Former editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and GP Dr Annette Katelaris interviews Dr. Ken Harvey.
Dr. Harvey originally graduated from the University of Melbourne. Initially specialising in infectious disease and medical microbiology Ken’s interest in antibiotic resistance led to a study of the forces that drive prescription. Ken moved to the School of Public Health at La Trobe University to continue his work on medicinal drug policy.
He now holds the position of Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at La Trobe.
INTERVIEW – CAMs regulation and pharmaceutical industry influence – Assoc Prof Ken Harvey – Obserations
Noted public health advocate Associate Professor Ken Harvey on what’s lacking in regulating complementary medicines, and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on ‘the hand that writes the script’.
Ken talks about his extensive role in prodding Australia’s regulator of complementary medicines and shortfalls in the present system for regulating these “listed” therapeutic products. He is also asked about the personal impact of holding shonky products, advertising and ultimately – dishonest, unforgiving individuals – to account. Ken’s interest in information technology makes him a welcome source of advice to overhaul the TGA’s Electronic Listing Facility.
For a self confessed “stubborn bastard” in chasing blatant advertising breaches, it’s clear that Australian consumers are in Ken’s debt. Ken holds life membership of the Australian Consumers Association, Choice, and is also a member of their Policy Advisory Group. Dr. Harvey is Chair of Health Action International, Asia Pacific (HAIAP). He was a member of the WHO expert group that drafted their Ethical Criteria for Medicinal Drug Promotion. [22 page PDF]
Or direct download MP3 here. 21 min 13 sec. 21.4 MB
The misinformation peddled by antivaccinationists over the years will be underscored as just that. Misinformation. From ridiculous to dangerous these snippets of so-called wisdom have included claiming “measles” means “a gift from a goddess” in ancient Sanskrit, to measles being the cause of the growth spurt that happens to correlate with the most common age for childhood infection.
In the first instance a check of the link to Sitala Mataji – originally the smallpox goddess worshipped in Pakistan, Northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh – shows the divine influence to be malignant. Just as Sitala was burned by a carelessly forgotten stove, she randomly picks children in anger and burns them from within to punish the mortal.
Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network argues that as just one of the diseases that have “beneficial aspects… prevention may not necessarily be in the best interests of the child”.
Called “gift from a goddess” in Sanskrit measles can help to mature the immune system, may help to prevent auto-immune illnesses such as cancer, asthma and allergies later in life
In reality the Sanskrit word, “masuurikaa” translates variously as smallpox, measles, eruption of lentil shaped pustules, lentil, and procuress (female procurer). There is absolutely no evidence that infection with wild measles primes the immune system against cancers or allergies. Such claims belong firmly alongside the lie that certain potentially fatal and disabling diseases are “rights of passage”. Regarding pertussis and measles Dorey famously informed a national T.V. audience:
My mother used to put me with all the neighbourhood kids when they got these diseases so we would get them and get them over with and be immune. And there was no fear, there was no worry about it. We just got them, and we were supposed to get them and we did, and we were healthier for them. 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.
Measles was once a common childhood disease in Australia, and medical practitioners were well acquainted with the “fever, generalised maculopapular rash, cough and conjunctivitis” syndrome that equated to a measles diagnosis. Measles complications, particularly bronchopneumonia and otitis media in children, were commonplace. With so many cases in the community, relatively uncommon severe complications, including acute encephalitis (1 in 2000 cases), subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (1 in 25 000 cases), and death, were also encountered.
There is nothing “marvellous” about measles as suggested by a despicably misleading book. Aside from the sliding scale of disability cruelly dealt by encephalitis one or two fatalities per thousand infections is normal.
The 1998 Australian Measles Campaign had as it’s aim improved immunization coverage among children aged 1-12 years and, in the longer term, prevention of measles epidemics. The campaign included mass school based measles-mumps-rubella vaccination of children aged 5-12 years and a catchup program for preschool children. More than 1.33 million children aged 5-12 years were vaccinated at school: serological monitoring showed that 94% of such children were protected after the campaign, whereas only 84% had been protected previously.
Among preschool children aged 1-3.5 years the corresponding levels of protection were 89% and 82%. During the six months following the campaign there was a marked reduction in the number of measles cases in children in targetted age groups.
Six pages in on page 887 of the Bulletin of The World Health Organisation 2001, 79 (9), we find this table:
The authors note that whilst there was no immediate reduction in the number of cases in the six months following the campaign, there was a notable reduction in the age groups targetted by the campaign. Following 1.7 million MMR doses during the campaign, there were 89 Adverse Events Following Immunisation. 80 children followed up recovered without sequelae. Nine could not be followed up due to confidentiality restraints associated with ADRAC. The benefits were not seen in “untargetted” 12-18 year olds.
As one of the largest initiatives in Australia’s immunisation history, the MCC was deemed demonstrably effective. The authors wrote:
Each of the studies in this evaluation confirmed that the campaign was highly successful, particularly among preschool and primary-school children.
Graphed data including the impact of the MCC can also be seen here (Victoria 1962 – 2004) and here (Australia 1991 – 2011). The profound impact of the introduction of a second dose in 1994 is also clear in the second graph.
The two clusters in Victoria currently reflect one distinct arrival from overseas and a source traced to a domestic flight. A disturbing case in S.A. in August 2011 resulted in two distinct warnings stemming from just one overseas arrival. The only reliable defence against jet-setting viruses and wide scale outbreaks is herd immunity.
The need for ensuring oneself is vaccinated against measles goes without saying. Particularly as exposure to someone emigrating or returning from a part of the world where measles is poorly controlled is quite simply a matter of chance. In Measles Immunity in Young Australian Adults, Gidding and Gilbert write in Conclusion:
Based on the most recent national serosurvey data available, there are 2 cohorts with levels of immunity below 90 per cent — those aged under 6 years in 1999 (born in 1994-1999) and those aged 18-22 years in 1996-98 (born in 1974-1980). Only persons aged 30 years and over in 1996-98 (ie born before measles vaccine was available) had immunity levels above 95 per cent.
These results indicate the ongoing need to improve vaccine uptake in infants and suggest that a vaccination campaign targeting young adults would be beneficial.
If we wish to attenuate measles outbreaks to state level – indeed Victoria itself – we can examine a 2005 review by Becker et al. Monitoring measles elimination in Victoria, brings into sharp focus how damaging a drop in herd immunity can be, given that outbreaks – including this one – begin with importation of the virus.
The University of QLD authors sought to use “evidence from outbreak data that Victoria has achieved, and is maintaining, elimination of measles”. They wrote:
Conclusions: The data provide strong evidence that Victoria has maintained elimination of measles over the period 1998 to mid-2003. There is scope to improve the immunisation coverage. It is not clear how much outbreak intervention is contributing to the success in achieving apparent elimination.
Implications: To prevent importations from causing a major epidemic of measles, Victoria must maintain its immunisation coverage and outbreak control at current levels, or better. It is important to monitor the control of measles even when elimination is achieved.
Time and again we see the need to maintain herd immunity via mass vaccination. Lyn Gilbert wrote in June 2011 that researchers have presented evidence that measles has been “effectively eliminated” from Australia, “as well as from Finland, the United States, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Cuba”.
Elimination of measles is a viable goal for a number of developed nations. The stability of elimination has slipped further from our grasp for reasons including increased importation, socioeconomic realities and the feverish efforts of antivaccinationists. Measles is a potentially fatal and entirely preventable disease that also leaves many sufferers with lifelong disability.
It’s a public health disgrace that the measles virus can arrive in Australia to meet willing hosts who have been misled into risking their own or their children’s quality of life. That this is compounded by a demographic that experiences poverty and social trauma is a negative dynamic that health authorities should strive to rectify.
It is important that a calm measured approach is taken in educating the community about the dangers of measles and effectiveness of MMR immunisation. Also, strict and lasting penalties need to be dealt to homeopaths and chiropractors (to name just a few peddlers of alternatives to medicine) who profit from risking the lives of innocent Aussies.
The wrath of the goddess Sitala Mataji is something Aussies can do without.
At various times I’ve touched on the anti-vaccine lobby manifesting a type of pseudo-neoconservative approach in sustaining an urgency of fear.
Scientific skepticism has proven a ready Enemy Of The People. Rolled out by antivaccinationists as existing to suppress our rights, free choice, free speech and even democracy itself. The rather vacuous notion that the scientific method is a flawed ideology appears a necessary sale. It is an essential component of the uncritical thinking peddled by Meryl Dorey and Co. that ultimately makes up evidence denial.
A certain PhD candidate reaching new heights in vaccine denial at the University of Wollongong is supervised by a professor who is not merely a member of the Australian (anti) Vaccination Network. His depreciation of the scientific method to just another “paradigm”, is embellished by a deft understanding of the devaluation of “targets” and the provocation of outrage and distrust in the eyes of onlookers. This last aspect lends itself splendidly to accusations of oppression, abuse, bullying, threats, censorship and corruption along the lines of Big Pharma and the Pharma Shill.
Apparently once having devalued critics and targets enough you can take risks with simple decency. Take this observation (August 24th) from Meryl Dorey, founder of the AVN Inc. Meryl has this year sought Apprehended Violence Orders from authors who wrote on the Internet what she deemed unacceptable. Hmmm. More on that later.
With mass vaccination, evidence supporting not only its efficacy but a thunderous victory in the risk-benefit equation is abundantly clear. To contend that there is a “vaccination debate” surrounding scientific evidence or the relevant disciplines is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. Worse still, to continue to massage the staple arguments against vaccination is to risk the health of others across the entire community. Faced with the present evidence vacuum and obvious perpetration of such towering immorality, the antivaccinationist would be wise to apply pseudo-neoconservative philosophy.
In March 2004 the Central European University hosted a lecture on terrorism entitled, There shall be no Security without an Enemy: Terrorism, Neo-Conservatism and Modern Governance. Whilst clearly focusing on the danger of terrorism, it is this piece of the synopsis that relates to the ever-present conspiracy theory driving fear and distrust of vaccines:
Against a faceless and stateless enemy, modern powers could find themselves caught up in an uncontrollable spiraling that threatens their founding premises.
Whilst antivaccinationists may not seek to convince us our way of life is under dire threat from a destructive enemy, the faceless enemy eroding the essence of our freedom, rights and way of life makes up much of their narrative. It is the cultural aspect of neoconservatism that manifests most notably in their conspiracy theories. You may be familiar with Health Fascism. Or Dorey and radio host Tiga Bayles likening Australia to a communist nation, claims of death threats to suppress vaccine truth, vaccines do not work, vaccines kill and injure and so on.
G.M. foods, fluoride in water, other “toxic” processed foods and medicines, hospital births, evidence based medicine and more are all open to a similar cultural slur. These areas are presented as a loss of our right to choose. “Health Choices” are under threat. As I noted above there is no sustainable argument that vaccines are unnecessary or possibly responsible for any of the chronic diseases antivaccinationists attribute to them.
The vast majority of parents can see through this. Yet there is always a case for trying to convince the public that it may be forced to do something – even if it would have chosen to do so anyway. This is ideal for devaluing “targets” and evoking outrage. Enter the ever-present lie of imminent “compulsory vaccination” which Meryl Dorey has been profiting from since February 2007.
A perfectly molded neocon’ fear that the enemy within is waiting to ensure you do what they want. That you do not say “no”. Except of course it is false. When pressed, Dorey defends by claiming it is health workers she is fighting for. But in reality Dorey has targeted the public with this irrational and unnecessary fear for years. Consider these slides from just over 5 years ago.
Now, that isn’t signed by Meryl Dorey (the AVN president is Gregg Beattie) but a reply 20 minutes later is:
Astonishing. The claim that Dr. Di Natale had claimed the Green’s policy and that of both major parties was for compulsory vaccination. Then a call for donations and membership. Immediately after that a call to write to local members to voice your outrage at this impending policy, because “we may be a minority but we will not be silent!”.
What I’d read in late June about Dr. Di Natale’s involvement in passing a Senate motion for the AVN to disband did not suggest he was a bloke careless enough to be passing headline secrets to members of the public. I tweeted yesterday with this link and the Facebook screenshot above, to which Dr. Di Natale replied earlier today.
They are shameless. Of course there’s no truth.
Indeed. Dorey is now in need of money and the above indicates the lengths she is prepared to go to. Deceiving members – check. Deceiving the public – check. Dishonest raising of donation funds – check. Lying about an Australian Senator – check. Urging readers to waste time and annoy their local members – check. Advertising subscriptions for a defunct magazine – check.
One thing seems sure. There may well be no security in the pursuit of anti-vaccine ideology without an enemy.
It has been brought to our attention that the following response from Senator Richard Di Natale was sent to AVN President Gregg Beattie in regards to the latest AVN grab for cash to fight the non-existent push for compulsory vaccination:
Dear Mr Beattie,
I am writing to you regarding recent claims by the AVN about my position on compulsory vaccination.
As I have made abundantly clear with the AVN in the past, neither the Greens nor I support compulsory vaccination.
The AVN’s recent claims about my views are merely the latest in a long and shameful history of malicious falsehoods. Your attempt to raise funds off the back of these claims is another low and desperate act by an organisation rightly condemned across the political spectrum and the wider community.
Greens health spokesman and doctor Senator Richard Di Natale has condemned a blog post by Dorey in which she claims he supports making vaccination compulsory and then appeals for donations.
The Senator has written to complain and told News Corporation “I take issue with the fact she has misrepresented my position and used to try and make money from the lie to fill the coffers of the AVN,” he says.
“Our policy is that vaccination is one of the most effective public health measures ever introduced, but in the end people have a choice whether to vaccinate their children but that choice should be based on accurate information,” Senator Di Natale says.
Ms Dorey declined an opportunity to comment on her loss in court yesterday.