“No balance possible between facts and non-science”

The title of this post is taken from a statement by Dr. Norman Swan, presenter of The Health Report on ABC Radio National.

Dr. Swan was responding to the failure by ABC Radio Hobart to meet ABC editorial standards as a result of the airing of uncontested and demonstrably bogus claims from anti-vaccine lobby group, Australian Vaccination-risks Network. An interview with the current president of the group, Aneeta Hafemeister was broadcast on the evening of December 4th. Hafemeister spoke with Kyia Clayton, who is producer of the programme in question: Evenings with Paul McIntyre.

This absolute debacle featured on the next edition of Media Watch on December 9th wherein viewers were informed by presenter Paul Barry that listeners to the ABC Hobart interview “were furious”. The evening following the interview, Paul McIntyre admitted he had broadcast an interview which “failed the pub test”. He also acknowledged that the anti-vax claims needed to be interrogated and fact checked by a medical expert. We’re told on Media Watch;

And so to fix the damage, McIntyre invited vaccine researcher Dr. Jessica Kaufman to debunk the anti-vaxxer message

You can listen to the audio (© ABC Media Watch) below, which contains outtakes from the original interview, or read the segment transcript. The video and transcript of the relevant Media Watch segment are available here.

 

In his statement Norman Swan observed;

This story hides behind a misplaced view of ABC’s need for balance

Indeed. More to the point, this is not the first time that the ABC has been under fire for use of the AVN (and at the time) its founder, actual leader and frequent spokesperson, Meryl Dorey. Use of the AVN does not provide any genuine balance on the topic of vaccination. Rather false balance is what the result is.

In December 2011 two complaints to the ABC regarding Dorey and editorial standards were upheld.

So this is a problem that the ABC is familiar with. In fact with the same anti-vaccine organisation.

In her exploitation of the measles tragedy to strike Samoa, Hafemeister peddled the nonsense of vaccine shedding. In response to these claims Dr. Jessica Kaufman said;

… there’s not a risk of actually catching the measles from being around someone who has been vaccinated with a live vaccine.

… that’s just an overstated and misrepresented argument …

Vaccine shedding was initially the subject of a post here in October 2011. Hafemeister sounds confident in pushing the false claim that MMR and varicella vaccines are “shed” by the recently vaccinated and can thus infect others, particularly the immune compromised.

The difficulty with this anti-vaccine trope is that after vaccination with a live virus such as Oral Polio Virus, a weakened form of the virus may be present in faeces. An immunosuppresed person who comes in contact with the faecal material might be exposed. Whether viral transmission occurs and what effect this may have cannot be predicted and indeed not generalised. These events are extremely rare and specific to certain vaccines only – such as OPV.

Sadly the anti-vaccine lobby distorts the reality and wrongly spreads fear specific to other vaccines on the general vaccination regime. Please check the references below.

The issues being misrepresented here are viral shedding and viral transmission. Notice anti-vaxxers don’t use these terms. Why? Because these terms have a body of evidence that define them. And evidence brings facts. And facts scare anti-vaxxers. Because they like to make stuff up. And facts get in the way of making stuff up. Facts like these…

Janet R. Serwint, MD referred to both MMR and varicella vaccines in Vaccines in immunocompromised patients.

MMR, varicella, and rotavirus vaccines, although live viral vaccines, are recommended for immunocompetent household contacts because transmission of the virus is rare. The lack of viral shedding with MMR eliminates concern regarding transmission. Because the varicella virus rarely can be shed through a postimmunization vesicular rash that may develop, recommendations include avoiding contact until the rash resolves. For the rotavirus vaccine, avoidance of contact with the stools by the immunocompromised patient and good hand hygiene measures by all family members for at least 1 week after vaccination should be implemented.

Some authors have advised that severely immunocompromised children should not receive live vaccines due to the risk of disease. However they do not mention “vaccine shedding”. Rather ensuring vaccination of those with “altered immunocompetence” is important.

In general, severely immunocompromised children should not receive live vaccines, either viral or bacterial, because of the risk of disease caused by vaccine strains.

[…]

Household contacts and other close contacts of persons who have altered immunocompetence, however, should receive all other age-appropriate vaccines, including the live oral rotavirus vaccines.

[]

In fact in their abstract Campbell and Herold stress the importance of vaccinating transplant candidates;

The administration of vaccines to transplant candidates earlier and more rapidly than in the healthy child will improve vaccination rates among transplant recipients while not compromising immunogenicity. The recommended vaccines and vaccine schedule are discussed in detail.

The ABC released a statement with respect to the one sided anti-vaccine interview. They note in part;

The program also failed to upwardly refer the decision to devote a segment solely to an anti-vaxxer. Had it done so, the interview would not have taken place.

This must refer to programme producer Kyia Clayton. Indeed in a voice oozing anti-vaccine empathy Clayton finishes the interview with;

Thank you so much for giving me your time and for speaking to me about this challenging issue across the planet. I think everyone’s voice needs to be heard.

“… this challenging issue across the planet”? Coming on the back of anti-vaccine waffle? Utter. Damn. Piffle. Kyia Clayton had decided that “everyone’s voice” includes the lies and misinformation of the anti-vaccine lobby.

Making a bullshit executive decision she “failed” to refer it upward for consideration. If proper procedure was followed, Aneeta Hafemeister’s take on vaccine shedding would never have gone to air.

So another concern here is that the bogus vaccine claims originally, potentially made it to air thanks to the intentional cunning of an ABC staff member.


  1. The Myth of Vaccine Shedding – SBM
  2. Vaccine Shedding – Wikipedia
  3. Understanding live vaccines and vaccine shedding
  4. Shedding of live vaccine virus…
  5. Can vaccines cause or spread diseases?
  6. What is vaccine shedding? Here’s what you really need to know

UPDATE: On December 11th and 14th 2019, MERYL DOREY summoned underlings to complain to ABC Media Watch and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), as per the below screenshot from the emails.

[Redacted]

Dorey also claimed in her personal complaint correspondence to ACMA;

It is obvious that Media Watch has been spreading dangerous, incorrect information which could place the lives and health of cancer patients and the immunocompromised at risk.

About Paul Gallagher
I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

One Response to “No balance possible between facts and non-science”

  1. Pingback: #DoctorsSpeakUp – Say something positive about vaccines on March 5th 2020 | Losing In The Lucky Country

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