Last week AstraZeneca announced demonstrated varying efficacy in two different dosing regimens of its candidate COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222 (ChAdOx1 nCOV-19).
In a November 23rd press release [PDF] the company announced efficacy of 90% when AZD1222 was given as a half dose and followed by a full dose at least one month later. This sample group had 2,741 subjects. Vaccine efficacy of 62% was evident when two full doses of AZD1222 were given at least one month apart. This was observed in a sample group of 8,895. They also announced a “combined efficacy” averaging 70% in a sample of 11,636.
Whilst this sounded like a positive outcome it soon became apparent that the Oxford-AstraZeneca team still had hurdles to clear. It emerged later that the dose regimen yielding efficacy of 90% was given by mistake. This wasn’t made clear in the press release. The first dose should have been a full dose but due to a “manufacturing issue” only half of the expected dose was given. Regulators were told at the time and agreed the trial could continue with the immunisation of more volunteers. It is problematic that the trial wasn’t designed to test this regimen and less than 3,000 subjects aged 55 or less were involved. In order to validate the results another study examining the efficacy of the regimen will take place.
The other problem was the notion of “combined efficacy”. These data come from two different trials with different dosing regimens. One trial arm in the UK began in May. The Brazilian trial arm began in late June. So this information has not come from a single large Phase III trial as was the case with Pfizer and Moderna. Averaging efficacy from two different trials to yield “combined efficacy” of 70% is not acceptable. This doesn’t provide a sound assessment of what level of efficacy, or regimen, the public can expect. So again, further trials are needed. Also press release is not the vehicle to present scientific information and the AstraZeneca issue is an example of how problematic this can be. Study specifics that have been peer reviewed carry far more weight.
Which raises a point made by Norman Swan on today’s Coronacast that rumours are circulating, apparently with very little confirmation, that suggest Oxford-AstraZeneca are rushing to publish. He referred to a Financial times article which reported on Saturday;
Regulators and the rest of the world will soon have the full data. The Oxford academics who developed the vaccine have submitted a paper setting out their full Phase 3 results to The Lancet medical journal. They will be working over the weekend to answer questions from the journal and its referees and the article could be published as early as Thursday [UK time].
Concern and criticism about transparency and trust has been raised, particularly in the USA. Natalie E. Dean, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida posted a series of tweets on November 25th. Apart from transparency, concern about scientific rigour was raised. Her tweets included;
AstraZeneca/Oxford get a poor grade for transparency and rigor when it comes to the vaccine trial results they have reported. This is not like Pfizer or Moderna where we had the protocols in advance and a pre-specified primary analysis was reported.
The point about protocols in advance, along with the fact that AstraZeneca was one of nine vaccine makers to sign a scientific rigour pledge in September was raised in a highly critical article by Hilda Bastian writing in Wired. The article goes into the Phase III trial arms in depth and the manner in which Oxford-AstraZeneca has deviated from their trial protocol. Comparisons are made to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine at 90% efficacy and the Moderna vaccine at almost 95% efficacy. Bastian certainly casts them in a positive light. These two companies use messenger-RNA as the vector in their COVID-19 vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca use an adenovirus vector in their vaccine. How variously each approach effects COVID-19 vaccine efficacy is presently unknown. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine results were also made public by press release.
It’s important to note that the FDA has argued a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to be useful in combating the pandemic. Whilst concern has been raised about the AstraZeneca situation it is over efficacy and not safety. The fact that regulators will accept an efficacy of at least 50% was noted by Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president for research, who dismissed concerns. AstraZeneca also want to alter the specifics of the US trial under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed. The aim is to change the two full dose regimen to a half dose, full dose regimen.
Certainly further successful trials are well within AstraZenecas grasp. The BMJ recently published COVID-19 vaccines: where are the data? The article examines the position of the three recent candidate vaccines and what is expected through peer-reviewed publication. The UK government has asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to evaluate authorising supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The cold chain needs of each vaccine vary. The Pfizer candidate requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius. This alone provides a challenge difficult to meet in developed nations and impossible in nations without significant infrastructure. Moderna’s candidate vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius meeting most pharmacy and hospital freezer temperatures but providing transport challenges for developing nations. Moderna claims that after thawing the vaccine will remain stable for up to 30 days at 2 – 8 degrees Celsius. AstraZenecas candidate can be stored in a normal refrigerator at 2 – 8 degrees Celsius and thus meets conditions in present healthcare settings and realistic options in developing nations. A successful outcome for Oxford-AstraZeneca is significant for the management of a global pandemic.
And remember, this is a vaccine that they promised not to make profits out of, that is cheap and they are committed to giving very large doses, I think something enormous like a third of the world’s doses of vaccines are relying on AstraZeneca. So there’s a lot riding on this vaccine.
Anti-vaccination lobby misleads
The anti-vaccination community have taken the challenges faced by AstraZeneca as more evidence Big Pharma is always up to no good. A recent AVN Facebook post observed that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let drug companies release their own study information without independent oversight.
So again we might consult the press release. It includes (para 3);
An independent Data Safety Monitoring Board determined that the analysis met its primary endpoint showing protection from COVID-19 occurring 14 days or more after receiving two doses of the vaccine. No serious safety events related to the vaccine have been confirmed. AZD1222 was well tolerated across both dosing regimens.
Our Directors are collectively responsible for the success of AstraZeneca. In addition, the Non-Executive Directors are responsible for exercising independent and objective judgement and for scrutinising and challenging management.
Quickly scattering the seeds of disinformation in this manner is what the AVN always do. One expects this manipulation of their members. What I’m more interested in is the inability of the group to acknowledge that the focus on COVID-19 vaccine development has revealed a number of long standing claims to be false. In September I posted on how the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial pause alone refuted long standing anti-vaccine claims. Namely transparent mainstream media coverage and the documented process of Phase III trials. Despite the ample criticism of AstraZeneca’s handling of data the AVN are even further from defending their claims than they were in September.
As a quick reminder it is the claim that vaccine manufacturers do not assess the safety or efficacy of vaccines. Ever. Added to this is the strange insistence that a placebo must always be inert. Let’s revisit quotes promoting these errors. Given that the COVID-19 candidates are new vaccines the following quote published in a response to a journalist is particularly relevant. See Proposition 4;
…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced.
This piece on HPV is highly misleading. Yet it’s the claim in the second paragraph under Safety In Question I find compelling;
By definition, a placebo must be a totally inert substance which will never provoke a response.
That definition might be fine for the “sugar pill” placebo. As in when we think of the “placebo effect”. Yet in vaccine trials it is more important to sustain the double blind nature of the trial. Simply put a subject must not know what group they are in. The AVN are anti-HPV vaccination. Gardasil trials have used the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant, or AAHS as placebo. This, unlike saline, produces an injection site effect like a genuine vaccine. Thus members of the placebo group and those administering the dose are unaware they have received or given the placebo. The randomised double blind nature of the trial is preserved.
Randomised double blind trials are what Meryl Dorey, founder of the AVN calls “the gold standard” insisting they are ignored in vaccine research. In this case demanding inert placebos be used instead helps to both refute the value of trials and contend a heavy metal neurological injury is potentially caused even by placebos. Finally as discussed in this article, by contending that no vaccine trials using saline placebos have ever been conducted the insistence that vaccines are primed to harm persists. It’s a simple no true Scotsman anti-vaccine fallacy. Also when saline is used as the placebo in an HPV vaccine trial, there really is nowhere to hide. Vaccine studies using saline placebos abound. Period.
As it happens saline has been used in the USA arm of the AstraZeneca Phase III trials. In other groups a meningococcal vaccine is given as placebo. This won’t only create an injection site effect but a general feeling in line with being vaccinated. Not being aware they are receiving a placebo ensures subjects don’t introduce an unexpected variable to the trial. This fact, and the ethical nature of the approach is discussed in a well written article here. Finally in establishing the safety of vaccines a more convincing and in depth picture is gained through the application of more than just placebo controlled studies.
The more we see of Phase III trials for COVID-19 candidates, whether they be immediately accepted or controversial, the greater the refutation of the above anti-vaccine tropes. Senior members of the AVN are reading material that describes Phase III trials and their testing of both safety and efficacy. The above claim that double blind, placebo controlled trials don’t exist, “even when a new vaccine is introduced” still exists on the AVN website and in discussion. In the bright light of facts this is a true measure of the group.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca AZD1222 results have been met, understandably, with specific criticism. This relates to efficacy only. Safety is not being questioned. Some media reports have hinted that AstraZeneca will have difficulty getting the vaccine regulated for emergency use in the USA based on present data. Further, larger studies are needed to establish the veracity of the 90% efficacy finding in the smaller sample given a half dose followed by a full dose. This is entirely within reach of AstraZeneca.
Given the unscientific notion of a “combined efficacy” of 70% it is within AstraZeneca’s interests to pursue further research. Indeed everything being equal one may hope that the “combined efficacy” rate is not reinforced with further research. As STAT reported;
If it’s 70%, then we’ve got a dilemma,” said Fauci. “Because what are you going to do with the 70% when you’ve got two [vaccines] that are 95%? Who are you going to give a vaccine like that to?
AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 vaccine has enormous potential. The low cost, cold chain specifics and the company’s offer to not profit from the vaccine meets a global imperative for pandemic recovery. What the scientific community and the public need to see is a large robust Phase III trial that reproduces efficacy in the region of 90%.
During the Vaxxed II bus tour in Australia the AVN has been extremely vocal about the tour’s aim to realise the rights of individuals and families “killed or injured by vaccines”. To give them a platform on which to exercise free speech. In the last post we heard Meryl Dorey accusing Australia’s “fascist dictatorship” of suppressing the voices of the vaccine injured. In the midst of Dorey’s vocal insistence of selfless goals we must remind ourselves of other goals. An email to members on 8th July 2020 described the noble aims of the Vaxxed II bus and included;
Parents will be filmed for an up-coming Australian documentary as well as having their stories livestreamed to hundreds of thousands around the world.
We are the media now… We have to get the best footage we can, make the best job of this and make our own documentary. This will be the Australian version of Vaxxed II I assume.
As we will see below involvement with Vaxxed films can prove quite lucrative. However the claims of a vaccine injury epidemic (or VIE) are not backed by evidence. The science supporting public health policies demonstrates a different reality. Protection of public health must, in an age of social media, also address the abuse of free speech. It causes demonstrable, long lasting harm of significant individual, social and financial cost. Such harms were addressed when the Vaxxed II bus was banned from local council land by Sydney City Council in a unanimous decision on October 26th. You can access Facebook entries, read related council material, hear audio of the motion being passed and the AVN reaction via this link.
Four days after the council took action the bus was again told to move on. As noted in the last post the Vaxxed II bus had chosen to set up in Centennial Park NSW on October 30th. The park is itself a suburb split between the local government area of the City of Sydney and the City of Randwick. One presumes that being banned from Sydney, the bus team has chosen a park area of the Randwick local government. Nonetheless they were asked to move on. After receiving legal advice Meryl Dorey came to a very amicable agreement with police and left.
Shortly before this however park rangers had raised Meryl’s ire, leading to a video request for help and the promise that she would be arrested before conceding to “these petty dictators”. The full audio of that video is here [4.9MB]. A shorter version of highlights can be listened to below.
“We are here to ensure their voice is never silenced” – Meryl Dorey [2min 16]
It is interesting that Dorey wants Polly Tommey to be notified. As we’ll see Tommey is a senior identity in the Vaxxed movement having turned the role into full time employment. Regarding the Vaxxed II bus one conclusion is certain. A large database of Australian anti-vaccination and unverified vaccine injury testimonial is being created. Every time the Vaxxed II bus is banned or asked to move on the database is threatened. Under the Vaxxed brand such material has already proven to be both lucrative and an ideal vehicle for the promotion of individual anti-vaccination identities. The rewards from co-producing a Vaxxed III film would be significant. As the AVN is using the Vaxxed brand there are likely contractural obligations, increasing the need to inform Tommey of interference.
The first Vaxxed film led to a Vaxxed bus travelling the USA, promoting the film and recording identical unsubstantiated testimonials of vaccine injury and vaccine fatality. The most compelling of these accounts formed the basis of Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth. Now a year after the release of Vaxxed II the AVN is four months into the Vaxxed II bus tour. Meryl Dorey and AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister have already established a narrative of struggle against tyrannical state and federal governments actively suppressing accounts of vaccine injury and death. This is happening during the COVID “scamdemic” and vocal AVN opposition to a mandatory or dangerous COVID-19 vaccine. Footage of these unsubstantiated accounts would be used in the production of an Australian version of Vaxxed. Dorey has a long established history of presenting photos of children purportedly injured or killed by vaccines. Stories are hosted on the AVN website. A closer look at the Vaxxed timeline allows greater insight into long term aims.
The making of Vaxxed
We should revisit the history of the pseudoscientific films under the title Vaxxed to understand how such film making and busses are related. First was the 2016 film Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe directed by Andrew Wakefield whose elaborate fraud launched the global scare over the MMR vaccine and autism. It was produced by the Informed Consent Action Network of which Del Bigtree is CEO. Bigtree’s background in filmography included a small stint with Dr. Phil and the production of 30 episodes of an entertainment advice show The Doctors. The latter carried an FDA disclaimer. Vaxxed was co-produced by Polly Tommey who is a director of the Autism Media Channel (previously also run by Wakefield) and presently hosts We Are Vaxxed (Vaxxed TV).
A full time vaccine-autism theorist and frenetic anti-vaxxer, Tommey is presented by Hachette Australia as a film producer and journalist, and also, “[F]ounder and Editor-in-Chief of The Autism File magazine and founder of The Autism Trust”. Vaxxed’s entire narrative is built from the audio of phone calls between CDC employee William Thompson and anti-vaccination theorist Brian Hooker. Part of the audio was even spliced together. You can read in detail, and listen, about how the audio was manipulated here. There are a host of references debunking the film here.
Thompson was unaware that the calls were being recorded or that his name and voice would be used. He had referred to a correlation between African-American boys with autism and the MMR vaccine that was omitted from a 2004 CDC paper. Brian Hooker published a reanalysis of the data in 2014 which purportedly found that the sample of boys were at significantly higher risk of autism after MMR. The paper was later retracted due to “serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions” . In 2015 the CDC concluded on further examination that the correlation did not exist. William Thompson unwittingly became the CDC whistleblower. Despite hours of recorded phone calls none of that audio supports the film’s central claim of “cover up”. Nor does Thompson appear in the film.
At no time did Thompson argue that data had been suppressed or destroyed or that it demonstrated a link between MMR and autism. Yet the narrative of data destruction, nefarious suppression of a causal link between MMR and autism and the contention Wakefield is the victim of a conspiracy is the central message of the film. In reality the data remain on the CDC website for researchers to analyse. Thompson had released a statement through his lawyers in August 2014 in which he stressed his support for immunisation and his belief that “vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives”. All of this, and the retraction of Hooker’s paper was omitted from the film.
In an October 9, 2016 Vaxxed TV video Del Bigtree stood in front of the Vaxxed bus and claimed;
The story that Vaxxed is about which is the CDC whistleblower, top scientist from the Center for Disease Control, has come forward and said that vaccines are causing autism.
Memorably, Vaxxedwas dumped from the New York based Tribeca film festival which Robert De Niro co-founded. Award winning documentary director Penny Lane had written an open letter to the festival about Vaxxed. It is devastating to the credibility of Vaxxed. It included;
While it is true that we documentary filmmakers constantly debate vexing questions about the perceived and real differences between our work and the work of traditional journalism, I assure you that we are not debating whether it is okay to knowingly spread dangerous lies.
Issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one is easy. This film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the ‘vaccines cause autism’ hoax; this film is directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.
On July 10 this year AVN founder Meryl Dorey interviewed Wakefield for an episode of Under The Wire (UTW). They discussed his latest film 1986 The Act, Vaxxed, the COVID pandemic and Wakefield’s research fraud. His contention is that he was deregistered in an attempt to silence revelation of MMR causing autism. “[I]t was all made up. I’ve never committed research fraud in my life”, he told Dorey. Wakefield mentions that Australian paediatric gastroenterologist John Walker-Smith was part of his research team. In fact Walker-Smith had told Wakefield about possible compromise of the research a year before publication because parents of research subjects were engaged in litigation against pharmaceutical companies.
As the world now knows Wakefield was well aware of the litigation, as he was secretly funded by the plaintiff’s lawyers to conduct the research. His research paper was eventually retracted fromThe Lancet. He was ultimately found guilty of more than 30 charges. Articles here tagged “Wakefield” are under this link. The full audio of Dorey’s UTW interview with Wakefield is available here [28 MB]. Interestingly he tells Dorey that the key to 1986 The Act was is not the “dense” content, but in making it entertaining by having a couple act to a script (10.20). Wakefield’s response to Dorey’s question is available below.
“How can I help?”: Andrew Wakefield’s account of his deregistration and research fraud [3min 59].
When members of the USA Vaxxed team visited Australia and toured with the AVN from July to August 2017 to screen the film and collect vaccine injury stories, early criticism and problems eventuated. Most notably that on leaving Australia, co-producer Polly Tommey was banned from entering the country for three years over visa breaches. Fairfax reported she had told her Australian audience that “doctors were murderers”.
The involvement of Tommey continued. In October 2017 Tommey announced the Australian Vaxxed team on the We Are Vaxxed Facebook page. It would include Taylor Winterstein, her sister Stevie Nupier and Deveraux David, daughter of (then) AVN president Tasha David. The three had travelled about on the Vaxxed bus in the USA with Tommey, learning how to conduct vaccine injury interviews. For further insight please see the comprehensive coverage at Diluted Thinking in Australian Vaxxed Team Announced.
Tommey’s supporters and the AVN insisted she was banned for her views on vaccination. Tommy appealed against the suspension and on July 15th 2019 the AVN reported in a “media release” that Judge Barnes of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia overturned the ban, reinstated the visa and awarded costs to Tommey. The following day the Informed Medical Options Party (IMOP) reported the same information on their Facebook page. It must be noted that no other media reports of the overturned ban exist. Neither group provided a link to, screenshot or image of relevant documentation despite publishing quotes from Judge Barnes’ finding. Under the heading A victory for truth and justice in Australia each publication included;
The AVN assisted Ms Tommey in fighting against this unconscionable ban. The Minister for Immigration tried to claim that Ms Tommey, a mother of 3 children, one of whom has been seriously injured by vaccination, was somehow a terrorist and needed to be kept out of Australia.
The importance of this can’t be underestimated in light of the language used by the AVN. The overturning of Tommey’s ban is a mark of a fair democracy in action. The suppression of rights in a so-called “fascist dictatorship” is then far from accurate.
It was reported at the time that another member of the 2017 visiting AVN Vaxxed team Dr. Suzanne Humphries was also banned from entry for three years. SBS updated an article to this effect in August last year. In late August 2017 anti-vaxxer Kent Heckenlively was denied entry into Australia because of his “dangerous” views. He was planning a tour to urge parents to stop vaccinating their children. The ban was not surprising. Just over two weeks earlier the Australian Government had launched a $5.5 million immunisation education campaign in response to the anti-vaccination message and falling vaccination rates. Nonetheless, Tommey and Heckenlively hosted Q&A sessions at AVN Vaxxed events via Skype.
The AVN Australian promotion of Vaxxed was further criticised. Prior to the Bundaberg QLD visit the Fraser Coast Chronicle published a piece in which (then) QLD Health Minister Cameron Dick called on the public to boycott the film. On October 22nd The Chronicle published a piece in which doctors warned of the film’s risk to children’s lives. The chair of AMA QLD was concerned parents could be “duped” into believing the anti-vaccination message. There was further criticism and coverage. An in-depth overview of the tour events is available at Diluted Thinking.
The use of Vaxxed busses
After the film’s release the 2016 Vaxxed Nation Bus Tour in the USA rolled out to promote and screen the film to paying audiences. Dorey and then president of the AVN, Tasha David, attended a CDC rally as part of an elaborate trip to the USA presumably at expense to AVN donors. During the tour unsubstantiated claims of vaccine injury and death were recorded on film forming the purpose of the We Are Vaxxed movement. Over the weekend of October 15-16th 2016, Tasha David appeared as an interviewee for We Are Vaxxed. Her fallacious contribution included claims there is no freedom of speech in Australia, the public can be “force vaccinated” for something as minor as a cold under the Australian biosecurity act, No Jab No Pay has left women living in cars and forced to have abortions and the AVN cannot choose their own name. This article published at the time looks more closely at these claims which can be heard below.
Past AVN president Tasha David interviewed in the USA Vaxxed bus [1min 50].
The bus continued its tour of the USA collecting unfounded stories of vaccine injury, death or apparent abuse and bullying at the hands of medical professionals. Popular targets were vaccination against HPV, hepatitis B, pertussis (DTaP), influenza, varicella, Hib, rotavirus, or any childhood vaccine. SIDS was blamed as a vaccine induced death often post DTaP. Horrific stories about the effect of autism brought on by MMR or other childhood vaccines were common. The bus is covered with the signatures of individuals who contributed a story.
This material provided the basis for Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth which was released in November 2019. It was produced by Robert F Kennedy Jr and co-produced by Polly Tommey. The Guardian previewed the film and reported that it;
[I]s slickly produced and carries considerable dramatic punch – making its message all the more potent.
Footage includes a gallery of photographs of dead babies, without evidence to back suggestions their deaths were linked to vaccines.
The Australian Vaxxed II Bus
So now we turn our attention to the Vaxxed II bus tour of Australia. An identical bus wrapped in an identical Vaxxed logo, serving an identical purpose. The bus is a 34 foot 2005 Coachmen Miranda registered in NSW as VAXXD2. Market availability suggests a quality 2005 model may sell for between $100,000 – $135,000 and similar models have varying prices. The interior of the AVN Vaxxed II Miranda is well appointed. The new paint finish with an AVN logo, personalised plates and even a logo’d spare wheel cover has delivered a quality, eye catching vehicle for the Australian tour. It too is being signed by everyone who contributes to a story. It has been registered, insured, made road worthy and prepared in the manner a Coachmen Miranda must be. It was certainly not a cheap venture and according to the AVN “a massive undertaking”.
Donation requests for the bus began on 16th February 2020 – the same day sales of Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth DVD’s were announced via email. Shortly after, the AVN shop provided a formal bus donation page. The set request was $50 and the range was from $5 to $500. 82 days after provision on the AVN site for donations to the Australian Vaxxed II Bus the announcement of bus ownership was made. If we accept a conservative total cost of $150,000 donations must equal $1,830 per day. Once rolling there are costs for accomodation and meals for volunteers along with the necessary $400 plus to fill the tank. Donations had been generous indeed.
It’s important to note the AVN have a history of accumulating member donations [PDF] for many purposes and not investing them. Misappropriating a minimum of $136,270 for the sale of a magazine that was not supplied and simple theft. More than once. In 2010 the NSW OLGR confirmed multiple breaches of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 and the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 . In December 2016 the AVN announced that their planned High Court challenge to the No Jab No Pay legislation was unsuccessful. Of $152,203.73 raised $72,526.37 was spent on legal advice, leaving just over $79,677. The AVN offered to refund 52 cents for each dollar donated (email) and then 66 cents (website). The money was kept for other campaigns. No follow up announcements were made. Of interest is that in September of that year members were advised over $160,000 had been raised for the High Court challenge but over twice that was needed. So please keep donating.
Regular income is from donations, memberships, AVN shop sales and sales at seminar events. Fair trading documents show annual income is declared as “less than $250,000”. The point being made is that the AVN may have a substantial balance of which financial supporters know nothing. The AVN may have financed the bus themselves. Anti-vaccination media coverage increased 900% over March – May this year. This equates to increased profit for the AVN and may assist in keeping the bus on the road.
The AVN team is very excited to announce that WE HAVE PURCHASED A BUS! Things have been very busy behind the scenes to make this vision a reality and we can’t wait for the next steps in this process. We can’t wait to bring you more updates as things progress. The AVN is extremely thankful to all the AVN members who have contributed to this project and made it a reality.
A media release on 8th June 2020 was equally noncommittal with respect to the entire funding of the purchase;
Thanks to the help and support of members of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network Inc. (AVN), Australia has become the first country outside of the United States to have its own Vaxxed Bus. […]
The AVN owes a huge debt of gratitude to our members, without whose help, love, encouragement and financial support, this dream never would have been realised. We also want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Polly and Jon Tommey, Dr Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree and the entire US Vaxxed team whose dedication and energy has birthed a worldwide movement of informed vaccination choice for all.
That final statement of gratitude leaves one wondering just how much of the new bus venture members of the AVN were truly supporting. Perhaps it is cynical to link the bus to a long term goal of financial profit and self promotion for Meryl Dorey. After all, according to the first AVN email to announce the need for a bus readers were told, “Our members have demanded it, so it’s going to happen”. A lot of time and money would be involved, yes. “But due to the current climate of censorship on the issue of vaccine injury we feel the time is now!”.
Since the bus appeared urgent requests for donation campaigns have stopped. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this present incarnation of the Vaxxed brand has included some funding from outside the AVN. Nor does the AVN own the Vaxxed brand. Thus, all profit from a third film will not go to the AVN.
Financial backing of the Vaxxed movement
Thoughts of money bring us back to the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) who we met above as the producers of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. Also we can better understand why involvement with Vaxxed films is lucrative. The Washington Post published an in-depth investigative article in June 2019. Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement examined hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife Lisa, who is president of ICAN. Amongst other anti-vax groups, the Selz’s donated handsomely to ICAN through the Selz Foundation.
When Vaxxed was released in 2016 Bigtree founded ICAN. US tax records show that in its first year the Selz’s donated 83% of ICAN’s income, or $100,000. As Bigtree’s status grew so did Selz Foundation donations. Records show ICAN spent $600,000 on legal fees in 2017. The following year, according to The Washington Post, the charity launched FOI Act lawsuits against the FDA, NIH and the US DHHS. The aim was, “to compel the release of data and documents related to vaccine safety”. If ICAN had any success accessing documents, their silence on the matter speaks volumes.
In 2017 the Selz couple donated $1 million of ICAN’s $1.4 million income. CEO Del Bigtree earned a salary of $146,000. Bigtree travels the country speaking at rallies against bills designed to increase childhood immunisation, lobbying legislators against passing such bills or attending wellness conferences. ICAN spent $148,000 on travel in 2017.
The Selz’s began supporting the anti-vaccination movement in 2012 with a $200,000 donation to the Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund. After Wakefield moved to Texas this fund was set up by supporters with the aim of “responding” to apparent false claims made against Wakefield. This would “protect his work from both profit- and politically-motivated censorship and retribution”. Despite the semantics it’s now documented that as many as four lawsuits brought against Brian Deer and media organisations were fruitless. Anti-SLAPP legislation demanded Wakefield provide evidence for his libel claim which was impossible as the case against him was demonstrably true.
Wakefield launched two nonprofit organisations in 2014. Over years the Selz’s donated $1.6 million. One group, the AMC Foundation, “was registered as a charity to fund documentaries about public health issues”. The money was used to help produce Vaxxed. The Vaxxed website states that the film was funded by a small group of philanthropists and “brave parents”.
In 2018 Wakefield dissolved the nonprofit organisations. Whilst active the AMC Foundation had directed grants to Wakefield and Tommey’s Autism Media Channel which claims on YouTube to “make informative and educational videos” for individuals with autism. In the article The Washington Post report;
Attorney Marc Owens, a former head of the IRS division responsible for monitoring tax-exempt organizations, said the arrangement is “a very suspicious transaction.”
“They transferred all of their income, it appears — with the exception of a small amount — to, basically, themselves,” Owens said. “It is extremely unusual to see this sort of expenditure from a public charity.”
Bigtree meanwhile continues his weekly online production of The Highwire, which was recently banned from YouTube. It has attracted supporters with deep pockets. New York City real estate executive Stephen Benjamin and his wife, Elizabeth donated $20,000 in 2017. They feel that the vaccine issue is not well managed by industry or political leaders and that opinion and discussion is being censored. Bigtree has landed on his feet and like Wakefield, has found the shift to anti-vaccination conspiracies a shortcut to a type of fame and fortune.
Without ranging through every avenue of profit that anti-vaxxers pursue one may conclude the very public attention that follows a Vaxxed bus creates an avenue of profit itself. Becomming a Vaxxed identity, particularly now, is as good for the bank balance as it is the ego. The initial Vaxxed film only generated a worldwide box office income of $1,215,647 with the vast majority being USA sales, according to The Numbers website. The DVD sells for around $25 AU, $15 US. Sales are impossible to calculate but Vaxxed TV has almost 88 thousand subscribers, the Autism Media Channel 7.3 thousand. The income from other sources, donations and control of charities appears significant. Polly Tommey’s Autism Media Channelfeatures in Snap Charity‘s business directory.
Possible script items for Vaxxed III
The involvement of the Vaxxed team and movie in Australia in 2017 has already produced published footage of vaccine injury and death accounts. The AVN YouTube channel now mimics Vaxxed TV and the Autism Media Channel in content and appearance. So without a doubt the promised “documentary” will feature identical accounts of vaccine injury and death recorded on the Vaxxed II bus and may well include the footage from 2017. As noted above there are accounts of vaccine injury on the AVN site. It is unlikely this fits with the Vaxxed brand however.
The most common themes will be the most familiar. SIDS caused by DTaP. Injury and death following influenza vaccination. A raft of neurological problems and death following HPV vaccination. Infant injury after hepatitis B immunisation. Autism following MMR and other vaccines. Images similar to those used in this attack on Sydney City Council, which were requested on Facebook by an AVN member will be used. People are bullied into vaccination whilst doctors who share these views are fearful of speaking out and deregistered if they do. Other topics may be included to shape an Australian identity to the film.
The threat of mandatory vaccination in Australia may fill part of any vaccine injury film Meryl Dorey and Aneeta Hafemeister are involved with. To understand some of the primary tactics Dorey has used for years follow this link. The requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated in some instances leads to injury, unemployment, ruin and death contend the AVN. No Jab No Pay legislation is often referred to as a means to mandatory vaccination or results in homelessness and poverty.
Protection of the Vaxxed brand should dictate not referencing Dorey’s claim of mandatory vaccination lobbyists. Not because the idea is poor. Rather because her approach is bogus, bitter and brutal. It includes attacking parents who have lost a child to vaccine preventable disease. On its Get The Facts page the Department of Health publishes these personal stories in which grieving parents contribute to public awareness of vaccine necessity. Together with Judy Wilyman the AVN wrongly insist these accounts are merely anecdotal, therefore unreliable. A criticism selectively omitted from assessing vaccine injury accounts.
A constant narrative of a cruel and tyrannical government at state and federal levels suppressing accounts of vaccine injury is a feature of the Vaxxed II tour. Council bans and orders to move on are likely to be covered with the approach that The People can’t be silenced. Another theme around mandatory vaccination is that the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory and dangerous.
In July Dorey informed Andrew Wakefield that this, “man-made situation is not really a pandemic… we are in the middle of a government take-over of human rights in this country”. In fact Dorey presented aspects of vaccine legislation and the COVID-19 situation in Australia with such dishonesty it was impressive. Such misleading accounts may feature in the film. The audio below is from the same episode of Under The Wire as Wakefield’s claim to innocence above.
Doctors are being “Wakefielded” (a new verb Dorey contends) and deregistered for even asking questions about vaccines or reporting adverse events. As are physiotherapists, nurses… anyone who’s registered with AHPRA. The film mentioned is 1986 The Act. Daniel Andrews is power mad and if Australians watch the film,“there will be an uprising”. The audio is a sequence of out-takes. Please listen below.
Meryl Dorey informs Andrew Wakefield about suppression of rights in Australia [4min 45]
Other topics might include the need for “vaxxed vs unvaxxed” studies funded by the Australian government and the lack of vaccine safety trials. The AVN insist in using suspect studies to show that vaccinated children are less healthy that unvaccinated. Despite the fact that efficacy and safety testing in Phase III trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidates has been widely reported the AVN still deny it. In a recent post looking at how increased transparency of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial has exposed anti-vaccine conspiracies we saw that the AVN still have this dishonest claim on their site. See Proposition 4;
…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced.
There may be input from Wakefield, who also denies proper safety studies are conducted. In the UTW interview with Dorey he chose to ignore the necessity for non-sterile placebos in trials. Without evidence he attacked the use of aluminium adjuvants as placebos. He is critical of COVID-19 candidate vaccine phase III trials because he can twist facts to fit his narrative. Some trials use a meningococcal vaccine as placebo so recipients will not know they have received a placebo. In essence, this is excellent methodology.
The two Vaxxed films produced to date are demonstrably false accounts of a vaccine link to autism and a vaccine injury epidemic (VIE). The involvement of disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield and his account of being the victim of conspiracy has ensured a level of interest and popularity for the Vaxxed brand. This has increased financial backing from his supporters who believe he is a victim with important work to do. Contributions from wealthy benefactors ensure donations to Wakefield are lucrative. Never the talented success his fans portray him as, wealth gained from anti-vaccine conspiracy promotion and his current lifestyle are well documented.
The key Vaxxed identities are Wakefield and producers Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree. The latter two are also fervent anti-vaccine campaigners. Bigtree is well paid with travel funded in his role as CEO of Informed Consent Action Network which produced the Vaxxed films. Tax documents confirm Wakefield and Tommey profited significantly from nonprofit tax-exempt organisations established to fund anti-vaccine media. The first Vaxxed bus significantly increased the profiles of Wakefield, Tommey and Bigtree. Media is continuously published on YouTube.
AVN founder and supporter of Andrew Wakefield, Meryl Dorey has battled controversy to promote both Vaxxed films in Australia. Her support of a VIE has been vocal for over 25 years and she has overseen the raising of significant funds through unmet promises and deception. The AVN have launched an identical Vaxxed bus in Australia. The full source of funding is unclear. Its purpose is to promote the second Vaxxed film and collect footage of Australians who believe they or a loved one are victims of vaccine injury or death. Meryl Dorey and current AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister acknowledge they intend to make a third Vaxxed film.
The AVN have clearly met more resistance from health authorities and local councils than expected. Supporters are constantly told the intention is to give the vaccine injured a voice. However given the involvement of Vaxxed the AVN must have contractural obligations. Despite professing noble intentions the show, it would seem, must go on. Exactly what arrangement Meryl Dorey and the AVN have with the Vaxxed brand is unknown. By not investing supporter donations into promised campaigns the AVN have accumulated significant monies, the extent of which is kept secret.
Income from film screenings and video sales is quite modest but not insignificant. Overall profit from the production of these films is helped by using volunteers. Here they staff the Vaxxed II bus, conduct filming, run the promotion and sales stall at events, collect, edit and post material on social media and address the multiple administrative details that senior AVN identities do not. Constant requests for donations via email and social media ensure income. Presenting a constant narrative that politicians and health authorities have a vested interest in silencing the vaccine injured encourages further support.
Despite justified opposition Meryl Dorey and the AVN will continue as they have. The aim is to mimic the USA Vaxxed bus and cover the nation. This will be costly. The more noise made and attention gained the more likely donations will increase. Australia may not have the wealthy benefactors of the anti-vaccination lobby in the USA but this doesn’t mean the AVN have not been well funded. Nor does it mean they have. The group has a history of accumulating significant finances for purposes unmet. Promised investment in campaigns never eventuates. The Vaxxed II bus has increased income. The sooner the Vaxxed III film can be produced the sooner the AVN will be taken seriously by potential benefactors.
Meryl Dorey has always craved success and legitimacy. She is presently in a good position to be co-producer of the Vaxxed III film. Her problem is that the AVN and Vaxxed are quite rightly regarded as a threat to public health in Australia. The COVID pandemic has increased exposure, support and donations for the AVN. Yet by embracing COVID conspiracies they have come under closer scrutiny from health and government authorities.
They will continue to meet resistance. They will respond dramatically. Dorey and Hafemeister will continue to rave about the suppression of rights and their fight to provide a voice for the vaccine injured. It will at least be entertaining. As Wakefield told Dorey, without entertainment you don’t have a film.
The prize for Meryl Dorey is to become Australia’s Vaxxed representative and if one conclusion is clear it’s that being a Vaxxed intimate is lucrative.
NB: The first and fourth audio files are made up of out-takes from the original file which is available. The out-takes are added in chronological order.
24 Nov. 2020: Updated details of misappropriated income from undelivered magazines and “member donations” spreadsheet at The Australian Vaxxed II bus.
When the police were in Ballina and they were telling us we had to move… I called Aneeta who’s the president of the AVN and I explained to her what the situation was… and she said ‘this is the hill we die on’. And that’s what I think too. We can’t be pushed any further, we just can’t. [..] I did not move here to live in a dictatorship… I will live in a free country or I will die.
From “How much further will we be pushed before we push back?” by AVN founder Meryl Dorey, October 20th 2020
In a recent video address to her members an angry, emotional Meryl Dorey blamed the police, politicians and media for interfering with the AVN. Dorey contends they are telling people of their rights and giving them a voice. They are doing work with the vaccine injured that the government should be doing. She has “a huge issue with the intimidation and the bullying that I’m feeling from the government that I pay the salary for”. Nor is the government supporting those “who want to get more information about vaccination”. There “may be millions around the world every year who are being killed and injured by vaccine”.
“These are people who took a bullet… the government wants to pretend you don’t exist”. Dorey wants to know how long before people start pushing back. Angrily she announces, “I’m sick of it, I’ve had a gut full, I really have”. Pushing the false notion that Australians have had basic rights to consent removed and people with children injured by vaccines are being “thrown in the garbage” she urges, “You need to stand up for yourselves, stop being bullied, being afraid, being suppressed. How much further are you going to take this before you start pushing back, before you stand up and say I do not consent and I never will consent? I will not take this COVID vaccine, I will not be forced to take any vaccine… any government that tells me that I have to do this is illegitimate and does not deserve my support my tax dollars my anything”.
Australia is seen, “as a laughing stock, as a dictatorship around the world”. Meryl Dorey tells us she did not move here to live in a dictatorship and she will not. She will die. She has drawn the line. Her voice breaking Dorey continues, “I will not consent to this bullshit. And that’s what it is… we have to take whatever actions are required to protect ourselves”. She also has a direct message for the police. Dorey tells them that they have become tools of a dictatorship (using the word freely now). She advises Australia’s police, “You have no obligation to obey an order that goes against the constitution of Australia… You are here to protect us not to bully us, not to suppress us, not to take away our rights and you need to stop being tools of these fascist dictators”.
Police are told that under the Australian constitution the police don’t work for “dictator Dan or any other idiot in parliament”. Dorey goes on to argue the government does not deserve our respect, obedience or consent. This government is harming us and is thus illegitimate. We do not need to obey what it is the government says, which is wrong and evil. Dictator Dan, Scott Morrison, Annastacia Palaszczuk and [OLD Chief Health Officer] Jeannette Young are feeding us “pure evil”. They are “power hungry idiots… we need to stop obeying idiots… we really and truly need to get rid of them and start over…”.
Dorey also contends that if listeners don’t stand up for their rights they may wish they weren’t here. The Vaxxed II bus has gone dark as it were. Only those who register will know its location. The full speech was over 23 minutes. The comments above have been taken from a 7.5 minute highlights outtake. I wish to stress this is an edit in chronological sequence. Care was taken to not present false impressions by running phrases together. This resulted in two re-edits. Please feel free to consult the full audio file or visit the AVN Facebook video permalink. Concerns and criticisms are welcome as a comment.
Highlights: How much further will we be pushed before we push back?
We need to consider what Meryl Dorey hopes to achieve with such anti-authoritarian rhetoric. If she is genuinely upset by councils opposing the presence of the Vaxxed II bus it is not for the reasons stated. Dorey wants the public to believe she is only motivated by the opportunity to give the vaccine injured a voice. Yet the real purpose of the Vaxxed II bus tour is far more predictable. Profit and status from the realisation of a larger plan is what Dorey sees being interfered with. I’ll be expanding on that in the next post. Nonetheless we should examine her historic use of this rhetoric, opposition to the tour and how the AVN have reacted to it.
Her skill at evoking anger and frustration in members by convincing them their rights are being eroded has been honed over 25 years. Dorey has been presenting the spectre of imminent mandatory vaccination for decades. In the audio above she urges listeners to stand up and refuse to take the COVID vaccine and not be “forced” to take any vaccine. But no vaccine available to the general public in Australia is mandatory. Scott Morrison has retracted his rash claim of a mandatory COVID vaccine. Yet in an AVN video Aneeta Hafemeister warns“we always knew this was coming”.
This is a standard AVN line. In July 2009 during the “swine flu” pandemic Meryl Dorey claimed “It is happening just as we said it would”. In an “Action Alert” email she contended that a global pandemic would allow the government to use emergency powers to enforce compulsory H1N1 vaccination that was “just around the corner”. The following paragraph from over 11 years ago is indistinguishable in tone, terminology and intent from her presentation just 11 days ago.
…there is no time to sit back and wait to see what happens. We need to take action now to let our elected representatives and the media know what we feel about any form of forced medication.
Influenza vaccination is a requirement of healthcare workers engaged in certain roles. In March 2008 at a forum in Inverell Dorey used this to mislead her audience into believing mandatory vaccination was imminent. On presentation slides she asks “Who will be next?”, then answers: “You and your family!”. The title of her talk was Compulsory Vaccination – it’s Here! These tactics work well at motivating individuals to support the AVN cause. The claim of impending mandatory vaccination is often accompanied by requests for donations. This was the case in April 2012 when Dorey tweeted that donations to the AVN “help support freedom of vaccination choice and oppose compulsory vaccination in Australia!” (See slides below).
Of course, there is still no compulsory vaccination of the public in Australia. Following COVID-19, influenza vaccination has become mandatory for aged care workers. Australian states and territories have specific requirements for vaccination of healthcare workers and visitors to aged care facilities (see below). If a person so chooses they may, albeit unwisely, refuse vaccination for themselves and their children. They may choose to vaccinate selectively or to accept their child’s vaccine schedule at a slower pace. Legislation introduced in 2015 linked childcare rebates and supplements to immunisation as a financial incentive to improve immunisation rates. This does not constitute mandatory vaccination.
Consider the wording of the second slide. Once nurses are vaccinated to protect patients, the patients are vaccinated to protect nurses. Then teachers will be vaccinated to “protect vulnerable vaccinated students”. Then students are vaccinated (again and superfluously) to protect teachers. Firstly, in the intervening years teachers have not been requested to vaccinate. But the contention at play here is that vaccines do not work and actually make the vaccinated more vulnerable to infection with the disease they were vaccinated against. These baseless claims are supposedly steps toward a “logical conclusion”.
I could continue with more examples but there is little point. March 2008, July 2009, April 2012 and today. The message is the same. Your rights are being eroded by a misguided government. You will be forced to have dangerous vaccines. The appalling manufactured case of “death from compulsory vaccination” is typical of the AVN. The details may defy a genuine diagnosis but the heading will stay with audience members as is no doubt the intention.
In a recent paper Distrust, danger and confidence: A content analysis of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network Blog, Thomas Aechtner identifies the “persuasion attributes” of the techniques noted above. We can add our examples in parentheses. Aechtner has identified the Scarcity Principle (reduced vaccination choice, removal of democratic/health rights), Arousal of Fear (harm associated with forced vaccination, “pure evil” in government), Asking Questions (rhetorical: how much more will you take?), Source Cues (claimed scientific credibility of vaccine injury & death, account of a nurses suffering), the Contrast Principle (contrasting the selflessness of the AVN with attempts by corrupt forces to suppress them) and Negativity Effect (the negativity in Dorey’s rhetoric effectively creates attitudes). The paper goes into depth examining these and other persuasion attributes on the AVN blog. Suffice it to say these techniques are recognised in academia and can be applied to understand how the AVN manipulates an unwary audience.
The backbone of this Vaxxed II bus tour is not just vaccine injury and death but as we heard in the audio the AVN stepping in to do the work of the government in giving the victims a voice. The “evil fascist dictatorship” government is corrupted by pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies the AVN falsely claim never conduct research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines. We can compare the AVN to these companies in reporting Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) over the period 2000 – 2002.
Looking at the text under Table 1 in this Department of Health Surveillance of AEFI entry there’s a footnote on unreported or unclear jurisdiction. It goes on to explain that in this sub-category pharmaceutical companies reported 143 AEFI’s and the AVN reported 11. Put another way this entry captures a snapshot in time in which the AVN managed to report 7.7% of the vaccine injuries that pharmaceutical companies did. Although unlikely it may indeed mean that the AVN are just more diligent in reporting AEFI jurisdiction. The important point however is that this refutes their claim that pharmaceutical companies suppress information of adverse reactions to vaccines.
Part 2: Objection to the presence of the Vaxxed II bus
Both Vaxxed films are pseudoscientific constructs. The first directed by Andrew Wakefield casts him as the victim of an elaborate conspiracy hiding the truth about vaccines and autism. This is supposedly backed by a thoroughly debunked claim that the CDC have suppressed data, suddenly revealed by a whistleblower. Vaxxed II is a collection of vaccine injury stories of which Wakefield is presented as an authority.
Before the Vaxxed II tour began it was criticised by health authorities and the media. Former President of the Australian Medical Association Dr. Tony Bartone spoke on radio 2GB in April this year reminding listeners of Australia’s excellent record in vaccination safety. He observed;
Vaccination has saved lives, it’s safe, it’s effective and anyone that tried to create any other discussion against it is really trying to harm the Australian public.
Doctors and medical experts agree there are no links between immunisations and permanent disabilities and say vaccines are a safe and effective way of protecting the wider community from harmful and communicable diseases. […]
Dr Kean-Seng Lim, a former president of the Australian Medical Association said the tour was ‘concerning’ and ‘irresponsible’. ‘A lot of the anti-vax movement is based on rumours and untruths… any process which increases the misinformation out there is harmful to our society.’
Australian Skeptics published a comprehensive Call To Action for medical professionals, the media and local councils as the bus got under way. Given the widespread criticism and the fact that Australian anti-vaxxers may be vocal but very small in number it was perhaps ambitious to to think the tour would not face criticism. Public opinion of the AVN was not helped by their eager uptake of COVID-19 conspiracies.
The tour also began with a lot of pent up anger on the part of the AVN. Those who know of their antics and the conduct of Meryl Dorey were not surprised to see aggressively toned emails from the AVN to its members. In a July email headed Aussie Parents Vs. The Media Machine Aneeta Hafemeister taunted;
The AVN also wishes to extend an invitation to the Australian media to join us in performing acts of journalism at any time, if and when the Australian media locate their journalistic integrity
On July 31st the next email brought news of the first council action against the Vaxxed II bus. Relevant paragraphs include;
The Blue Mountains Council in NSW has passed a motion apparently regarding the AVN, although the AVN was not named. […]
We are most concerned that the Blue Mountains Council is unable to research even the most basic facts. I have spoken to Mayor Mark Greenhill and his answers to my questions were quite unsatisfactory. We will pursue this matter further.
Blue Mountains Council had met on July 28th and, as a matter of urgency unanimously passed a motion moved by Councillors Christie and Fell prohibiting bookings by the Vaxxed II bus on council land. The motion reinforces a NSW Health order barring mass gatherings due to COVID-19 risk. The minute can be read below along with Councillor Brendan Christie’s Facebook post highlighting AVN recklessness and his personal interest in sound public health decisions.
By August 3rd Councillor Brendan Christie delighted sensible Australians with comments in the Blue Mountains Gazette, which reported;
Liberal Cr Brendan Christie told council that a nation-wide bus ‘listening’ tour of an anti-vaccination group called VAXXED may visit the region and he wanted them officially boycotted by council, as he said they also did not believe in the dangers of coronavirus. […]
He moved an urgency motion to deny the group any booking on council property to “spread their anti vaccination propaganda” through the Mountains vulnerable, elderly community which violated the current public health order.
This is madness. During a global pandemic bus loads of anti-vaxxers want to come in droves to areas whose hospitals can’t cope if COVID-19 breaks out? Vaccinations have saved millions of lives globally and these people want to visit our regions?
Cr Christie went on to make a number of similarly themed comments. However one comment he made above reinforced how well Meryl Dorey has fooled the public with the purpose of the tour. He described it as a “listening” tour. The Vaxxed II bus tour is indeed masquerading as such. Dorey wants the public to believe her aim is to provide for the vaccine injured. But her aim is actually to provide for herself to realise a longer term plan.
On August 14th an AVN email arrived headed Propaganda. The subject was Gutter Journalism: MSM Strikes Again. By now, the AVN had already executed their first hit job on one Angus Booker, the CEO of the BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park and on the business itself. Back on July 23rd he asked them to leave the park because they were running their business on his property. By now also, anyone who had checked Facebook could see the AVN shirked advice on social distancing, cramming people into their van. This was at odds with the conduct the CEO expected from his own staff.
Dorey urged her members to respond. This resulted in the type of attack on innocent Aussies we have come to expect from the AVN as members filled the Big4 Facebook page with abuse. Their conduct came to the attention of A Current Affair who presented a segment on August 11th. This post covers the initial event and the ACA coverage. To be sure after first sending flying monkeys against Angus Booker and the Big4 Holiday Park the AVN sent them after ACA via the Australian Press Council. At no time did AVN administrators object to the abuse of Angus Booker or advise members to raise concerns politely.
On September 9th members received an email that opened withThe New Fascist Normal. There was plenty of material opposing Victoria’s lockdown and the promotion of Freedom Day. It included an image of Dan Andrews dressed in a black Mao revolutionary uniform. Referring to the arrest of a pregnant anti-lockdown protest organiser in Ballarat readers were told;
This has been an incredible and horrific week in Australia. It is now apparent that Victoria is basically descending into fascism.
The next challenge to the Vaxxed II bus tour was on October 14th from Nuatali Nelmes, Lord Mayor of Newcastle. She was advised by public health professionals about the bogus claims pushed by the AVN. On her Facebook page she posted her intention to ban any anti-vaccination event from being hosted on public land.
The AVN responded the next day with a video from president Aneeta Hafemeister. Rather than cite the reasons presented by the Lord Mayor or even saying diplomatically that she had been misled by health professionals (she hadn’t of course) Hafemeister chose to get personal. Using the same accusation levelled at the CEO of Big4 Holiday Park she said that Nuatali Nelmes was, “not very happy about people with vaccine injury having a voice”. The same type of persecution rhetoric Dorey uses on October 20th.
On the same day members received a “media release” via email. The account of the Lord Mayor’s statement is different to her actual statement;
The Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Nuatali Nelmes, has issued a statement calling for the censorship, suppression and exclusion of families who, in some cases, have already paid the ultimate price for vaccinating their children.
Claiming that the Lord Mayor should be ashamed of herself the media release offered;
Like all petty dictators, she may make the lives of those in her area difficult, but she will not control them.
The angst was for nothing as when the time came the bus was able to park on private residential land in Newcastle owned by a sympathetic AVN supporter. The event went ahead on October 25th.
A week before at Ballina however things did not go so smoothly. The thing to remember about this bus is that when it sets up it is holding an event and requires a permit for doing so. Permits which the AVN has no intention of securing. The AVN has not been overly keen to allow too much focus on their money making marquee canopy stall which is set up everyday at each spot as filming proceeds. Anti-vaccination material is sold and flyers are distributed. Meryl insists “this bus makes no money” because the AVN is a volunteer organisation. This is untrue. The entire purpose of that bus is to make money.
At Ballina the bus devotees were first visited by James. A charming lad representing the council Events Manager he asked the AVN to leave as they had no permit. Turning on her charm Dorey asked what would happen if they refused. Told they would incur an infringement notice and possibly a fine in the thousands she decided she would take the notice. It’s only donor’s money after all one might suppose. He stressed they should remove the power connection as this would incur another infringement. Meryl laughed because, after all, as rate payers “we pay for that power”. James left.
Later the police arrived. Of course the power was still on apparently just charging Meryl’s phone. The police were more firm. The marquee canopy stall had to be removed and they should leave. Meryl debated the meaning of the term “event”. Asked if the canopy stall was open to members of the public Meryl answered dishonestly contending, “It’s open to members of our organisation who have contacted us and come here”. The senior police officer went above and beyond the call of duty as Dorey challenged each item mentioned. Selling goods. Handing out flyers. What James had said. Told she could not hand out flyers Meryl became argumentative;
I would have thought that political free speech which is guaranteed under the High Court of Australia…
The police were not going to argue. They had to pack up. At some time as we’re told in the audio Dorey supposedly rang Hafemeister who told her;
This is the hill we die on.
Thankfully nobody died that day and the accuracy of that dramatic claim Dorey made on October 20th is one I have doubts about.
On October 26th Councillor Linda Scott made a statement posted on Facebook. She had proposed that the City of Sydney approach the State and Federal Government to prevent the Vaxxed II bus from stopping within the city of Sydney Local Government area.
Item 13.16, moved by Councillor Scott and seconded by Councillor Phelps was passed unanimously on October 26th. You can read the Notices of motion here: Anti-Vaccination-Risks Network Bus Tour Ban. Access the full council meeting agenda and minutes for October 26th via this link. Whilst the impromptu name change is much more suitable, the AVN was not happy.
Excellent insight into the importance of protecting public health can be gleaned from audio of the Sydney City Council meeting. You can listen to the audio of this motion being passed below. Councillor Scott moved a procedural motion to have the matter debated earlier than tabled. Lord Mayor Clover Moore put it to council the item should be considered as a matter of urgency. This procedural motion was also passed unanimously. The council meeting’s original full webcast may be streamed here. The procedural motion begins at 1.23.10.
City of Sydney Council meeting. Item 13.16, 26th Oct. 2020
The AVN pounced. An Urgent Action Alert email sent to members on the same day warned that Sydney City Council wanted to ban the bus in NSW and nationally. It described the motion as a comedy of errors because it did not get the AVN name right. Anyone reading the email was urged to write to council members by 9PM that night. That was 3 1/2 hours from when the email arrived. The details of ten councillors were provided for the flying monkeys behind a keyboard.
Amusingly the email asked, “Does the council have a clue about what it is opposing?” Members were asked to send the council a link to the AVN blog to allow councillors to;
…view some of the hundreds of heartbreaking interviews we have already conducted with the families of those who have been killed or injured by vaccines.
We also need to ask them to allow the AVN to participate in this meeting which is discussing the rights of the AVN, our members and the people of NSW and Australia who want to protect their own and their children’s basic human rights to bodily integrity.
No doubt a few members did write to council as is their right. However what seemed to take quite a lot of their focus were abusive tweets sent to Councillor Linda Scott. This is what the AVN flying monkeys do best. Attack individuals exercising their rights. Linda was interviewed the next day on 2GB by Deborah Knight about the motion and the abusive tweets. You can tune in here to 2GB or listen below.
We should remember of course that four years ago the then Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy was subject to the same abuse. Which may be why that again there was no word from Meryl Dorey or Aneeta Hafemeister about the inappropriate conduct of members. Nor any attempt to prevent this from happening in future. Linda herself reads out some of the tweets in a video here on Facebook.
Or just hit the audio button to listen to the 2 min MP3 of the video.
On October 29th the AVN sent an open letter to Sydney councillors. It is highly predictable in painting the evidence vacuum of vaccine injury and the apparently selfless role of the AVN. It also drips with criticism such that the reader wonders why it was sent at all;
The most recent objection to the presence of the Vaxxed II bus happened just yesterday, October 30th, at Centennial Park. The AVN were cutting it fine and no doubt hoped to enjoy a geographical smirk at the City of Sydney. That’s because Centennial Park is in itself a suburb split between the local council areas of the City of Sydney and the City of Randwick. Linda Scott’s motion banned the bus from the local council areas of the City of Sydney. Still, without a permit to hold an activity in Randwick the AVN had to move on. Dorey pointed out that the bus makes no money and the AVN is registered as a not for profit organisation. Thus as others were there so should they be.
Initially rangers arrived and chose to be curt with Dorey. This has caused her much distress. Despite the rebellious tone of Dorey’s audio at the beginning of this post, the AVN sought legal advice. They were advised to move on and chose to do so if asked. The police (who she advised in that audio were working under fascist dictators) arrived. Meryl Dorey did not make her stand or remind them they had no obligation to obey these orders that supposedly go against the Australian constitution. They were after all, more than pleasant. They didn’t appear to be bullying, suppressing, or taking away their rights. The sun was out and it was lovely in the shade. Perhaps it just wasn’t a day for overthrowing fascist dictatorships that don’t deserve Meryl’s consent. Dorey urges others to recklessly rebel while she herself consents without even raising her voice.
In conclusion we can see Meryl Dorey’s highly emotive rhetoric as merely the latest manifestation of an old AVN standard. Rather than having reached a point where she is about to choose “to live free or die” her aim is to evoke and nurture attitudes of heightened emotion and recklessness in AVN members. This is also seen in constantly biased and misleading feedback in emails often penned by Aneeta Hafemeister who has brought a new level of anger and alienation to the role of president. The AVN has comfortably embraced COVID-19 conspiracies and this has added an extra dimension to anti-authoritarian rhetoric.
Despite constant messages on the importance of democratic rights the AVN’s refusal to consider the role of public health policy is reflected in the intellectually vicious responses and personal attacks launched against anyone who dares think differently or exercise their democratic rights. Both Dorey and Hafemeister show no regret for the abuse inflicted upon innocent parties. In attributing bizarre and callous mindsets to those who oppose anti-vaccination disinformation they can depersonalise individuals and revel in their distress.
The Vaxxed II bus tour is a scam successfully projecting the mirage that the AVN is a caring entity focused upon the unjustly abandoned vaccine injured and their families. The real aim of this tour is not to provide a voice or a platform for those who have been “thrown in the garbage”. The real aim is to motivate as many people as possible to believe they are victims of a widespread global vaccine injury epidemic. To then “stand up for yourselves, stop being bullied, being afraid, being suppressed”.
The genuine aim is to encourage large numbers to declare their vaccine injury, death and unvaccinated stories on film. In doing so they allow Dorey and Hafemeister to realise the completion of the first stage of a longer plan.
We’ll discuss that plan and the likely form it will take in the next post.
Nov. 1st 2020: Updated to include reference to ‘No Jab No Pay’ legislation, and mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers para 11, and references below.
References: Policies and recommendations for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers:
The unprecedented nature of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic has begun to influence the transparency of drug company trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines.
On September 17th The New York Times reported that Moderna and Pfizer were releasing the protocols that describe the trial process to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. On September 19th they reported that AstraZeneca had done the same. This heralds a significant change on the part of drug companies. Although in practice complex vaccine trial protocols would need to be interpreted by say, science journalists, in order to be understood by the wider public particularly given the multicultural nature of today’s communities in developed nations. [See references below for protocols]
As trials have progressed to Phase III in which data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines are collated, the interest of the public has grown significantly. Intense media attention surrounded the recent pause of the Phase III trial of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with scientists from Oxford University. Not surprisingly public interest has turned to pressure for more transparency as to how trials are conducted.
From July 24th to August 7th Ipsossurveyed respondents from 27 countries [PDF] on attitudes toward a COVID-19 vaccine. 74% of respondents said they would have a vaccine if it was available. The most common reason for rejecting the vaccine was concern over side effects (56%). This was followed by doubt of its effectiveness (29%). The importance of transparency surrounding Phase III trials is confirmed by the weight of these two reasons for rejecting the vaccine.
These vaccines are being developed rapidly under the gaze of a public that expects at some time to be given such a vaccine. It’s understandable that anxiety surrounding both efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines existed long before the specifics of Phase III trials became public. That those specifics have become better understood due to an issue with safety does raise matters of trust within the public.
Of course the increased attention over safety and efficacy would never have arisen during development of the many so-called “alternatives” to regulated vaccines. Alternative products are not subject to reliable scrutiny and as such the acute and chronic effects are in fact undocumented or unknown. The safety and efficacy of such listed (as opposed to regulated) therapeutic products is almost always merely assumed.
Establishing trust between the public and the government and health authorities is important. Increased transparency of vaccine trials will help promote trust. Sustaining trust is significantly reliant on clear information and explanation of complicated issues that raise public concern. This is particularly true in the present environment where changing evidence may come across as inconsistency and if left unacknowledged may lead to suspicion. The proper interpretation and presentation of available information is essential.
Normally data gathered during a trial are published after the trial. However the dynamic nature of COVID-19 vaccine development and the global impact of this pandemic have already changed what may be considered normal. Added to this is information that is leaking out. The Oxford trial has recommenced on the advice of an independent safety committee. AstraZeneca announced that they “had not confirmed a diagnosis” of transverse myelitis in the study volunteer.
What has also recently become apparent is that the study was paused in July after a male volunteer who had received one dose of the vaccine developed transverse myelitis. See page 10 of this participant information sheet. There was a review by independent experts. The trial resumed after it was determined that the individual had a previously undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis unrelated to the vaccine. Still, there was a persistent concern that AstraZeneca had not revealed in detail what had happened to the woman whose significant neurological symptoms led to the most recent trial pause.
On the September 14th edition of The Health Report Dr. Norman Swan interviewed Professor Bruce Neal, Executive Director of the George Institute Australia. The occasion was to discuss the launch of a project called Join Us. A challenging issue about Phase III trials is that drug or vaccine development may stall or fail due to lack of suitable participants. This isn’t due to drop out or resistance. Rather the cost and administrative difficulty of finding suitable participants is significant. Join Us aims to secure pre-consent to trials of a certain nature.
Whilst that’s interesting information about trials, Swan also asked Professor Neal about his thoughts on the reluctance of AstraZeneca to reveal details about the woman responsible for the second pause of the Phase III trial. Neal considered reasons to release more information. It would give a heads up to other researchers around the globe allowing them to “provide input and information into it”. However he also noted that releasing such information midway through a trial may have negative consequences.
There may be confidentiality issues as such a “severe unusual event” might lead to patient identity being leaked. Perhaps most interestingly was the observation that the trial may well end with a conclusion that the event was not an issue related to the vaccine. By then the damage is done. The public have already internalised the notion of a negative side effect. The media effort to reverse that belief is not likely to be successful.
Professor Neal stated;
And so the media surrounding the announcement of something like that is going to retain much more prominence probably than the media that tries to reel that back in and say, look, actually it wasn’t an issue. And that could have ramifications down the track when you try to get people to take the vaccine.
It’s important to note that the FDA has not allowed the AstraZeneca trial to resume in the US. The National Institutes of Health stated that it remains to be seen if the illnesses are coincidental and that, “pausing to allow for further evaluation is consistent with standard practice”.
Understandably some health professionals in the US remain concerned. Whilst investors were told of the second problem it has become clear that the company did not immediately alert the F.D.A. and advise them of the independent safety board’s recommendation to pause the trial. Virologist Dr. Peter Jay Hotez based at Houston’s Baylor college of Medicine has not been impressed. He claimed communication has been “horrible and unacceptable” citing the failure of UK regulators to provide rationale for resumption of the trial.
Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the F.D.A.’s advisory committee on vaccines, said that it’s unclear how the company — or the U.K. government — determined that the second case was not related to the vaccine.
Offit has also noted that the rarity of transverse myelitis in the general public has not been reflected in the UK trial population. The extra caution we are seeing in the US is reason for the public to have increased confidence in the influence regulators have over the safety of vaccine trials. Consequently there is reason for the public to be less anxious about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that are eventually marketed. Given that independent safety experts in the UK have advised it is safe for the Oxford trial to resume it will be very interesting to see what further evaluation by US authorities concludes.
Results: Following nearly 64 million vaccine doses, only 7 cases of TM and 8 cases of ADEM were vaccinated during the primary exposure window 5-28 days prior to onset. For TM, there was no statistically significant increased risk of immunization. For ADEM, there was no statistically significant increased risk following any vaccine except for Tdap (adolescent and adult tetanus, reduced diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine. […]
Conclusions: We found no association between TM and prior immunization. There was a possible association of ADEM with Tdap vaccine, but the excess risk is not likely to be more than 1.16 cases of ADEM per million vaccines administered.
Only well-conducted epidemiological studies with adequate evaluation of results can clarify whether a true association between vaccines and adverse event development truly exists. Autoimmune neurological syndromes that follow vaccine use are among these. […]
Literature analysis showed that most of the associations between vaccines and nervous system autoimmune syndromes that have been reported as severe adverse events following immunization are no longer evidenced when well-conducted epidemiological studies are carried out. Although the rarity of autoimmune diseases makes it difficult to strictly exclude that, albeit exceptionally, some vaccines may induce an autoimmune neurological disease, no definitive demonstration of a potential role of vaccines in causing autoimmune neurological syndromes is presently available. Consequently, the fear of neurological autoimmune disease cannot limit the use of the most important preventive measure presently available against infectious diseases.
The Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University logically argues that a number of vaccines “may prevent transverse myelitis”. The institute published Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? Last updated September 18th 2020 the article opens with the conclusion;
Natural viral infections with influenza, hepatitis A, measles, mumps and rubella and varicella have all been associated with myelitis, albeit rarely. Thus, these viral vaccines may prevent transverse myelitis by protecting against natural infection. Vaccines currently routinely recommended to the general population in the U.S. have not been shown to cause transverse myelitis.
Ultimately this research in conjunction with the cautious US approach at present does not support a contention of general recklessness in the production of this vaccine or of other potential COVID-19 vaccines.
This dynamic provides yet another blow to anti-vaccination conspiracies. Namely the contention that there is collusion between drug companies and health regulators to suppress the supposedly inherent dangers of vaccines that anti-vaxxers wrongly insist lead to an abundance of vaccine injuries. More so Dr. Paul Offit has been derided, verbally attacked and threatened by the global anti-vaccine lobby for many years as a callous profiteer of vaccines. Yet he has constantly raised a voice of caution to ensure safe COVID-19 vaccine development.
It is certain that placing the AstraZeneca trial on hold following advice from the F.D.A. is not a unique event. Rather the fact that measures employed to control the current pandemic are being played out before the public in real time has provided insight into events that are usually ignored. In the previous post I listed some other aspects of anti-vaccine conspiracy that simply cannot be sustained following media reports of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Phase III trial pause. Even cursory attention to the details of this trial has exposed the dishonesty of anti-vaxxer claims.
Well before the trial pause led to media attention, public anxiety and now transparency of drug companies, the importance of trust in accepting a COVID-19 vaccine had been raised in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a significant mistake with respect to public confidence in vaccine development and uptake. In August he announced that Australia had signed a deal to produce the vaccine being developed at Oxford University if Phase III trials were successful.
His mistake was to add that it would be“as mandatory as you can possibly make it”. Morrison realised the mistake and in under a day had produced the anticipated walk back. Nonetheless the many anti-science and anti-reason groups that are feverishly misrepresenting the motives of governments and health authorities during this pandemic were delighted. Within hours of Morrison’s announcement the AVN published a video mocking the notion of “safe and effective” vaccines whilst contending they “had always known this was coming”.
There were of course no “walk backs” from the AVN when Morrison corrected his position. Pushing fear of mandatory vaccination has always translated to profit for this group and Scott Morrison had done them a favour. Say no to mandatory vaccinationread the back of a T-Shirt weeks later in Perth during Australia-wide “solidarity” rallies. Messages on social media continue in the same vein. Still, the reality is that messages and memes on mandatory vaccination would be common had Scott Morrison made no such statement.
Any harm done to the uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia is likely negligible. A survey conducted in April found that just under 86% of Australians aged over 18 would get a COVID-19 vaccine. 4.9% would not whilst 9.4% were indifferent. These figures are promising but were collated before the widely publicised pause in the AstraZeneca trial and increased public reflection on the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine. Survey responses were to the statement, If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, I will get it.
Ipsos published their global attitudes results on September 1st, indicating an 88% uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia. 59% strongly agree and 28% somewhat agree with the statement, If a vaccine for COVID-19 were available, I would get it. Only China and Brazil were more likely to accept a vaccine. These figures were also collated before the pause in the AstraZeneca trial. Follow this link to readKey Findings for Australia.
Another area that’s causing anxiety is the posturing of Donald Trump toward authorising a COVID-19 vaccine before the upcoming election. Consider the measure of Trump for a moment. He will tempt the voters with the promise of a vaccine in weeks. However it is more realistic to expect a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in months. These promises demand a disregard for vaccine safety. Yet in March 2014 Trump was tweeting in support of the mythical vaccine/autism link, a bogus view that bemoans a lack of vaccine safety. After the last election, research fraud and vaccine/autism profiteer Andrew Wakefield attended an inaugural ball from which he posted a social media video calling for an overhaul of the CDC.
Others have long ago considered the measure of Trump in regard to the election and a COVID-19 vaccine promise. In early June University of Pennsylvania professors Dr. Paul Offit and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled Could Trump turn a vaccine into a campaign stunt?
In a desperate search for a boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine that has not been shown to be safe and effective as an October surprise. […]
Given how this president has behaved, this incredibly dangerous scenario is not far-fetched. In a desperate search for a political boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine before it had been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe and effective. […]
Thousands of Americans have already died as Donald Trump has perpetually postponed effective public health interventions and made poor therapeutic recommendations. We must be on alert to prevent him from corrupting the rigorous assessment of safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in order to pull an October vaccine surprise to try to win re-election.
At the beginning of the second week of September the CEOs of nine drug companies, arguably competing in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, signed a pledge to stand with science and not launch such a vaccine until it met “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles”. The pledge statement as it appears on Pfizers website is in references below. It came at a time when public health specialists and scientists expressed concern that the Trump administration was pressuring regulators to authorise a vaccine before the November 3rd election.
The New York Times reported;
The joint statement by competitors was seen as an effort to restore public trust as President Trump has pushed for a vaccine before the presidential election.
Following guidance from expert regulatory authorities such as FDA regarding the development of COVID-19 vaccines, consistent with existing standards and practices, and in the interest of public health, we pledge to:
Always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.
Continue to adhere to high scientific and ethical standards regarding the conduct of clinical trials and the rigor of manufacturing processes.
Only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.
Work to ensure a sufficient supply and range of vaccine options, including those suitable for global access.
We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved.
Yes to the cynical eye this may seem to present the pharmaceutical CEOs as really great guys. However I recommend reading the entire Biopharma Leaders Unite pledge. More to the point with increased transparency the public and the media have an invested interest to see a suitable outcome here. This pledge is certainly a step up from Fauci saying he has “confidence and some faith” that the COVID-19 vaccine approval won’t be political.
Earlier in the year it was reported that a significant number of Americans are likely to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. A robust anti-vaccination lobby and rising numbers of the vaccine hesitant mean that the number of Americans who accept the vaccine may be insufficient to sustain herd immunity, which may require between 50 – 70% of the population to be immune. The more recent Ipsos survey found 67% of US citizens would have the vaccine.
Exactly how many must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity is still uncertain. The WHO suggest 95%. Mathematical modelling reflecting age and social activity level produces a herd immunity “illustration” as low as 43%. Other reports suggest a vaccine uptake of over 70% is needed. The Mayo clinic point out that reaching this level of immunity through infection and not vaccination would overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths.
Thus there is ample reason to hope greater transparency of vaccine trials leads to justified improved confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and increased uptake. Of course given the speed of current COVID-19 vaccine trials let us also hope that the vaccines that make it to market are extremely safe and splendidly effective. The fewer challenges that accompany immunisation on a global scale the better.
Another area that is getting more scrutiny if not exactly transparency is that of vaccine nationalism. This term refers to agreements between governments and vaccine manufacturers that ensure developed nations have secure access to vaccines for their entire population before they are available for other nations. With COVID-19 this may result in a delay in vaccinating health workers in developing nations, individuals at high risk of severe disease or death and those living in a region of a sudden dangerous cluster.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Yet we are faced with a situation where wealthy nations will be able to vaccinate their populations whilst countries that rely on aid organisations will be unable to vaccinate health workers and at-risk populations without organised help. A recent Science Friction podcast looks at the ways in which this problem can be combated. Australia’s Friends of Science in Medicine actively support equitable access to “COVID-19 vaccines and related health technologies”.
No doubt the anti-vaccine lobby will use information in the trial protocols in the same way they use vaccine package inserts. Thanks to exceptional cognitive dissonance they will list reasons as to why information from vaccine manufacturers can’t be trusted whilst using that same information to defend these reasons. The good news is that as we’ve seen, increased transparency and media attention has exposed tenets of anti-vaccine conspiracy and beliefs as vacuous and fallacious. On these points it’s a case of watch this space.
In conclusion it can be seen that the increase in transparency of COVID-19 vaccine development should indeed serve to increase public trust and confidence in the quality of eligible vaccines. I cannot finish without stressing again that the safety and efficacy elements of Phase III trials do not apply to the raft of concoctions marketed as alternatives to medicine. All consumers should seek reputable sources of information and beware of the many hoax “cures” of COVID-19. Discuss any novel plans to manage or prevent COVID-19 with a registered medical practitioner.
Finally whilst the importance of transparency with respect to vaccine trials has become clear, it was also confirmed by the Ipsos global survey on attitudes to a COVID-19 vaccine. The most common reasons for intending to refuse a vaccine are safety followed by efficacy. The establishment of which is the very aim of Phase III trials.
Recently the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial was paused due to a possible case of transverse myelitis in one of the subjects. Today (Saturday UK time) it was announced that the trial would resume following advice from from safety experts.
Confirmation Update: Transverse myelitis has not been diagnosed in the subject , , , .
The news of the pause had the anti-vaccine lobby reacting with as much composure as dozing picnickers who have awoken to find they are laying atop a large nest of very active fire ants.
There is the urge to proclaim we told you so. Yet this includes the realisation that forfeiture of key pegs in anti-vaccine conspiracy is required. What has followed as we see below appears to be confusion, the inability to comprehend events, fabrication of fallacy and bogus reinforcement of elements of the Big Pharma conspiracy.
It’s important not to underestimate how disturbing genuine challenges to an individuals world view can be. In the case of the Oxford trial announcement, the anti-vaccine conspiratorial view of the world is threatened by a distressing reality. For the dedicated anti-vaxxer this leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. In fact anti-vaccine conspiracies must exist in the first place to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises when scientific evidence and epidemiology overwhelmingly refute the myth of dangerous vaccines and manufactured claims of vaccine injury and death.
In this case there are three main challenges to current anti-vaccine beliefs.
The MSM (mainstream media) presented a transparent account of the Oxford trial pause.
The pause in the trial itself shows that the safety aspect of Phase III clinical trials is working well.
Cursory reading of the situation confirms the efficacy component of Phase III clinical trials and the use of a placebo.
The anti-vaccine lobby contend that mainstream media are biased against the “truth” of vaccine horror because what is reported is not anti-vaccine. If the mistake of giving anti-vaccine identities air-time to push unsubstantiated disinformation is made, criticism swiftly follows. Yet primarily it is the industry requirement to fact check that keeps anti-vaccination views from being presented unchallenged.
It’s more likely that their antics make tabloid or news segments because they are dishonest and at times vindictive. This attracts regular criticism of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. A scheme by anti-vaxxer Kyia Clayton to interview AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister on ABC Hobart was met with outrage. It was justly criticised on Media Watch which yet again led to Meryl Dorey urging members to bombard the ABC and ACMA with complaints.
Rather than rise to the occasion and present evidence that meets the standard of scientific consensus the AVN has instead accused the media of being part of the larger conspiracy. Attacking mainstream media and articles that are based on vaccine fact is a substantial activity for Australian anti-vaxxers.
A constant claim of anti-vaxxers is that vaccines are never tested adequately for safety. This is partly due to the erroneous belief that vaccines are so full of dangerous chemicals and biological matter that they cannot possibly be safe. Ergo, any genuine monitoring for adverse reactions in large samples would reveal that a high percentage present with such reactions. As this is not the case their only conclusion is the biased testing conspiracy.
Another claim is that vaccines are never tested for efficacy. They don’t work and we have all been deceived. Herd immunity is a fake concept. Vaccines were introduced after improved sanitation and hygiene eliminated most disease and thus deserve no credit. This claim is made with the help of deceitfully crafted graphs plotting mortality, not morbidity, in such small numbers it appears that vaccines had no impact. The two claims specific to Phase III clinical trials are often made together.
…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced.
Oh my. This persists despite accessible evidence to the contrary and available WHO recommendations. More so, in line with all anti-vaxxers the AVN argue their definition of a placebo (such as saline) is what should be used in vaccine trials. In fact it is used in many trials but the AVN choose to ignore this. This may include shifting the goal posts. Virology Down Under discuss thisno true Scotsman anti-vax fallacy related to placebos.
In some vaccine trials a saline placebo is not ethically suitable and the placebo used is not inert. With respect to the urgency COVID-19 presents this article argues that placebos aren’t needed for vaccine challenge trials. In the Oxford trial a non-saline placebo functions as a more effective control as Dr. Norman Swan explains below. The AVN have always objected to Gardasil studies which used AAHS (the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant) as a placebo.
By definition, a placebo must be a totally inert substance which will never provoke a response.
In a recent Coronacast episode, The Oxford vaccine’s troubles. Why it’s not doomed (yet) Norman Swan talked about efficacy and safety in this vaccine trial. Whilst the USA are using a saline placebo, the other participant countries are not. Swan explains;
A few weeks ago, phase 2, phase 3 studies, that’s dose finding and whether or not the vaccine works in large numbers of people and whether it safe, started in Brazil, South Africa and the UK, and they were aiming to recruit 17,000 people. There was also a phase 3 study just beginning in the United States in about 80 sites, trying to recruit about 30,000-odd people. The aim is to have a trial of about 50,000 people.
And interestingly it’s a placebo-controlled trial but the placebo is not saline. It is in the United States, but in Brazil, South Africa and the UK it’s actually not a dummy drug, it’s not saline, it’s a meningococcal vaccine, and they are doing that so that people don’t recognise whether or not they’ve had a placebo. It’s very important in a placebo-controlled trial that you don’t know that you are in the placebo arm. And if you get a shot in your arm and nothing happens and it’s pretty mild you think, well, maybe I’m in the placebo group.
The presenters talk about the seriousness of transverse myelitis and Norman Swan offers this context;
However, there was a study not so long ago which looked at 64 million vaccine doses and really found very little evidence, if any, that transverse myelitis is caused by immunisation. Out of 64 million doses they found seven cases or eight cases that may be associated with it. And they look really widely. They didn’t just look at the week after you’ve had the immunisation or the month after, they looked at almost any time after you’ve had the immunisation, and they conclude that transverse myelitis, unless in very rare circumstances, is not caused by a vaccine. […]
So what they’ve got to find out with this person is are they in the placebo arm, are they in the active arm, is it really transverse myelitis, what are the antibodies that have actually been shown? Are there any other symptoms? And did the person actually get infected with real COVID-19 after the trial had started…
I recommend reading the transcript or listening to this episode of Coronacast. Tegan Taylor and Swan talk more on Phase III trials and discuss the specifics of the Oxford vaccine. It’s an adenovirus carrying genetic material into cells to instruct the cells to produce fragments of COVID-19 virus. It is these fragments that induce an immune response. With respect to the use of placebos in vaccine trials a July 27th episode examines the ethics associated with the fact that subjects in the placebo arm of Phase III trials are not receiving a vaccine.
By the time the Oxford podcast was published on Thursday the AVN was already suggesting on Facebook that there may be more adverse reactions hidden from the public.
Dubious message on AVN Facebook
“It does raise questions”? The problem with the above post is the apparent interpretation by an AVN Facebook administrator that one of the “close friend daughters” who took part in the Oxford trial “is in the Royal” [London Hospital], “diagnosed with Transverse Mylytis” (sic). There is an unverified claim that, “they have asked to keep this quite (sic) as they don’t want the public to know”. The AVN admit the information may not be true.
Yet is this really evidence of a covert case of transverse myelitis? Perhaps Karen McNab is referring to a) her friend’s daughter and also b) the “volunteer” mentioned in the WhatsApp message. The trial subject who had the presumed adverse reaction is a woman who is in hospital.
Of course my interpretation could be wrong. There is however no clear statement that one of the friend’s daughters has transverse myelitis.
Some AVN members were justifiably suspicious.
Rixta Francis, a long term AVN member prone to simply inventing disinformation published her predictably outrageous fallacy of the Oxford trial. This is an excellent example of an immediate, and feverish attempt to slap at the fire ants of cognitive dissonance. Fellow members are supportive.
Self published author of The Fiction of Science Rixta is prone to reinterpret reality in the manner above. To appreciate this we need to explore her approach more fully. In an interesting example of how things come round in circles Francis is infamous for her abuse of the memory and parents of baby Riley Hughes, who featured in the SMH article I mentioned above.
Riley died from pertussis in March 2015 before he was old enough to be vaccinated. Feeling a need to educate parents about immunisation Catherine Hughes began the Light For Riley campaign. She now runs the Immunisation Foundation of Australia. Ten months after the death of Riley, Francis falsely claimed Catherine was a member of Stop the AVN, suggested Riley and his pertussis had never existed or that the parents killed infant Riley themselves.
The post below suggests the Oxford adverse reaction has been staged. It includes dismissal of genuine media intention, dismissal of safety and dismissal of efficacy helped by quoting Australia’s CSIRO. Again this is textbook management and minimisation of cognitive dissonance.
Other comments in the thread follow a similar theme and manage to reveal quite ridiculous thought processes. The reason people placed themselves at such risk is because they were offered “a small fortune… it all comes down to money”. Vaccines always cause “horrific injuries”. We “can’t cure cancer but we can make a vaccine in six months for a disease we don’t understand?”.
It will be interesting, but not surprising, to see how this group reacts to the news that the trial has resumed.