American Rally for Personal Rights”, I resubmit the following ever timely column, originally posted in 2007:

Call me naive, but I don’t think that most people who unquestioningly promote vaccination as the end-all and be-all of preventive health care are evil or have evil intent.  In fact, other than a possible select few, I think most ardent vaccine supporters honestly believe they are helping humanity.

Perhaps they are. And if properly designed studies ever are conducted, time will tell.

Regardless of their intent, however, I do not view their unwavering support as benign, fair-minded or responsible.

For as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

In the past week, pavement of that road has appeared to bring us closer than ever to that wretched place.  I am referring, of course, to recent efforts to force vaccination in Maryland by threatening parents with jail.

There are so many aspects of this story that are alarming; it is hard to know where to begin.  But let me start with what I once said in a speech from which I will be quoting: “We parents deserve the right to choose what we feel is best for the children we love, and for whom we are responsible.  No one else will be expected to care for our children if the vaccines or diseases maim them.  No one else’s heart will be broken like ours if they are killed or otherwise harmed.”

No one, indeed.

Of course, the all-trusting supporters of vaccination will argue that vaccine damage is minimal and that the benefits outweigh the risks.  But as anyone who has read my column knows, from what I can tell and have provided credible evidence for, those studies that purport to show zero to minimal damage are based on flawed research, which includes, in part 1) improper comparisons between vaccinated groups and the failure to include any never-vaccinated people as controls, 2) outright dismissal of virtually all anecdotal and other evidence, as well as failure to properly follow up on any of it, and 3) dismissal of biological evidence in support of damage claims.

But even if vaccines had been genuinely shown to be mostly safe, there are some very insidious things going on here.  As the National Vaccine Information Center has aptly warned, “If it happens to your child, the risks are 100%”.  Thus, implied in the argument that damage is minimal is a dismissal of the harm done to some children.  I would submit that the amount of harm vaccines do is unknown.  But even if it were small, the implication is that vaccine damage or death is less important than disease damage or death, or that all that matters is sheer numbers.  And although most would not say this directly, also implied is that vaccine-harmed children are less important than disease-harmed ones.

Vaccine-damaged children are also often treated like drafted casualties in our war against disease.  It is as if being drafted for this purpose is inherently a good thing, an honorable thing, that vaccine risk is obviously a risk well worth taking.  Even if it were a good thing, however, isn’t it a risk that the parents of the potentially damaged child should be allowed to take?  Is it right to force vaccinations on anyone? Does the end justify the means?

And isn’t the very subtle implication that only death or harm from disease is “bad”;  that death or harm from a vaccine is somehow okay or “good”, because it is in support of the “cause” of  “public health”?

Also implied in the argument that it is okay to force vaccination is the notion that “you”, an unwilling vaccine participant, should be forced to vaccinate your child(ren) to protect “my” (the one who seeks protection) child(ren) from disease.  There are two major problems with this argument.  First, why should someone be required to risk their child for another?  What makes the child being “protected” more important than the “protector”?

Second, if the vaccines work, anyone choosing them will be protected.  If they don’t prevent the spread of the disease to the vaccinated, why are we vaccinating?  It hardly seems right that those who don’t want to be vaccinated should have vaccination forced on them because vaccines don’t always work.

And to whatever extent vaccines are being required because the ‘immune suppressed’ cannot be vaccinated, and are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of disease, while my heart goes out to such people, they are not more important than children who are harmed by vaccines.  Nor should the notion that vaccination may in itself be creating immune suppression be left out of this equation.

Besides there is documented proof of outbreaks in 100% vaccinated populations.

The irony is, of course, that even if they don’t recognize it, those who support forcing vaccination are doing so precisely because they don’t believe in the effectiveness of vaccines.

Moreover, where is the sense of history, the recognition that medicine as practiced and promoted has often been found to be lacking or even just plain, dead wrong?

But even if we were to assume virtually 100% effectiveness and safety of vaccines, is forcing vaccines in a free society ever justified?  As I said in that speech, “I also consider any notion of ‘public health’ to be suspect, which sacrifices the individual to some alleged higher goal.  Many of us find it way scarier that the state would sacrifice children to someone’s idea of the common good, than to take our chances with Mother Nature.  Who decides?  What’s the right number?  Who’s counting?  Even in wartime, the draft of adults is only used very judiciously and sparingly.  We also go to considerable effort to avoid enemy civilian casualties.  Yet we seem to think nothing of sacrificing our own innocent children.”

Our brave soldiers have fought and died, and will continue to fight and die, in order to protect us from tyranny which threatens our freedom and way of life, including what the Declaration of Independence “hold(s) to be self-evident”, the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“.

Do we really want to force vaccination and violate this most basic American right?  Do we really want to pave that road?

by Sandy Gottstein

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), paraphrasing John Philpot Curran (1808)

June 17, 2010

Vaccination backlash or the rise of vaccination education?

If anyone thinks after reading this that Paul Offit isn’t pushing an evil policy, re-read the last paragraph in this piece – “Offit suggests one way to raise vaccination rates is to make it harder for people not to get themselves or their children vaccinated. This could mean, for example, attending educational classes that teach the public what the safety profiles of different vaccines are, before they are allowed to opt out of vaccination. “You have to convince people that a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice; it’s just a choice to take a different risk.” ”

What he is talking about is re-education – the same re-education that was described in the excellent novella – the Children’s Story (by the same person who wrote Shogun – James Clavell). He is describing a process whereby the government takes what they consider to be wrong-thinking people and forces them to change their thinking by re-educating them along government lines. This was done in China, in the Soviet Union’s Gulag and in many other places in just about every Communist or fascist regime.  Brainwashing is another name for this tactic and it is insidious. Considering its use in a democratic, informed nation is no more than a pathetic attempt to take back the power over our health and lives that Western medicine sees slipping away.

And once again, calling people anti-vaccine for being pro-choice is nothing more than an attempt to disempower the message and denigrate the messenger without ever dealing with the facts. Because when you do actually expose the facts about vaccination, you learn that the scientific literature shows very clearly that:

1- Vaccines cannot immunise – anyone who is vaccinated can still be susceptible to the disease they are supposedly protected against.
2- Vaccines cannot prevent the spread of disease – even if you yourself are not susceptible to an illness, you can still be an asymptomatic carrier who can spread the illness to others.
3- Vaccines cause harm to a significant subset of people and there is absolutely no way of knowing who will be harmed in advance. Way back in 1982 on the video DPT: Vaccination Roulette, a scientist with the US Bureau of Biologics stated that it was his opinion that everyone who was vaccinated was harmed in some way. Vaccine injuries and deaths are very real – they are simply not acknowledged. For many, vaccination is nothing more than a game of Russian Roulette where anywhere from only one to all six of the revolver’s chambers contain live bullets.
4- Vaccine science is non-existent. Without the use of a true control group (eg one that is given a totally inert placebo or one that is completely unvaccinated) to compare the vaccinated cohort to, any statements about vaccine safety or effectiveness is conjecture – not fact.

There are so many other points, but one thing is patently obvious – the ANTI-CHOICE, ANTI-SCIENCE lobby is running scared. They are seeing that more and more people are questioning the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and the only way they know how to fight back is by doing the same thing they have done for years – trying to shoot the messenger to stop the message.

This backlash against the PRO-CHOICE, PRO-SCIENCE movement is a sign that we are being really, really effective – we have touched a nerve. Every attack against one of our organisations is a badge of honour, a purple heart to be worn with pride. We are wounding those who are trying to keep us from researching this subject and helping the parents of the world to make the best possible choices for their families – whatever those choices may be.

So take heart! When the Lancet uses language like this, when Offit’s strident whining becomes so high-pitched it can shatter a glass over the internet, we are winning. These are the death-throes of the behemoth that we call Western Medicine. It is my hope that, when we come out at the other end of this fight for health choice, we will find ourselves with an integrative form of healing that takes in many different modalities with none of them holding a monopoly, and respect for everyone who makes a personal informed choice for their family and themselves.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Arthur Schopenhauer
German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9719, Pages 970 – 971, 20 March 2010

Experts concerned about vaccination backlash

Priya Shetty
Public health professionals are worried about the increasingly vocal anti-vaccination lobby in the USA and other western countries and their effect on immunisations globally. Priya Shetty reports.

Vaccination was one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Its success might now be its undoing, however. Around the world, vaccination rates are dropping, and the unthinkable is happening: children are dying from childhood diseases like measles and pertussis.

This fall in immunisation has coincided with an increasingly vocal anti-vaccination movement. Public health now seems more at threat than ever by anti-vaccination messages, and the reluctance to vaccinate has been affecting rates of uptake for other vaccines such as that for influenza A H1N1. Health experts are now faced with the daunting challenge of fighting these groups.

Anti-vaccination groups have been around for as long as the practice of vaccination has. Arguably, health watchdogs and critics are a vital part of checks and balances on the medical industry. But scientists are starting to become increasingly concerned about the medical misinformation that some groups are spreading.

Organisations such as the US National Vaccine Information Centre (NVIC), the Coalition for SafeMinds, and Know Vaccines, either oppose universal vaccination (on the basis that “all children are different”) or emphasise the parents’ right to choose whether their children are vaccinated. In a statement on the website of the NVIC, one of the biggest groups in the USA, its co-founder Barbara Loe Fisher says: “If the State can tag, track down and force citizens against their will to be injected with biologicals of unknown toxicity today, there will be no limit on which individual freedoms the State can take away in the name of the greater good tomorrow.”

Many groups use as ammunition alleged links between vaccines and diseases such as autism, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis. “At the heart of the anti-vaccine movement is the notion that we are merely substituting infectious diseases with chronic diseases”, says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PA, USA, and co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine.

Offit is one of several scientists who told The Lancet that anti-vaccination groups are unequivocally threatening public health, the evidence of which is the re-emergence of diseases that medical science had once beaten. “In 2008, we had a measles epidemic in the USA that was bigger than anything we had had in a decade, and that epidemic owed directly to the fact that some children had not been vaccinated. The parents were more afraid of the vaccine than they were of the disease, as a direct result of misinformation by anti-vaccine websites”, says Offit. Recent outbreaks of pertussis and haemophilus influenza B in undervaccinated communities in parts of the USA have resembled outbreaks from the prevaccine era, he says.

The geographical spread of people who refuse to vaccinate is important, says Saad Omer, assistant professor of global health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA. If these people are uniformly spread out across an area, then the herd immunity stays intact. “However, our group and others have shown that vaccine refusal clusters geographically (and perhaps in social networks). Anti-vaccination groups often ‘think globally but act locally.’ Therefore, even if only ten of 100 people refuse vaccines but most of them live in the same neighbourhood, the likelihood of outbreaks increases due to local breakdown of herd immunity”, says Omer.

The movement has tended to be most active against childhood vaccines, with the most forceful rhetoric coming from parents who say that they do not want to expose their children to “unnecessary toxins”. One in eight American parents has refused at least one vaccine recommended for their children by their family doctor, according to a study published in Pediatrics this month, which surveyed more than 1500 parents of children aged 17 years or younger. But the reluctance to vaccinate is now permeating other areas of health.

According to the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID), anti-vaccination messages have partly been responsible for the poor uptake of the H1N1 vaccine. As each influenza season progresses, “we don’t know whether the virus will stay the same”, says Giuseppe Cornaglia, former president of ESCMID, now at the Department of Pathology, University of Verona, Italy. “Because many people who could have been immunised haven’t had the vaccine, we are going to be starting from scratch”, he says.

Anti-vaccination groups have also affected the way governments responded to the pandemic, says Tevi Troy, the previous Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. “The US decision not to use adjuvants, which effectively expands the supply of the vaccines, stemmed in part from concerns about how the anti-vaccine groups would have reacted to adjuvants. This could have been a problem had the H1N1 outbreak been more severe”, he says.

However ludicrous some of the anti-vaccination messages might seem to scientists, it is hard to deny that they do hold some traction with the public. Complacency about infectious diseases in the developed world, born out of the enormous success of vaccination, might be one explanation. “As the rate of illness goes down, and people mostly encounter real or perceived vaccine associated adverse events (instead of disease), there is a change in mental calculus in terms of benefit versus risk of vaccines”, says Omer.

The internet, and the forums and social networking sites it has spawned, has allowed anti-vaccination advocacy and influence to permeate deeper than ever. For example, says Omer, “a few years ago, vaccine-related rumours would be restricted to certain (mostly developed) countries. However, now a viral video made by a vaccine opponent in California can end up being discussed in an Indian web forum.”

The increase in anti-vaccination advocacy dovetails with a growing public mistrust of science that in recent years has manifested against genetically modified food, stem cells, and, most recently, climate change.

At last month’s yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ralph Cicerone, president of the US National Academy of Sciences, told delegates that recent controversies over climate change had damaged public faith in science. “There has been a widespread deterioration in the public’s attitude to science not only in the US but in many other countries in the past 3 months”, said Cicerone.

Against this background, global health experts are trying to ensure that people in developing countries can access life-saving vaccines.

Does anti-vaccination advocacy exist in these countries? “Unfortunately yes”, says Omer. “However, they are relatively less organised. Often there are entities that are organised for a different reason but end up providing a platform for opposing vaccines eg, religious and political groups in Nigeria.”

ESCMID’s Cornaglia says he is “seriously scared” about the prospect that anti-vaccination groups will take hold in the developing world. “Vaccines are the best weapon we have for the future.”

Not everyone shares this view. Offit still believes that there is much more public appreciation of vaccines in the developing world. Offit remembers taking the rotavirus vaccine to Nicaragua, and says “it was remarkable how happy people were to get a vaccine to prevent a common cause of diarrhoea and dehydration, and, at least in the developing world, death.”
Cornaglia was ESCMID’s communication officer at one time, and he believes that health agencies such as ESCMID and WHO “have to change their communication style”. “They have to address public health professionals like physicians and nurses, because if we don’t convince them, then we cannot convince the lay public at all”, he says.

“Public-health messages should be simple, honest and straightforward.” Sending a clear message, however scientifically erroneous it might be, is how the anti-vaccination movement scored big with H1N1, he says. Their message was simply: “vaccines are the devil”.

The anti-vaccination lobby has become so highly organised, says Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, UK, that “they do pose a threat and need to be taken seriously. NVIC in the USA now has a yearly conference and is becoming a kind of institution…They are not amateurs—they are making careers out of this.”

Like Cornaglia, Finn says that the anti-vaccination lobby’s communication skills have a lot to do with their influence. “They, unlike most doctors and scientists, are always willing to talk to the media and are good at doing it.”

Offit suggests one way to raise vaccination rates is to make it harder for people not to get themselves or their children vaccinated. This could mean, for example, attending educational classes that teach the public what the safety profiles of different vaccines are, before they are allowed to opt out of vaccination. “You have to convince people that a choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice; it’s just a choice to take a different risk.”

AMA – Hypocrisy defined


AMA meeting: No flu shot mandate for doctors; hand sanitizer pushed

The AMA will study if there’s any benefit from requiring all health professionals to receive influenza vaccine.

The AMA House of Delegates rejected a proposal to mandate vaccinations for health care professionals but approved other policy to prevent the spread of seasonal flu and influenza A(H1N1).

A resolution by the Infectious Diseases Society of America said the AMA should back universal seasonal and H1N1 flu immunizations unless health professionals have medical contraindications or religious objections. In October, New York state announced that it was requiring all health professionals to get the H1N1 immunization, but the mandate was suspended later that month due to vaccine shortages.