Meryl Dorey and Australia’s pertussis epidemic
February 21, 2012 1 Comment
Interviewer: Are you proud that this area has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country?
Meryl Dorey: I don’t think there’s anything to be proud or ashamed of. I think I am proud that our organisation is assisting parents to get information that they would not otherwise be able to access.
Sunday Night – April 2009
Unfortunately when you’re out to derail vaccination regimes the consequences of singular pursuits can be ignored this way.
I’ve little doubt Meryl would be proud, having labelled vaccines, “instruments of death”. Apart from the standard antivaccination fare, Dorey has a unique approach to reality:
Now, we have a medical community that’s saying if you get measles, if you get whooping cough you’re going to die from it. Well where is the information from that? You didn’t die from it thirty years ago and you’re not going to die from it today. [Audio]
Well that’s certainly misinformation one would not “otherwise be able to access”. Over that same year three tiny babies died from pertussis. From 1993 – 2008, 16 babies under 12 months lost their lives to pertussis. Fatalities continue right up to the present day. In addition survivors are left with hypoxic brain damage, scarred lungs, burst blood vessels in conjunctiva and broken ribs. Adults can seriously injure themselves. Dr. Penny Adams recounts how she prolapsed a cervical disc onto her spinal cord requiring surgery to correct.
As this information is easily accessible we can appreciate why those who monitor Ms. Dorey raise serious concerns about the ethics of allowing her to speak unhindered in public. Seeking to impede someone who claims pride in intentionally spreading falsehoods that can injure and kill Australians is not an attack on free speech.
One of the earliest observations that Meryl Dorey’s antivaccination lobbying could have an effect on local herd immunity was published in early 2003. MAPPING IMMUNISATION COVERAGE AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS TO IMMUNISATION IN NSW was written in the NSW Public Health Bulletin, Volume 14, Numbers 1–2 January–February 2003. Authors Brynley Hull and Peter McIntyre note in the discussion (page 12) [Bold mine]:
Although immunisation coverage has greatly improved over the past five years in NSW, and many areas have reached coverage targets, there are areas in NSW where the level of registered conscientious objection to immunisation is great enough to affect immunisation coverage, as measured by the ACIR. One such area is northern NSW, and the Byron Bay SLA in particular, where the rate of conscientious objection is one of the highest in the country.
Presently Australia is in the fifth year of strikingly elevated pertussis notifications. Whilst it seemingly began in Meryl Dorey’s backyard on the north coast, we can easily trace its spread across the nation from media reports. Although not the first report, an article by Amy Corderoy on October 30th, 2010 brings the concerns of Hull and McIntyre to life, over 6 1/2 years later. From Vaccination rates spark epidemic fear. [Bold mine]:
And health authorities warn that NSW could be facing another outbreak as more cases than usual have been seen recently in the areas where the epidemic started. The highest rates of so-called “conscientious objectors” to immunisation are in parts of the north coast – such as Byron Bay – where 12 per cent of children born between 2001 and 2007 were never immunised for any condition. […]
An epidemic of whooping cough in 2008 and 2009 began on the north coast. It quickly swept across the state driven by low vaccination rates in some wealthy parts of Sydney. […]
Dr McAnulty said areas with lower vaccination rates were more at risk. “If you are a parent it is so important for your child to be protected, but also for the other children in your community,” he said.
In 2007 Australia recorded 4,863 cases. In 2008, 14,290. In 2009, 29,786. In 2010, 34,793. Last year, 38,514 and already this year 3,645. For the entire time Ms. Dorey has urged against vaccination, attacking those who choose to vaccinate, mocking health authorities and distorting statistics. A request to answer a thorough deconstruction of her widespread trick to malign vaccine efficacy remains unanswered – which is answer enough for me.
However as unwelcome as antivaccine lobbyists may be, there is more to this epidemic than just irresponsible, if not unconscionable, conduct. Nation wide access to PCR testing has led to a higher number of confirmed diagnoses and this in turn is being “fed” by doctors and health staff with better diagnostic skills – especially during the early stages. It seems that added to an epidemic we’re testing more often and more accurately.
Despite the louder volume of antivaccination arguments, if they were really taking hold and driving the full epidemic we’d expect to see consonant rises in fatalities and hospitalisations. In fact despite the huge numbers of notifications since 2008 below, we’re seeing less fatalities than the epidemic in 1997. Hospitalisations have not increased in pace with notifications.
Frustratingly, increased notifications are exploited by antivaxxers as so-called proof the vaccine is ineffective. Yet if this is the case then a representative increase in fatalities and admission to hospitals should be apparent. It isn’t. This also makes claims by Dorey of “a more virulent virus” hard to sustain. She’d do better to argue a less virulent virus explains the disparity between notifications and serious cases.
Either way, it’s important to respond to abuse of certain nuances related to increased pertussis notification. For example we can dispense with nonsense such as this stunner from July 2011, which was Dorey’s partial conclusion from revelations of better testing revealing more notifications:
So not only is the pertussis shot not preventing vaccinated people from getting pertussis – it could also be responsible for the increased death rate.
A range of factors accompany low immunisation as a factor in pertussis outbreaks and increased notifications. Nonetheless since an “epidemic of whooping cough in 2008 and 2009 began on the north coast” it’s been reported in every state in epidemic proportions. The advice is unanimous. Vaccination Saves Lives.
In January 2009 ABC’s The Pulse reported with A bad year for whooping cough. We may have found Dorey’s reason as to why “you didn’t die from it 30 years ago”. Mass vaccination:
Whooping cough used to be a disease that everyone got as kids, says Dr Frank Beard, acting senior director of Queensland Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch.
However, numbers plummeted following the introduction of mass vaccination in the 1950s. Cases fell to an all time low in the 1970s and 1980s…
By March 13th, 2009 Tasmania issued its first pertussis alert urging parents to seek vaccination for newborns at 6 weeks rather than 8 weeks of age. Vaccination Alert Following Steep Rise in Whooping Cough Cases. This followed an increase to 99 infections compared to just 4.
Low immunisation behind South Australian whooping cough outbreak, wrote Tory Shepherd on November 5th, 2009:
SOUTH Australia is experiencing its worst whooping cough outbreak on record – and babies are the main victims of the potentially fatal and highly infectious disease. […]
A four-week-old NSW baby who died in March was the first fatality from the disease in a decade. Since then it is understood two other children have died.
By August 31st, 2010 the epidemic was hurting QLD. Whooping cough epidemic gains pace, wrote Amelia Bentley:
Health authorities have warned a whooping cough epidemic is spreading throughout Queensland.
The Sunshine State has the most people in Australia falling ill with the infectious disease, prompting a state-wide call for children and adults to be immunised.
Seventeen days later the Danny Rose reported in Victoria’s Herald Sun. Fourth baby dies of whooping cough:
THE death of another baby in Australia’s slow-moving whooping cough epidemic underscores the importance of broad immunisation coverage, an expert says.
The five-week-old boy died in the intensive care ward of an Adelaide hospital earlier this week, and Professor Peter McIntyre said this was the fourth child death in a pertussis outbreak which started in 2008.
The infant contracted the bacterial lung infection when he was too young to receive the whooping cough vaccine, which can be administered after a child is six weeks old.
Adults represent most notifications and are a common source of infection for children and infants. Presently adult booster rates are around 11.3%, which is too little to be effective. Whilst adults aren’t as vulnerable to harm as babies are, the longer the epidemic has gone on the more the percentage of adults contributing to notifications has become. Comparison of age groups shows a significant increase in adults particularly from 2010 – 2011.
By December 10th, 2010 the Northern Territory Department of Health published, Central Australians urged to protect against whooping cough:
More than 220 people were diagnosed with whooping cough in Central Australia during the past twelve months, according to Coordinator of the Centre for Disease Control for Alice Springs and Barkly regions, Dr Teem-Wing Yip.
“The majority of cases occurred in older children and adults,” Dr Yip said.
“Adults with whooping cough may feel unwell from an annoying cough, but the highly infectious disease can be much more serious in young children,” she said.
“Symptoms of whooping cough in adults may be as minor as an annoying cough, but can cause significant illness. In very young children, the disease can be very serious,” she said.
Fear over whooping cough epidemic, wrote Julia Medew in Victoria on October 21st, 2010:
Jenny Royle, a paediatrician with the hospital’s immunisation service, said Victoria had experienced an unusually sustained epidemic since 2008, with the disease affecting thousands of people, young and old.
This prevalence was now putting newborn babies’ lives at risk.
She said the hospital had seen 19 babies with the disease since August, including three aged six to 12 weeks who ended up in intensive care.
”This is really unprecedented … A baby died in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago with whooping cough, so we’re very concerned about the number of cases we’re seeing here,” Dr Royle said. ”We are worried that we’ll see deaths here too.”
In late January 2011 Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer published an Advisory for health professionals. But the fear felt and prediction of death only weeks earlier was all too real. On February 17th, 2011 Fairfax reported on an infant death in Melbourne. Death Sparks Vaccine Appeal wrote Julia Medew:
THE death of a newborn baby from whooping cough in Melbourne this week has triggered a call for Victorians to vaccinate against the highly contagious disease. […]
Dr Jenny Royle, a paediatrician with the immunisation service at the Royal Children’s Hospital, urged Victorians, young and old, to check they were up to date with their whooping cough vaccinations because the epidemic was putting babies’ lives at serious risk. […]
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can cause minor cold-like symptoms for adults but is fatal for about one in 200 babies infected. In infants, it can cause coughing fits that deprive the brain of oxygen, leading to brain damage and death.
On the same day, ACT Health published a Health Alert on pertussis. In order to protect your baby you could:
- Ensure your baby is vaccinated on time, this can be done from 6 weeks of age.
- Keep your baby away from anyone with a coughing illness.
- Ensure everyone in your household is up to date with their vaccinations.
- Be on the lookout for symptoms of pertussis and consult your GP if concerned
Back near ground zero, four years on, pertussis was still effecting the community. Meryl herself was not happy that grassroots volunteers had slowed her pace, revealing perhaps more legal irregularities than intellectual ones. Vaccination was now likened to “rape with full penetration”. Those with questions were members of “hate groups” seeking to suppress her democratic freedom as an expression of “health fascism”.
Despite her “martyr for the cause” act, the true intent and impact of the likes of Dorey was not lost on Australians. Both online and regular media had taken interest in this person now the subject of a public health warning. On May 15th 2011 Jane Hansen reported in The Sunday Telegraph, Doctors warn parents to keep newborns at home as whooping cough epidemic escalates:
DOCTORS have warned parents to keep newborn babies at home to protect them from a whooping cough epidemic triggered by the “chardonnay set and alternatives”. […]
“With vaccination rates so low in this area we say to the mothers of newborns, do not take them out in the community,” local paediatrician Dr Chris Ingall said.
“We’re appalled at how many kids are getting whooping cough because the chardonnay set and the alternatives don’t vaccinate their children.”
Areas with low vaccination rates had 300 per cent more cases of whooping cough between 2008 and 2010, according to figures from NSW Health.
On September 16th, 2011 the importance of vaccination in preventing pertussis was reinforced by Dr. Julie Leask in Clear and present danger: how best to fight the latest whooping cough outbreak.
Tasmania’s Public Health Alert was last updated on November 9th, 2011. Again it reinforced the importance of vaccination and proper conventional care.
By January 4th, 2012 ABC Online reported, WA facing whooping cough epidemic:
Health authorities in Western Australia are warning that the state is on the brink of a whooping cough epidemic.
A record number of more than 3,500 cases were reported last year, more than double the 2010 total. Four babies have died from the infection in as many years and the Health Department is urging parents to be prepared for more cases. […]
“Measles kills, whooping cough kills. All of those diseases that you can now get a vaccination to stop, can kill children.
“So please make sure your children get vaccinated.” [said Paul Armstrong of W.A. Health]
So it isn’t hard to find this epidemic mentioned over and again in every state of Australia, with a repeat of the necessary advice for the community.
The pertussis epidemic that probably began due to low immunisation rates in Byron Bay in 2008/2009 and again in October 2010, likely wreaked havoc and heartbreak across NSW and parts of QLD. Exactly how much can be attributed directly to Meryl Dorey, is impossible to tell but low herd immunity in Lismore and surrounds has been devastating for some. I’m sure people have never heard of Meryl Dorey nor care to, yet still refuse to vaccinate. Sadly, she glows with delight when asked the question that assumes she is responsible for local immunisation denial.
Ranging out across Australia there are far too many factors to consider and many pockets of low immunisation for a number of reasons. Outbreaks chronologically followed the initial Byron Bay outbreak and that’s all that can be said using a rough media guide. A virus of thought can spread faster and further than a viral or bacterial infection.
It is this that makes the likes of Meryl and other enemies of reason the danger that they are, and that requires concerted efforts to address.