Last week in an article published by the Daily Telegraph (yes, the same newspaper that started the “No Jab, No Play” compulsory vaccination campaign and has close financial ties to Glaxo Smithkline and other vaccine manufacturers), Dr Richard Di Natale claimed that he had received abusive messages from members of the AVN. We do not dispute that abusive messages were sent to Senator Di Natale, but we absolutely do dispute that these messages would have been sent by AVN members. As always, when we ask our members to participate in letter-writing campaigns, we ask them to send copies of their letters through to our office. Below are the letters we have received. Though many of them are forthright and ALL of them are articulate and intelligent (as we have come to expect from our members), not one of them could be considered to be abusive in any way!
My name is XXX XXX and while I have not become a member of the Greens, I certainly vote for your party, and have done for all of the elections I have been eligible. I have been raised historically left-wing in my politics, and yet Labor does not attract me as a political force. Your party and its commitment to social justice, awareness and respect for people of varying opinion, and protection of those otherwise unable to protect themselves…in fact championing the cause of the disenfranchised, is what brings me to support your cause.
I am a Chiropractor and I believe I have a great deal of experience and knowledge regarding the health sciences. I have strong awareness of research methodology, and the merits of the scientific method – that of not taking hypothesis as fact – of testing hypothesis exhaustively in an effort to disprove, and thence to progress knowledge. I also understand the influence that both industry and the media can have on the political process.
An issue close to my heart, and one to which I have devoted a great deal of study, is that of vaccination. And recent events, particularly a speech by Senator Di Natale, the apparent policy position of the Australian Greens he has advocated through said speech, and the resulting motion passed by the Australian Senate worry me on a range of levels. I will acknowledge immediately that my well-researched personal opinion is that vaccination is not the public health achievement that it is lauded as (and I’m happy to explain this at a future time if you would like to know why), but nonetheless I would hope very much that you will engage with me in an open way as to your opinions and the basis for those opinions. I seek in this correspondence to have a balanced, unemotional debate because I feel the very fabric of why I vote for your party and the respect I hold for the tenets of your party is/are being challenged. Please note, that while I am personally very much anti-vaccination, I deeply respect everyone’s right to their opinion, and all I ask is that people fully inform themselves of the evidence, and that whatever decision they then choose is theirs alone, and should be respected and not denigrated or discriminated against as a result. No judgement here, if someone chooses to vaccinate after undertaking such investigation.
The Greens have always respected and protected the right to free speech, and as per the text of Senator Di Natale’s speech, it would appear that he shares a deep commitment to this fundamental right. Historically the Greens have also been instrumental in supporting the rights of people to conscientiously object to procedures or events that they may feel infringe upon their rights as sovereign individuals, particularly in the realm of medical or other health interventions. Your stance on so many aspects of life and liberty certainly make one presume this, and it is a clear reason why I vote for your party.
I would very much desire to enter into conversation with someone such as Senator Di Natale (whom I assume from his speech is very clearly a proponent of vaccination as a public health initiative) as to the relative merits of his versus my position. Perhaps we can both learn from such a discussion. I am not some ‘fringe’ element. I believe I have a great many questions that are valid; questions which go to the heart of the safety and efficacy claimed for vaccination programs around the world. It is of course these elements of the debate which allow the act of vaccination to be framed as for ‘the greater good of society.’ And the apparent loss of an individual’s right to dissent is disregarded and in fact guilt and blame are instead heaped on such people due to the concept of herd immunity and the threat that vaccinations are not effective unless everyone (relatively speaking) is vaccinated. The vehemence with which this issue is being explored right now, both here in Australia, but also around the world, is surely harmful and the debate would surely be served by a clearer enunciation of the differences both sides hold and the reasons why they hold them.
Unfortunately, it seems that the orthodoxy choose instead to ridicule, deride or attempt to gag such debate, or through their proxies engage in severe abuse of the people who hold an alternative view. This is just not right. No matter how strongly one holds an opinion; no matter what level of evidence one feels that one has, it does not justify anonymous pornographic and profane abuse or anonymous threats to life being sent or phoned throug to those you disagree with. While I’m not claiming that the Greens are intentionally doing this through proxy, the recent resolution, or more particularly the text of the concurrent speech suggests that as a party you are now wholly supporting this gag of debate, and publically supporting and lauding the perpetrators of said abuse. This is shameful. A more positive outcome would be to engage with the opposite side (which, despite suggestions to this effect, are NOT small-numbered or unlearned, and who run the gamut from parents that have suffered vaccine-damaged children, to a great many professionals including many within the orthodox medical community and academia) to identify why they hold such fears, and engage in the research that would either prove their worries inaccurate, or lead to improvement of the application of vaccination in such a way that it could reduce risks to the population.
The orthodox response, seemingly including that found in the Senator’s speech to Parliament can currently be characterised as the denial of risk, the trumpeting of apparent benefit (“medical miracle”), the attempt to stifle the conversation as ‘harmful’ or a ‘public nuisance’ or a ‘public risk’ and the demonising of the few who are willing to publically defend an alternative view and ask questions. This approach is scientifically inaccurate, unfair, inappropriate and seemingly deliberately deceptive. I am used to this from the vaccine industry, orthodox political medicine, and even the bureaucracy of governments espousing policy, but I expect greater from you. In your current role in the parliament, I see you as a foil for this, a power-block than can act as a check-and-balance and critically appraise any issue that comes before you. Indeed, in an ideal world I would expect this from any politician in a representative democracy, who in my view are charged with the responsibility to uphold and protect our society and investigate issues of public risk.
I am a member of the AVN, and I find that most of the statements made against the organisation are ill-informed at best, and downright libellous at worst. Rarely do people seek the AVN to comment before they make claims as to what the AVN stands for. On the rare occasion that comment is sought, such comment is usually ignored, or heavily edited to alter context and support the idea that the AVN is some ‘quack’ organisation. Whoever was responsible for briefing Senator Di Natale on this issue (or writing his speech if he did not do this himself) is clearly guilty of same.
Can I ask what you think is the benefit that Meryl Dorey gets from her position? Do you believe she does this for any purpose other than to passionately argue for a position that she strongly believes to be true? What gain can she receive from the hours and hours of volunteer work she puts in to defend the organisation she founded and the information and resources it provides? Why can people not congregate to support the many people who have been vaccine-damaged without fear of persecution from the very authorities they usually have blindly trusted with their children’s safety?
I am the first to admit that both sides of the debate have (and often still do) use emotive anecdotes to fuel the debate, and historically some of the sources relied upon have perhaps not been of the best quality. However I think it fair to say that many resources now relied upon to support many of the arguments raised by the anti-vaccination, and for that matter, the pro-informed choice camps are of very high quality. They are sources around the world from the peer-reviewed literature.
While I have a great many questions I would seek a response to (from someone opposing, hopefully without ridicule or derision) at another time if someone is willing to engage with me on the issues, the first is simply this: “Why is a small membership-only, volunteer-run community organisation public enemy number one? Why, when there is a plethora of other organisations, resources, internet sites etc both locally, and around the world that provide the same information? Why, if the orthodoxy is so confident about safety and efficacy is there such an apparent fear to engage in the debate, and instead belittle and demonize their opponents?”
Members and Senators of the Australian Greens, and in particular, Senators Milne and Di Natale, I appreciate your willingness to read this letter (if indeed you have not delegated it to a staffer); I appreciate your time. I hope to have some honest debate and not ‘sound-bite’ replies.
Yours, with respect and in anticipation of your reply…
B.App.Sc.(Comp.Med.)(Chiro.) M.Clin.Chiro.(RMIT University)
As an addendum to this letter, I have dissected the Senator’s speech for what I believe to be significant inaccuracies, and I would appreciate clarification on the source of said statements (if you feel it is my right to ask for such). Please, all Greens senators read this and think about the ramifications of the comments I have made. Thank you in advance.
Senator DI NATALE(Victoria) (23:15):
I rise to address an issue of vital importance to the health of the Australian community, the issue of vaccination. As a former doctor and public health professional, I find it hard to overstate the importance of vaccines to public health. Alongside measures such as access to clean water, sanitation and improved air quality, vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions in human history.
= Such statements are commonly made with little to no attempt to support them. Can you provide support for such statements? This assumes that safety and efficacy data are accurate, which I dispute.
Indeed, it is hard to overstate the importance of vaccines in terms of the human suffering they have prevented. As many as half a billion people died from smallpox in the 20th century. This century, the death toll is zero. That is because a program of vaccination completely eradicated smallpox by 1979. The eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest achievements of science but just one example of what this life-saving technology has achieved for humankind. = Why is it that you can claim prevention through vaccination when you have not assessed general health status of populations, whether populations were exposed to the causative organism at all, whether populations provided the other public health interventions you describe above but not vaccination were similarly protected? There seems to be blind faith that the vaccination program was the primary factor, with little evidence to support this claim. Such statements are made often without critically appraising their basis.
Australia in particular is a vaccination success story. = What is your response to the mortality statistics that have been provided by a range of authors in Australia and elsewhere, based on solid data from the departments of health and other relevant bodies? The evidence that clearly shows little impact of illness decline after the introduction of vaccines.
The first vaccine was used here as far back as 1804, which was a smallpox vaccine. Since then, more and more vaccines have become routinely used. Tetanus, diphtheria and polio were early successes. We have had a measles vaccine since 1969 and a mumps vaccine since 1981. All of these potentially life-threatening conditions are now rare, but not unheard of, in this country. = Are they truly life-threatening if children are appropriately supported, nourished, healthy, and if parents are adequately taught how to improve lifestyle to significantly reduce indicidence or severity. Immune status of the child is critical here, surely you would agree?
Children born in Australia today are protected from many more diseases, from chickenpox to human papillomavirus, thanks to safe and affordable vaccines. = If you look at the history of chicken pox, it is NOT a serious disease, especially in the context outlined in my comment immediately above. HPV protection, assuming 100% sero-conversion and a true immune response on exposure (usually many years after vaccination, when they become sexually active) is only for 4 strains…of how many exactly? It is deceptive statements like this that reinforce the public perception that they are fully protected when they are not. Some authors have suggested this in turn can modify more appropriate protective behaviours ‘when the time comes’ because of being lulled into this false sense of security.
In other countries, families are still suffering the costs of many of these preventable diseases. = True. And what are we doing in those countries to markedly improve sanitation, refridgeration, food quality, water quality, education, life-stress associated with work load, poverty etc?
Everyone should have the same protection that Australian children do. That is why it is so important that Australia continues to provide generous support to organisations such as the GAVI Alliance, which are committed to saving the lives of the millions of children in developing countries who lack access to the vaccines we take for granted.
Indeed, vaccination has been such a success in Australia that a strange thing has happened. We have started to forget what it is like to suffer from the preventable infections we fought so hard to conquer. Few parents today have had the experience of watching a child with measles develop complications that become a life-threatening condition. = Once again, such complications arise in immunocompromised individuals, in part because parents no longer have the knowledge and skills or resources described above.
We are spared the horror of watching a child with whooping cough turn blue and suffer a seizure from a coughing fit. = Actually, we are in the midst of the highest indcidence of whooping couch outbreaks in many years, so parents are not being spared this horror – and this despite incredibly high rates of pertussis vaccination – certainly much higher than rates in the past when outbreaks have occurred (maybe herd immunity over time needs higher and higher percentages of the population covered to actually work?). There are valid hypotheses out there that Parapertussis may be causing many of these cases, which is not vaccinated for, and mimics clinical signs and symptoms of pertussis.
We no longer encounter people on a daily basis whose limbs have been twisted by paralytic poliomyelitis. = Have you been advised of the reports of polio that have occurred as a result of polio vaccination programs in India? Do you know the history of the Salk and Sabin solutions, and the slow reaction times in changing which got administered despite the number of people that contracted Polio as a result? Again, the time when Polio was rampant was economically and socially depressed with much lower quality of life.
As these horrors have faded from daily life, we should be celebrating the life-saving innovation that has saved us and our kids from death and disease. Instead, there are people who now question the usefulness of vaccination itself. = Only because the quality and design of the supportive research is so clearly lacking. A temporal association with vaccination programs and disease incidence reduction is CLEARLY not proof of cause and effect. Anyone who argues differently doesn’t quite understand the scientific method of enquiry.
The AVN, the Australian Vaccination Network—misleadingly named—founded in 1994, have styled themselves as providers of vaccine information. = Why misleading? The group is Australian. It is a community network of members. They discuss the topic of vaccination.
In fact, their mission is to deter parents from getting their children vaccinated. = This is clearly an abuse of parliamentary privilege. Read the purpose of the organisation on their website. It’s about providing information that is, yes, exposing and highlighting the potential risks associated with vaccination because the government and GP’s have chosen to abrogate their responsibility to do so. So much for informed consent when you intentionally design your ‘information’ materials to minimise notification of risk, or avoid it completely.
They accomplish their mission by sowing fear and doubt in the minds of parents who have young kids, and by dressing it up in the language of science. = What is this statement? It is inappropriate to present material from scientific journals that questions the blind faith of government policy, which the government actively suppresses?
They pretend to be neutral providers of information to allow parents to make a choice, but in reality they are fiercely anti vaccine. =Individuals within the organisation are definitely fiercely anti-vaccine, all with good reason (many with vaccine-damaged children) – but all adhere to the principle of allowing anyone to make their own choice. But expectant within this is the idea that people will actually do their own research and not blindly follow policies informed by questionable pharmaceutical company research and a TGA that earns its existence through licensing fees levied on said companies. An organisation that no longer has funding to do any of its own independent research.
The claims made by the AVN, and particularly by their founder, Ms Meryl Dorey, beggar belief. Despite being corrected numerous times by health professionals, scientists and so on, they continue to propagate outright myths about vaccines and their safety. They say that the MMR vaccine causes autism, a claim they know has been thoroughly and comprehensively debunked. = No. It is not claimed that it causes Autism. It is claimed that it MAY. And the research you claim has been thoroughly and comprehensively debunked was a single case study (on the link between gut disease and regressive autism) that ALSO did not claim a causal link, but suggested a possible link, and asked for further research to be undertaken. Around the world, the actual findings of the case report HAVE been replicated – purely that a then-novel (now, no longer novel) form of gut disease is linked to regression.
They claim links between vaccines and sudden infant death syndrome. = Have you looked at the preliminary data collected by PhD researcher Viera Schiebner, that no one was willing to further research?Have you looked at the marked decrease in cot death in Japan when they raised vaccination age to 2?
They claim HPV does not cause cancer but that vaccines do. They are on the record claiming that the vaccine against pertussis, or whooping cough, is not safe and has not been tested. The list goes on.
As well as making false claims about vaccines, Ms Dorey and the AVN make even more ludicrous claims about the diseases they were designed to prevent. They dispute the harms of dangerous childhood diseases in order to downplay the benefits of a vaccine. = Please. Look at the many, many definitions and prognoses about Chicken Pox as a prime example in medical literature and text-books, before someone designed a vaccine for it. Not serious. Benign illness in most children. And those that it is serious in? The immunocompromised who should not receive the vaccine anyway.
One especially preposterous example is the claim that measles is beneficial to children, making them more robust and leading to growth spurts. Ms Dorey has claimed that the word measles in Sanskrit means ‘gift from a goddess’ and has publicised a book called Melanie’s Marvellous Measles that downplays the dangers of this disease. = One of many books for sale, that present a range of views, and are not necessarily the views of Ms Dorey or the AVN! Just SLIGHTLY a leap to make here, Senator.
Mr President, as a doctor I can inform the Senate that measles is not a magical gift from Mother Nature. It is a virus that damages the human body and has the potential for serious and sometimes fatal complications. In 2001 the World Health Organization estimated 158,000 deaths from this disease. It is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. To suggest that a parent should deliberately expose their child to this disease is reckless. Measles is dangerous and it can be fatal.
= “Potential” “Sometimes” “Can be” Please see earlier comments on quality of life measures. I would argue that obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a GREAT many more chronic preventable illnesses are FAR more ‘leading’, certainly in terms of population involved around the world. 158,000 of the world population is really a PRETTY small figure in this context.
When concerned citizens seek to shine a light on the absurd beliefs of the AVN their reactions are telling. Doctors are called ‘killers’ and ‘terrorists’, and vaccinations are likened to rape by the AVN. To silence critics they take out apprehended violence orders. = This sounds like it has come direct from the people you laud below. If you investigate the matter in any depth you’ll find that the harmful bullying tactics, are actually being perpertrated by the people you are grateful to below.
And when tragedies have occurred that put the lie to their nonsensical claims, they have gone so far as to harass grieving parents. Ms Dorey is alleged to have called Chris Kokogei, whose child died of chickenpox, and said that his child died because his child was weak. In 2009 Dana McCaffery, the daughter of David and Toni McCaffery, tragically died from a whooping cough infection. Incredibly, in response to this tragedy, Ms Dorey went as far as to contact the New South Wales director of the public health to dispute the cause of death and ask for confidential medical information. = It would be wonderful if, before you make such claims in parliament, you read her side of this story. She’s written a number of detailed blogs on the events in question, and the story is far from as clear as you claim.
When the story became public the McCafferys had to endure months of harassment from the AVN and had to endure watching Dorey go on TV denying a child could die of whooping cough and accusing them of turning Dana into a martyr. = Can you show the months of harassment? Noone in the AVN has ever seen any. None has ever been produced. A beat up perhaps to gain emotional support from the broader community?
Fortunately, there are people in the community fighting against the harmful and bullying tactics of the AVN. In response to this disgraceful harassment of the McCafferys, the group Stop the AVN was formed with the purpose of combating the dangerous campaign. I am grateful to people like Daniel Raffaele, Peter Bowditch, Ken McLeod and others who have endured the harassment of Ms Dorey and her followers, but they do it in order to save other parents the unending pain and heartache that they themselves have had to endure. = This paragraph suggests the source of your speech. Please understand these are actually the people perpetrating harassment, leaving disgusting answering machine messages, sending pornography, and many, many similar acts. The AVN doesn’t, hasn’t and won’t!
Dana McCaffery was too young to receive the whooping cough vaccine. She died, though, because the vaccination rate in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales where she was born is alarmingly low, at only 70 per cent. When you reach a threshold level the conditions for an outbreak occur. The virus was only able to survive and thrive in that community because vaccination rates were so low. = Really? Herd immunity. There is no discussion of vaccine shedding from those who have been vaccinated, and the potential for infection of babies and youngsters, again, because people assume that once vaccinated, they and the people they come into contact with are safe. No discussion of efficacy and sero-conversion. No discussion about fully vaccinated populations that experience outbreaks.
And this is the very area where the AVN is strongest and where they are based. Such are the consequences of an irresponsible campaign based on fear and lies.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to complete the catalogue of crimes against reason and common decency perpetrated by this group. I do not know what motivates them. I imagine that they are sincere, but they are misguided, probably due to some combination of superstition, paranoia and scientific illiteracy. = How offensive can you manage to be in one single statement? I think you will find that all of the people who make the decision not to vaccinate have done a great deal of research. It is the remainder of the population that due to THEIR scientific illiteracy, rely on doctors and governments to provide truthful information.
All of that can be forgiven, but the tactics they have used to spread their message of fear and doubt to unsuspecting parents are abhorrent. = Nice use of emotive language! Abhorrent how, exaxtly?
It is true that we do enjoy freedom of speech in this country, and I am a fierce defender of that freedom. But because of the potential for harm we have rules about misleading medical claims, we regulate medicines and we regulate doctors.
In the case of the AVN, that regulation is not working. = The AVN is not a medicine or a doctor. Hence the HCCC embarrassingly lost their case in NSW for investigating the organisation outside their scope. And despite this, they are so focussed on ‘winning’ they had the law changed to increase their scope! One organisation. Despite a GREAT many on the internet and around the world offering similar information. Are you next going to expect that claims made by other community-based advocacy organisations all be vetted and controlled? Where is the logical end of your argument here?
For instance, among the many complaints directed against Ms Dorey and her group, the TGA ordered her to retract claims about a dodgy cancer cure called ‘black salve’ but she has not done that—in violation of the TGA order.
Well-meaning parents in this country who, in good faith, search for information on vaccines are confronted with AVN propaganda. Without knowing the background, it is difficult for them to weigh the credibility of this information against the medical literature.= Would that be the medical literature supportive of your position or the great deal of medical literature that case doubt on your position?
It is no wonder that some parents are deciding to delay or forgo vaccination, but that could be a fatal decision. For that reason, the AVN need to be held to account. I condemn them, the Australian Greens condemn them and the Australian Senate condemns them.