Meryl Dorey’s ABC of immunisation incentive lies

On Friday November 15th after Nicola Roxon and Jenny Macklin announced the Stronger Immunisation Incentives reform, Meryl Dorey went on a lying frenzy.

First up was ABC 612 Mornings programme with Terri Begley. You can listen in the player below or download the audio here.

Let’s deal with Dorey’s second lie first. That Nicola Roxon’s media release makes no mention of Conscientious Objectors. This is also being propagated on the AVN’s Yahoo! email list as “despicable” on the part of Nicola Roxon. There’s “no mention” of it cries another AVN member whilst yet another writes authoritatively:

That exemption is rendered effectively unavailable to all those parents who hear, officially or semi-officially, only that there is no exemption, as is implicit in Dr Roxon’s media release, which is therefore highly deceptive.

Highly deceptive? Implicit in Dr. Roxon’s media release? [R]endered effectively unavailable? What planet are these people on? You can read the release in my prior post in PDF (on page 2) or visit the Health Ministers web page here. And what do we read smack bang in the middle of this “highly deceptive… despicable” media release?

Existing exemptions will continue to be available for people who register as conscientious objectors to immunisation.

Oh.

Would that stop Meryl Dorey from lying on air? Surely our self styled guru would at least read the media release. Search for the words “conscientious objector”?  As Meryl told Terri Begley:

I have not seen anywhere in this information that’s coming out today to say that you are entitled to be a conscientious objector and still get the money. If the money is being given out it should be given out to all, whether you vaccinate or not, um, otherwise it becomes a matter of discrimination and I don’t think the Government wants to be discriminating against people, that is the wrong thing to do.

Frankly, that’s just not good enough. There are a lot of implicit accusations there, all wrong and all based on ignorance at best or Dorey’s own deception at worst. This is perhaps Roxon’s mistake here. She has failed to see that such a move will give the antivaccination lobby a soap box from which to embellish their misinformation and promote Conscientious Objection. Dumping the Maternity Immunisation Allowance and linking Family Tax Benefits as an “incentive” to complete vaccination schedules, may well become an incentive toward Conscientious Objection.

Earlier Dorey tries to make a link between pertussis vaccination of very young children in the ACT and the notification levels of pertussis in all age groups. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System data do not provide notification for each state and territory by age. I’ll get onto that again after we visit Dorey’s second ABC interview.

You may remember Dorey’s reply to the HCCC over complaints made. In September 2009 she wrote [bold mine]:

… the current increase in the incidence of pertussis has nothing to do with any purported decline in the rate of vaccination. Instead, we are seeing an outbreak of pertussis despite a substantial increase in vaccination against it – an experience which is being duplicated in every country for which mass vaccination against this illness exists.

She cited articles with the opposite argument to hers and even went as far as plagiarising a WHO graph. Despite the HCCC finding against her Dorey has made this claim often only last July blaming the vaccine for an increasing death rate. She makes this claim again on air except this time implicates the USA claiming [bold mine]:

…they are actually blaming the use of the whooping cough vaccine for this outbreak that’s occurring in the countries where the vaccine is being used.

This has also been picked up over at Thinking is Real which includes a terrific piece by piece breakdown of Meryl’s earlier distortion of an article she’d posted to Facebook. Dorey claimed it as proof that the pertussis vaccine is “ineffective”, where it says no such thing. It’s essential reading for those interested in Dorey’s tactics. Indeed the article reinforces all we know about pertussis immunity and the newer acellular vaccine.

Then it’s on to Louise Maher for Drivetime on ABC 666. Again you can listen below or download the audio here.

By this time Meryl has discovered CO still applies but is arguing government flyers and media reports aren’t stressing this fact loudly enough. Dorey’s risk to public health is borne out again as she raises the need for parents “who have done their research” to be able to avoid vaccination, get CO forms signed and still be able to collect FBT, way above the vital need to have their children vaccinated.

Nicola Roxon’s intent to raise the profile of vaccination schedules as essential to public health is being outdone by a conspiracy theorist arguing that the vaccines we’re using are not even known to “be safe and effective”, yet parents are being “bribed” to comply. Instead the government should be testing these perhaps unsafe and ineffective vaccines and comparing the health of vaccinated vs unvaccinated children, Dorey suggests with a straight face.

Then the distortion about pertussis again [bold mine]:

… we’re finding in the United States and in all other countries that use the mass whooping cough vaccination that the vaccination is not leading to a decrease in disease.

No doubt Dorey would be aware that the ACT Government’s alert on pertussis includes informing the population about a targeted adult vaccination program and states under “What else can you do to protect your baby?”:

  • Ensure your baby is vaccinated on time, this can be done from 6 weeks of age.
  • Ensure everyone in your household is up to date with their vaccinations.

The efficacy of pertussis vaccination is beyond doubt. It’s role in saving infant lives is irrefutable. Whilst vaccinated children may contract pertussis they receive a much milder infection and experience non life threatening symptoms. All pertussis fatalities in Australia have occurred in unvaccinated children. It is quite outrageous on the part of the ABC that Dorey was given uninterrupted air time to spread her rapid fire calculated untruth designed to malign an essential vaccination for infant health and presently, infant survival.

Asked about pertussis Ms. Dorey answered in dissonance to government advice and claimed vaccination “doesn’t seem to be the answer”, then proceeded to present a statistically implausible correlation between the rate of vaccination of babies in the ACT and the notification level of pertussis across all age groups in the ACT. It’s simply the same old trick Dorey has been using now for years. Comparison of unrelated data sets.

The Dept. of Health and Ageing National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System represents the prevalence of legally notifiable diseases. It carries no information on the vaccination status, active immunity or lack thereof in the cases counted. Vaccine induced immunity for pertussis is temporary. It wanes and this is the primary concern in combating spread of pertussis. Of the 18 age groups covered, 16 are outside the age at which immunity can be said to wane. Of course, Dorey did not give age group specifics nor qualify her claim in the context of an epidemic.

Notification simply does not reflect the efficacy of pertussis vaccine induced immunity in vulnerable newborns. Notification does not reflect the origin of infection, but rather the location of diagnosis and compliance with the requirement to notify. This is further complicated by tourism, immigration, business travel, diplomatic and political visitors to our nation’s capital, potentially impacting on infection of the ACT populace.

Adults rarely experience the debilitating symptoms and as such represent a silent reservoir of infection. Around 11.3% of adults can be considered to have pertussis vaccine immunity. For this reason the ACT is offering free pertussis boosters. Authorities state:

Infants too young to be fully vaccinated are most at risk of catching the disease and suffering serious complications from pertussis. Most infants catch pertussis from their parent or carers.

Dorey claimed pertussis infection rates in the ACT were “seven times that of Tasmania and more than twice the level of most states and territories”. The second claim is false. No other state or territory is “more than twice” that of the ACT.

According to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System on pertussis notification, the rates per 100,000 citizens at present for 2011 are: ACT – 217.3,  NSW – 157.1, N.T. – 127.6, QLD – 167.7, S.A. – 128.1, Tasmania – 31.9, Victoria – 137.7, W.A. – 112.5.

Dorey also said:

…even though we’ve had a huge increase in vaccination rates over 20 years it has not correlated with any decline in whooping cough, in fact we have more cases of whooping cough now than we’ve ever had on record and that is despite an over 95% rate of vaccination amongst children.

Again the irrelevance of quoting unrelated data sets is borne out. This statement falsely assumes pertussis vaccination that provides temporary immunity in small children should also be contributing to the eradication of pertussis in the entire community.

There are other very good reasons documented by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. In their November 2009 Pertussis Fact Sheet on page 2 we find:

In recent years, there have been periodic epidemics which have occurred at intervals of 3–4 years (1997–98, 2001, 2005–06, 2008– 09), set against a background of endemic circulation. However, increasing immunisation coverage has been associated with reductions in disease among immunised children and adolescents. Between 1998 and 2008, there were 84,758 notifications of pertussis nationally, ranging from 5,670 in 1998 to 14,347 in 2008. However, the increase in notification rates over time could also be due, in part, to better case ascertainment through the increased availability of serological testing and more sensitive tests (e.g. polymerase chain reaction).

Of the last 20 years only the last three show childhood infection rates that compete with adulthood rates. This is due to an epidemic, not a failure of vaccine efficacy. Pertussis vaccine induced immunity does not offer 100% protection against contraction of pertussis in all children. However it does provide sound immunity in the majority, and renders infections far milder than those that strike unvaccinated children saving the lives of those vaccinated.

The reason we have “more cases of whooping cough now…” is due to excellent reporting which shows up in Notification data and a present epidemic of pertussis. One contributing factor is the prevalence of misinformation such as that peddled by Ms. Dorey leading to a drop in infant vaccination. Ms. Dorey omitted to include a fall in immunisation rates predicates a rise in infection in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children. In fact her deception can be further borne out if we quote from the article posted on her Facebook page. The one in which she claimed Californian pertussis vaccination was “ineffective”.

Under Waning Pertussis Immunity Comes as No Surprise Dr. Carol Baker writes in part:

The California epidemic was caused by underimmunization of some children, and by waning immunity in fully vaccinated children. It showed that we are not where we need to be to have herd immunity. The 2010 California outbreak caught everyone’s attention.

In June 2009 the Journal Paediatrics published an article on the fall out from parents refusing pertussis vaccination for their child - Parental refusal of pertussis vaccination is associated with an increased risk of pertussis infection in children. The authors concluded in part [bold mine]:

Vaccine refusers had a 23-fold increased risk for pertussis when compared with vaccine acceptors, and 11% of pertussis cases in the entire study population were attributed to vaccine refusal.

Ms. Dorey’s statement of a “huge increase” in vaccination in the past 20 years is misleading. In 1989-90 71% of children were immunised. In 1995 61% of children were immunised. In 2001 71.6% of children were immunised. By March 2006 95.1% of children were immunised. There has been no steady increase in pertussis infection to match the increase in vaccination. This epidemic began in 2008. 2007 notifications were the third lowest on record since data collection began in 1991.

Pertussis infections rise and fall dramatically and until 2007-2008 the bulk of infections occurred in adults. In 2001 there were 48.5 cases per 100,000. In 2002 there were 28.0 cases per 100,000. In 2003 – 25.3, in 2004 – 42.9…. by 2007 there were 22.6 cases per 100,000. As mentioned this makes 2007 the third lowest year since records began. It is higher than only the first two years, 1991 and 1992 (1.9 and 4.5 per 100,000 respectively) when the notification of pertussis was still new to health practitioners. More so, Dorey has this very information in front of her but simply chooses to cite selectively. Consider the variation in Australian pertussis totals in the far right column. This does not show a steady increase:

Click to Embiggen

Little wonder the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission investigation established that the AVN:

  • provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
  • contains information that is incorrect and misleading
  • quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.

The HCCC also stated that the AVN refusal to comply with requests may “…result in members of the public making improperly informed decisions about whether or not to vaccinate, and therefore poses a risk to public health and safety.”

Most frustrating is that this manipulation of unrelated data sets by Ms. Dorey has already been the subject of an upheld complaint, published on November 11th, 2009. Dorey’s obfuscation of her intent to mislead listeners and the failure of the ABC to properly disclose her biased agenda as an anti-vaccination lobbyist has also been the subject of an upheld complaint, published June 29th, 2010.

There can be no doubt that yet again Dorey has misled listeners in a most egregious manner that, in the context of the present epidemic, places the lives of Australian newborns at risk. The ABC has shown extremely poor judgement in putting Dorey to air as very few if any commentators can deal with the speed and volume of her misconception.

Dorey has absolutely no qualifications and as such should not be providing any on air information. She did not cite any scientific material, nor – for good reason – the source of her figures. Nor is her argument supported by any peer reviewed literature. Indeed quite the contrary.

In short the ABC has recklessly given Dorey a platform from which to seize control and misrepresent the Immunisation incentive, sway uncertain parents toward not vaccinating and repackage her lies on failing pertussis immunisation. In this light they have completely failed listening audiences.

Won’t they ever learn?

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I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

7 Responses to Meryl Dorey’s ABC of immunisation incentive lies

  1. There’s got to be someone at a senior level either cynically using this false controversy to generate viewer numbers, or complicit in the antivax movement’s conspiratorial nonsense. Either way it’s not a good look for the ABC.

  2. Pingback: Adults need whooping cough booster « Losing In The Lucky Country

  3. Pingback: Woodford Folk Festival Promote Dangerous Anti-Vaccination Myths « Losing In The Lucky Country

  4. Pingback: Demonstrable Liars and Constructive Public Vaccination Debate | reasonablehank

  5. Pingback: Second ABC complaint upheld: Meryl Dorey “distorted and selectively presented information” on pertussis vaccination « Losing In The Lucky Country

  6. Pingback: Kerryn Phelps support for vaccination is timely and welcome « Losing In The Lucky Country

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