Natasha Bita: Award winner to crisis spinner?

The TGA is concerned by assertions that a number of deaths resulted from influenza vaccinations. In fact there have been no recorded deaths from influenza vaccine in Australia.

– Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration respond to Natasha Bita’s article “linking” vaccination to fatality –

Natasha Bita published Virus in the system on May 28th, 2011.

The article presents an extended account of the heart wrenching story of Saba Button who suffered permanent brain damage due to the CSL Fluvax influenza vaccine, in April 2010. A combination of H1N1 and seasonal influenza strains Fluvax is tolerated very well by adults. However for children under five a febrile convulsion rate of 0.33% was later clearly established in the only state to involve this age group: Western Australia.

At the time the ABC reported hundreds of reactions. Of the 47 children taken to hospital, The West Australian reported 23 admissions. Saba Button was one such admission. Bita doesn’t provide these details, though to her credit does report that in 2009 fifteen kids under the age of 15 died after contracting swine flu. Each year between three and nine children die from influenza in Australia.

The situation in W. A. following the use of Fluvax on small children reflects a 2006 study in which 1 febrile convulsion was recorded in a sample of 272. What emerged as deeply concerning is that 2006 fever (not convulsion) trial data rates were 39.5%. Yet Fluvax manufacturer CSL informed the TGA of their 2005 trial data on fever. A much lower 22.5%. Public confidence in regulation, safety, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and ultimately use is vital. I’ve previously looked at the importance of holding CSL to account.

A primary reason is that such stories are fodder for anti-vaccination lobbyists. Public confidence in immunisation was at stake, and proper context was much needed. One glaring absence from Bita’s article was reinforcement of the importance of vaccination in preventing influenza. With the internet awash with dangerous anti-vaccination propaganda readers need to know that all vaccination schedules are of paramount importance.

The day Bita’s story was published anti-vaccination guru Meryl Dorey falsely claimed that “the skeptics” and Stop The AVN were “organising forces” to complain.

Meryl Dorey’s Yahoo! Twitter and Facebook libellous claims

I emailed Natasha that day seeking confirmation. After no reply I tried again on June 1st and CC’d The Australian online address. 16 days later I repeated this. Natasha eventually replied that no, she had received no complaints. Not one. However she had been away, she qualified. Strange, I thought. Was Bita suggesting that her absence equated to an inability to access emails, either later or indeed at any time?

I began to feel somewhat uneasy about Bita’s impartiality. Clearly she knew who Meryl Dorey was. She was the woman who had just hijacked her published account to falsely claim, “babies were being used as guinea pigs in a trial that was paid for by the drug companies involved.” Dorey was also harassing the Buttons by phone and had appointed herself the family’s unofficial conspiracy consultant.

Shortly after I’d finally received a reply from Natasha Bita she published an article on the very rare past occurrence of transverse myelitis following oral polio immunisation. Bita did little to quell the fear and uncertainty to follow in the wake of Virus in the system. The purpose of her piece was to report on the MJA article, A no-fault compensation scheme for serious adverse events attributed to vaccination published by Kelly, Looker and Isaccs. I was familiar with the article having referred to it myself almost three weeks earlier.

It’s inexcusable that Australia lacks such a scheme when we note Germany began theirs in 1961 and across the Tasman no-fault compensation has been a reality since 1978. Seventeen other nations have a scheme that relies upon WHO criteria for Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI). It is of even greater relevance in Australia because arguments for its implementation rely upon factors anti-vaccination lobbyists deny. Firstly that vaccination provides immunity and secondly the principle of herd immunity.

The authors write:

Any person who is injured while helping to protect the community — for instance, by contributing to herd immunity, such that there are sufficiently many people immunised to prevent widespread disease transmission within the community — should not bear the consequences of injury alone. In essence, the community owes a debt of gratitude to that person.

Natasha Bita, whether consciously or not, fed the anti-vaccination machine. The piece firmed her position as a journalist lacking in scientific literacy or having a grasp of risk-benefit ratios. She belittles the term “adverse reaction” and leaves the most crucial fact that Australia’s current inactivated polio virus vaccine carries no such risk, until the last few words. In a poorly written piece she completely misses the reality that Australia’s vaccine injury chic groupies will not back this scheme, have never mentioned it and deny the merit raised by Kelly, Looker and Isaacs.

When Virus in the system won Natasha Bita a Walkley for Sustained Coverage Of An Issue Or Event, she was embraced totally by the Dark Side. Her appearance on conspiracy and vaccine denialist site The Refusers perhaps underscored just how important a few lines reminding parents that vaccines save lives can be.

On August 3rd, as Queensland mum Katrina Day lay fighting for her life against influenza, Natasha Bita published a fraudulent article falsely “linking” 10 deaths to influenza vaccines. Bita ignored the TGA warning on interpretation of data. The article highlights how dangerous it is to allow sensation-seeking journalists to consult such information. Her headline outs her as unconscionable and callous as she proceeds to ignore any difference between correlation and causation.

Bita writes misleadingly:

TEN deaths have been linked to the nation’s flu immunisation program since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, including elderly patients and unborn babies.

The CSL flu vaccine, Panvax – which taxpayers spent $131 million stockpiling for the 2009 swine flu outbreak – triggered 1716 adverse-event reports, including seven deaths.

Whilst it is well understood that seasonal influenza vaccines will not include all circulating strains (meaning one may still catch influenza) she offers:

The Therapeutic Goods Administration database of adverse events, made public this week, lists the death of a grandmother who caught the flu after vaccination last year.

This is exactly the problem faced by VAERS in the USA, which is set to be superseded. Events are reported so that trends will be picked up and viable research launched in response to perceived problems. Nonethelesss all events remain on the database. Here we have an apparent award winning journalist reporting 10 deaths “linked” to ‘flu vaccines, whilst the total is actually zero. Visitors to TGA’s Database of Adverse Event Notifications are met with:

Her article drew the following response on the same day from the TGA:

TGA is concerned by a media story that may mislead consumers and could potentially discourage them from receiving influenza vaccinations.

Vaccinations play an important role in the prevention of diseases such as influenza, which can be life threatening in some patient groups. […]

The first line of text on the Database of Adverse Event Notifications states that: An Adverse Event does not mean that the medicine is the cause of the adverse event.

The TGA is concerned by assertions that a number of deaths resulted from influenza vaccinations. In fact there have been no recorded deaths from influenza vaccine in Australia. […]

To my knowledge Natasha Bita is yet to publish a retraction, explanation or apology. On August 27th it was reported that Katrina Day had passed away after falling into a coma. The 38 year old leaves behind four children and a husband.

Yesterday new directions for the CDC were reported in Flu Creates High Risk Of Death In Children With Neurological Problems:

A disproportionately high number of children with neurologic disorders died from influenza-related complications during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to a study by scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report in the journal Pediatrics underscores the importance of influenza vaccination to protect children with neurologic disorders. CDC is joining with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Families Fighting Flu and Family Voices to spread the message about the importance of influenza vaccination and treatment in these children.

Influenza kills and vaccination saves lives. For certain groups this is a very real decision arising every year. In very, very rare cases adverse reactions occur. To date in Australia no fatalities have been conclusively linked to influenza vaccines, including during the CSL debacle.

It’s a shame that so-called “consumer editor” Natasha Bita has to mislead her readers to suit her own agenda.


Active Skepticism at this years national convention

This years Australian Skeptics National Convention looks set to cover a huge range of topics.

Active skepticism – changing for the better is the theme, and subjects involving skeptic and science activists and advocates loom large.

Anti-vaccination, non-evidence based alternatives to medicine, attacks on medical science, science and reason itself will feature during keynotes and panel discussion. Consumer scams, regulation of therapeutic goods, dodgy new age diagnostics, the changing role of social media, upcoming challenges and changes and more, more, more.

Along with Aussie favourites such as Ken Harvey, Dr. Rachie, Richard Saunders, Adam vanLangenberg, Lynne Kelly, Chrissy Wilson, etc will be James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Brian Thompson, Rebecca Watson and more.

Grab all the details and ticketing information from the video below and remember to keep up with developments.

Dates: Friday November 30th to Sunday December 2nd.

More information at Victorian Skeptics.

AuSkepCon is on Facebook and you can follow @auskepcon on Twitter.

Reject that and you belong in hell

In God We Teach follows the story of a high school student who recorded his history teacher proselytising for Jesus.

In Kearny New Jersey, student Matthew LaClair recorded teacher David Paszkiewicz preaching about Jesus. An avowed “anti-Darwinist”, who places god before all and concludes academic freedom includes the freedom to preach and not teach, at one time Paszkiewicz informs his history students:

He (Jesus) did everything in his power to make sure you could go to heaven. So much so that he put your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you and is saying ‘please accept me, believe’.

You reject that and you belong in hell.

During a high school christian club meeting Paszkiewicz allows students to articulate the fundamentalist view that immorality thrives through “endorsing” evolution. One student suggests that people would, “… grow cold and empty. You grow cold to people with disabilities. You grow cold to an after life. There is no after life. Why not do what you want? Why not steal? Why not assault people?”.

Paszkiewicz calmly tells the student attendees;

The world doesn’t understand this but believers do. Teaching Darwinism, is something that’s going to take peoples eyes off of god, especially Jesus Christ. […]

It may be against the law to teach Creationism as fact, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

With the town backing the wayward teacher, Matthew LaClair does what clearly had to be done to defend the right to public education and the separation of church and state.

An excellent documentary by vic Losick. Read more at In God We Teach or visit Vimeo.

Australian Vaccination Network crashes and burns on seminar tour

As many know, Australia’s leading anti-vaccination lobby group, the deceptively named Australian Vaccination Network recently finished it’s “tour” of Western NSW.

The tour itself was an abysmal failure. Billed Vaccination and Health Rights – a seminar for parents and health professionals it attracted mainly aged hippies and conspiracy theorists. The most compelling development was rumoured to be Greg Beattie shouldering Meryl Dorey out of the spotlight.

Subtracting the obligatory four heads of the Doreys and Beatties, attendance was likely anything from 4 to 15 across various venues. This silliness may have cost over $7,500 if food, fuel and dodgy accommodation is included. To the surprise of many it cemented the disgust which with Meryl Dorey, Greg Beattie and the other misguided members of the antivax movement are regarded.

The “fury” expressed by residents of Tamworth appears typical of the reception the AVN received. The vicious online reception that the public of Tamworth laid out and the pummeling the AVN received in the comments attached to that article ensured Tamworth attracted the highest attendance.

Another piece, Controversial AVN vaccination group in Tamworth briefly covers the event. It includes the grab for money the AVN is known for;

Participants paid $12 to attend the meeting and were given information on the AVN legal fighting fund appeal where they can donate money to help the AVN fight their own pending legal cases and also to support the “fighting fund for non-vaccinating partners.”

The group says it helps parents in court proceedings fight their ex-partners or spouses who seek orders of the court to vaccinate their children.

Sounds darn tootin’ except “the group” has never done any such thing. Nor do they have any pending legal cases. This is a bald faced lie and an outright scam. I can be no kinder.

So, their largest turnout included critical journalists and the “ninja academic”, Scotty Harrison. Scotty is an Armidale local and PhD candidate in Health Economics. Scotty – the most qualified individual on the entire tour – took the stage and worked his way quickly to evidence based figures on the history of vaccines. Within 12 minutes he had demolished the thrust of a life time of deception from Greg Beattie (video below).

Greg Beattie: His antivax lies were demolished before his eyes

Scotty didn’t just lay bare the lie that decreases in mortality before vaccination, supposedly refute the efficacy of vaccination. Improved living standards led to increased recovery – but not reduced incidence of disease. He also raised the reality of vaccine preventable disease-induced disability. Then furthermore spoke of his own struggle with ADD, asthma, allergies and eczema. There is no evidence they are due to the vaccines he received as a child, he concluded.

He makes it quite clear vaccines brought about the elimination of the incidence of disease. When pre-vaccine recovery meant a lifetime of scarred lungs or severe brain damage or being bed ridden with multiple organ damage, the onus is upon people like Beattie to convince us just how vaccines are supposedly useless. As seen below the video, even in the present day (wherein no changes in living standards have occurred) the impact of vaccination on disease is striking.

Delightfully, Dorey and Beattie didn’t expect any presentation that might be in dissent to their theme. They refused Scotty’s invitation to return the next night. Keep an ear out for the spontaneous applause on Scotty’s point on how poorly the vaccination “debate” is being conducted. Strange then that this enthusiasm vanishes once his content is known.

As much as one may want to support the AVN in their quest for legitimacy, “because every story has two sides”, I’m afraid that’s presently impossible.

This trip was an unmitigated disaster.

Over to Scotty…

Impact of vaccination on measles and Hib incidence in recent and very recent times


Measles control & genotypes in Victoria Australia

(Above) Hib vaccine introduced to Australia

(Above) Hib Vaccine introduced to Kenya, Kilifi district

Impact of vaccines 1,2,3 & 4 decades post introduction in Australia

(Above) Impact of diphtheria, pertussis & tetanus vaccines on mortality 1,2,3, & 4 decades after their introduction to Australia

Tracey Spicer talks vaccine conscientious objection

In all cases, those infected were not fully immunised

– The Cambelltown measles outbreak –

Are antivaxxers “nutters” or “freaks”?

So disastrous has the denial of vaccination for vulnerable infants and children been, that such frustrated descriptions come up time and again. Parents who seek reputable information are left in no doubt that vaccine denial is ill informed and a mistake of significantly high risk.

As the consequences of the anti-vaccine movement more and more take the form of outbreaks of entirely preventable disease, a greater percentage of Aussies looks upon vaccine denialists with disgust. Regrettably the fierce combative stance of vaccine denialists is probably feeding the rising disdain across the community.

The measles outbreak which began in Cambelltown NSW in May led to this article in the Herald Sun on August 15th. Sydney Schools on Disease Alert:

The health scare involving 40 cases concentrated in the Campbelltown area comes as new medical research shows a record number of parents are refusing to immunise their children.

Ten of the reported cases in the South West Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) have put sufferers in hospital in the past two months.

The majority of those affected have been school-aged children and babies under 12 months old. The Department of Education confirmed four high schools and a number of primary schools had circulated letters of warning to parents.

In all cases, those infected were not fully immunised.

According to Australian Doctor 30,882 parents have objected to the immunisation of their children. 6,000 of the 2 million children on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register have no vaccine history at all.

As I’ve noted before, enjoying a standard of health that allows the luxury to worry about improbable, irrelevant or indeed, imagined responses to vaccination is truly a marker of their success. In addition the drive and confience for individuals to take control and make decisions about their health is also a positive trend.

The problem, indeed the absolute sabotage of both these trends, are the wild conspiracies aimed at vaccination and the outrageous scams on offer for those who do explore management of health. Regrettably, hand in hand, these two factors have cultivated an anti-science mentality that carries the power of indoctrination.

Today, towering ignorance reigns for many when it comes to “health choices”. Thanks to an industry of stupidity, we are left with parents screeching and snarling for the right to harm their children and to treat them with snake oil. The results can be seen above.

On the same day the above piece was published Tracey Spicer filled in for one of the Murrays on 2UE’s The Two Murrays.

“That terrific group Stop The AVN…”. (Tracey Spicer)

Tracey and Murray spoke to Dr. Jason Cooke on the vexed issue of vaccine denial. Tracey mentions, “that terrific group Stop The AVN”. Here here!

Listen below or visit chirbit here.

Access the MP3 directly here.