Monica Smit: COVID-19 charlatan given ABC air time

It seems longer, but it has been only two and a half months, since we dropped in on Monica Smit and her self-appointed government-in-waiting, absurdly named Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA).

The occasion was their attendance during COVID-19 lockdown at a meal held at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon, in breach of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. It was all a bit of a chuckle, given that the group effectively outed themselves and the restaurant by boasting about it on social media. The amusement was short lived for Moda however. On 6 August they announced their imminent closure on Instagram and Facebook. Their last meal was 14 August, just 11 weeks after hosting RDA. A representative told Star Weekly that the closure was unrelated to that event.

The representative claimed that mask-wearing mandates and lockdowns had not effected the business, insisting, “To be honest, we’ve never been so busy”. Although the attitude of the establishment to public health regulations was echoed in the observation:

Running a business is hard work and with or without the unlawful restrictions we were ready for a change.

Speaking of unlawful, it should be noted that Moda Kitchen and Bar had made the RDA business listing. The listing provides details of businesses, prepared to exploit loopholes in public health regulations that keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most specifically, this relates to mask-wearing and QR code check-in. There are exemptions to the requirement to wear a face mask. These include breathing difficulties, facial skins problems, intellectual disability, mental illness and having experienced trauma. The Privacy Act 1998, The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and The Equal Opportunity Act ensure that no-one, should they not be wearing a mask, can be asked to provide evidence of such a disability unless their prior consent has been given.

It is thus quite easy for the dishonest to venture out without a mask. This is something we’ve seen as mask-less RDA disciples with phone cameras taunt police. The business listing idea is fluffed up through RDA concern that businesses might not be aware of the risks of discriminating. When it comes to QR code compliance, a business may simply trust patrons to do the right thing. Or perhaps trust them to do what Monica advises; choose to check in with pen and paper and be trusted to leave genuine details. If you happen to be a business that regard essential public health initiatives as “unlawful restrictions”, as Moda did, your RDA business listing is this.

RDA business listing – Moda Kitchen and Bar

ABC Radio Nth QLD

Monica Smit offers unregulated “advice” about public health and wellbeing mandates. On 12 August 2021, Monica was interviewed by Adam Stephens during the Drive programme on ABC North Queensland. The reason for this was RDA “You Can Say No” pamphlet-dropping in Cairns. Dave, a small business owner, was interviewed prior to Smit. He wasn’t impressed and wasn’t fooled.

The flyer tactic backfired, as the only change in his behaviour was to place a sign outside his shop, reinforcing that no mask or no QR code check-in, meant no entry. That Drive programme is archived and Dave and Adam begin their chat at the 45:00 min mark. Next comes Monica Smit, introduced by Adam as Monica Schmitt. Text messages, read out after a news break, were unanimously negative. If you’d prefer the highlights package, grab this mp3 here or listen below.

  • Cairns resident objects to RDA flyers, Monica Smit (4min), Adam reads text messages (9:40)

RDA recently made the Daily Telegraph’s top ten list of COVID misinformation spreaders in Australia. You may thus wonder why the ABC would give them air time. I would rush to add that the Daily Telegraph (DT) is not equivalent to the US based Centre for Countering Digital Hate. The latter spent significant time and resources, collating information on those they ultimately termed the disinformation dozen. Nonetheless, the central thesis remains intact. Despite clearly fallacious claims that place the community at risk, well-financed groups and individuals manipulate Facebook to their advantage. The DT reported that RDA subscribe to the belief no COVID-19 vaccine has been properly tested, and in fact weaken the immune system.

They also allow their name to back the conspiracy theorist standard that the vaccines are “manufactured by people who openly want population control”. Professor Mary-Louise McLaws specialises in infection prevention and control. She rightly observed those claims were “completely fallacious” and “wickedly inaccurate”. In a welcome development since the DT piece on 6 August, RDA had their page, and shortly after their backup page, unpublished from Facebook. That came on the heels of their aggressive campaign to boycott SPC, after the fruit packing giant mandated COVID-19 vaccination for employees. The boycott campaign resulted in product tampering and threats that presently continue.

Editorial standards?

Adam Stephens did give his reasons for interviewing Smit. He observed that it’s interesting that there are people that hold this view. That there are people in regional QLD who are active members of RDA, as evidenced by pamphlet distribution in Cairns. He continued;

Whether you wanted to hear from Monica or not there are people that are listening to her message, and sometimes it’s… I think worthwhile in actually learning about the motivations of some of these groups in our community, and some of the people that feel strongly enough to actually join groups like this and distribute their information.

I’m aware that listeners took the trouble to contact the ABC to voice concern. Before we examine Monica Smit’s claims, let’s consider the following. Smit was not introduced with sufficient context to advise listeners that they may be misled. It was not stressed that Monica Smit and RDA are not medical or pandemic specialists or that they are not advised by medical experts. It was not explained that their website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Indeed, it was not stressed that the group has no relevant qualifications specific to the management of COVID-19, or any illness, at all. Finally, there was no public health representative on hand to address the claims made by Smit.

One might then ask, were ABC standards for editorial accuracy satisfactorily met? Granted, a context of sorts was laid down during Stephens’ chat with business owner Dave. Whether this was enough to reinforce that Smit and RDA act in dissonance to both government guidelines and evidence-based health policy, is not merely unclear, but unlikely. Monica Smit brings a firm, if utterly misguided, confidence to her stints behind any microphone. It came to the fore as she insisted that masks were not only useless and causing harm but there is, “so much science out there” to support this.

“Because it’s the truth”

When asked why she is informing people that they don’t have to follow mask mandates or QR code check-ins if they choose, Smit replied, “Well because it’s the truth”. With QR codes she advises to manually sign-in or shop somewhere else.

In effect this would mean finding a shop that has adopted Smit’s loophole advice. As we’ve come to expect from RDA on evading mask wearing, she mentions PTSD, anxiety, depression – the “huge list of exemptions”.

She blames, “the coercion and the scare tactics of the police and the government”, for forcing those with legitimate reasons for exemption, into wearing masks. At no time did Smit offer a legitimate reason as to why Australians without a health condition can refuse mask wearing. Unless of course, you are willing to feign one (I’m not suggesting she advised this). She followed on by claiming long term mask wearing is “really dangerous”.

That word brings to mind the long debunked claim that oxygen is restricted and CO2 intake rises to poisonous levels. Smit gushes that “People have, you know, passed out at work”. A fan of Tucker Carlsen, Smit is likely influenced by the research letter pushed by him about six weeks ago, and now retracted from JAMA Pediatrics. Smit goes one better, claiming there is, “[A] lot of science to say that they cause cognitive issues with teenage children as well, and they’re wearing them eight hours a day”.

Smit might get that notion from an isolated German survey, looking at “complaints from adolescents and children caused by wearing a mask”. This is not “a lot of science”, and comes with an editorial note stressing the absence of a causal link. There is also the genuine concern related to the importance of non verbal facial cues, to children who are learning. These are minimised by face masks. Particularly in the classroom. As fate would have it, or rather, as science would have it, this has been studied pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. CNN published a handy summary here. If you land on the conservative City Journal, you will find arguably emotive material to support Smit’s contention.

Adam Stephens questioned Smit on whether she really did have substantial supporting science, given the evidence-based source material that advises government policy. Smit was glad he asked because in March and April of last year the media, “were saying that a healthy person wearing a mask is an absolute waste of a mask”. She wondered “why the narrative has changed”. In fact that was because of a WHO-funded systematic review and meta-analysis, published in June of 2020 in The Lancet. More so this was clearly conveyed in “the narrative” presented by the media. Consider this non-ambiguous heading in The Guardian: Victorians may be now be told to wear face masks to halt COVID-19 – what’s changed? Then Smit confidently offered another disingenuous and factually wrong line.

The ‘Brett Sutton’ lie

Smit claimed:

I know that Brett Sutton, he’s the Victorian CHO (Chief Health Officer) here, he actually did a full study paper on how useless masks are to stop the spread of disease. So basically the narrative has just changed but the science has not changed and that is that masks are dangerous.

A “full study paper”? Sounds impressive. Also, I happen to agree with Monica here. The science has not changed. Nor has the old tactic of cherry picking and manipulating facts to support disinformation. What we find on checking Sutton’s authorship of research, is a 2001 literature review in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, that he co-authored. At the time Sutton was based at North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Tasmania. Both he and his co-author worked in the Department of Anaesthesia. The title of the literature review was Do Anaesthetists Need to Wear Surgical Masks in the Operating Theatre? A Literature Review with Evidence-Based Recommendations.

The review text could not be more clear. It was undertaken due to the absence of published data on the unmasking of the anaesthetist alone. In the modern operating theatre, exactly how this would impact post operative wound infection, if at all, needed elucidation. It was noted that surgical masks offer incomplete protection from bacteria and viruses. More so, plastic face shields provide better protection from infection for the anaesthetist. Three compelling studies, led the authors to conclude in part;

These studies provide sound scientifically-based evidence that, in the setting of a modern operating theatre with laminar flow/steriflow systems, surgical masks should no longer be considered mandatory for anaesthetists and non-scrub staff during most surgical procedures.

There is a reason for the extra detail on this review. This claim about Brett Sutton’s past authorship is not just misinformation, already tossed about like a Frisbee at a church picnic. This is hot-off-the-tongue disinformation. A nice fresh lie still in its packaging, delivered over the airwaves for the gullible to snatch up, unwrap and distribute. It has the added connotation that Victoria’s CHO is not only aware that masks are ineffective, but had produced “a full study paper” to this effect. Listeners may wrongly assume this is both recent, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smit studiously avoids admitting the paper is nineteen years old, and that it examines only anaesthetists and non-scrub staff, in operating theatres. Whilst cherry picking, she missed the one that suggested plastic face shields offer better protection.

In July 2020 Brett Sutton presented advice on wearing face masks, in areas experiencing stage three restrictions. At the same time the reasons for the mandating of mask wearing were being thoroughly discussed in mainstream media. It was impossible to miss. To suggest there was just a sudden change in “narrative” is wrong. Adam Stephen put it to Smit that her advice could place people at risk of COVID-19.

Deep breath

Without drawing breath, she responds;

Well I just totally disagree with that because, um, you know I think the government is putting people at risk of serious problems ah, with lockdowns and things like that so, it’s proven around the world that lockdowns don’t work. Australia has the worst lockdowns actually, I think, in the world. We’re being laughed at overseas because of how harsh our lockdowns are. Some, some, some countries have hundreds of thousands of cases daily and they’re still living about their lives, and we get one case and we close borders.

So ah, I would say the government is being a lot more dangerous than we are, and we’re actually empowering people to have critical thinking, which the government doesn’t want. They don’t… the government’s not giving people all the information. And that’s… and we get censored. I just got taken off Facebook. I had sixty six thousand followers and I get censored because my science is apparently not true, but I can back it up. But a lot of the science that’s said on mainstream media can’t be backed up but there’s no censorship for them so it’s really difficult.

It has not been “proven around the world” that lockdowns are ineffective. They remain one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions. Healthy discussion continues about how this effects economies and communities. What is doubly strange about Smit’s approach here is that if masks are as useless as she claims, there is one clear alternative. The very lockdowns she also insists are useless. I doubt she is aware of this. Her approach is to attack all options, and encourage us to abandon them. She has no alternative to offer Victoria.

Stephens raises the question of people who accept the claims on the You Can Say No flyer, being fined. Smit comes back with a prompt that all the resources are on the website, and that;

If you get the flyer you really need to take that extra step to actually do the research because if, you know… know the law and you know your rights, then actually that fine is null and void and it’s actually um… it won’t mean anything.

Adam lets Monica know they’ll leave it there. Smit responds with an eager “No worries!”. Those familiar with Monica Smit might have noticed the big grin-tone in her final words. She had reason to feel smug, as Australians have every right to expect better from our national broadcaster. Smit usually only gets this much air time on Sky News. The reaction on Telegram, the favoured social media platform of COVID conspiracy theorists, was predictable. Discussion was kicked off thirty minutes later by RDA on their Telegram channel, with an announcement headed by a customised graphic.

Telegram

The first post I wrote on Monica Smit and RDA, opened with Monica Smit loves being the centre of attention. That entire topic requires a post on its own. Suffice it to say however, that certain personalities only take. They surround themselves with givers, and ruthlessly ban, delete and expunge those who challenge their bogus view of reality. The result is the unfettered pseudo-worship you see in the small sample above.

Note the suggestion from one, to “destroy those imbeciles”, in reference to Dave the shop keeper. It’s further worth noting RDA didn’t provide Adam Stephens’ interview with Dave, or the dissenting text messages. All that was known is that a shop owner was “appalled” by the flyer. Sophie, who unwittingly outed herself as a Cairns local, and likely a distributer of the flyers, decided that was enough for the destruction of “those imbeciles”.

Still no evidence

The bulk of RDA members on social media, continue to behave as if enjoying a sustained muck up day. This, however, gives an inaccurate view of the groups resources. Their recent advertising truck, growing range of merchandise, and increasingly slick video production suggests donations remain healthy. This has enabled the group to curate their campaign of alienation through misinformation. Their message is for those who prefer to be told what to think, rather than make their own conclusions. Yet this group is convinced they have discovered a unique truth that “sheeple” cannot see.

Although Smit talks of access to science that confirms the RDA position, there is none on their site. The well examined Danish study on mask wearing and transmission of SARS-CoV-2, can be accessed in favourable format. Rather than finding masks do not prevent transmission, the study failed to find, “at least a 50% protection against a SARS-CoV-2 infection given by mask wearing”, as it was designed to do. Fact Check also addressed this nine months ago. In targeting COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy, RDA direct readers to the tired example of the estimated study completion date, for the AstraZeneca vaccine. The actual study completion date was 5 March 2021.

Other material is presented in misleading context. Despite Smit’s claim of enabling critical thinking, visitors to the site are shown bias. There are no opportunities to compare contentious information in a critical fashion. The elephant in the room here is that all reputable evidence is against the position held by RDA. The use of “critical thinking” as a buzz term, has become almost commonplace in conspiracy theory circles. It is seemingly confused with contrariness. This is underscored by the fact that constant cries of suppressed freedom, and the exploitation of loopholes, is possible only because of our democratic rights and the legislation that protects them.

Conclusion

There’s little point rambling on much more dear reader. I’m certain the RDA site would be worthy of content analysis. A work similar to the excellent approach employed by Thomas Aechtner, in assessing the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, would be welcome.

Monica Smit is more than just dishonest. In taking advantage of a global pandemic to raise her profile and profits she has proven to be a malignant influencer. What has been demonstrated above, is that everything Monica Smit said during the interview with Adam Stephens, is demonstrably false. More to the point it has long been clear what she stands for.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation needs to be out in front of such people.


References

ABC North QLD Drive – Thursday 12 August 2021

The Lancet VOLUME 395, ISSUE 10242, P1973-1987, JUNE 27, 2020. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Anaesthesia and Intensive Care 2001; 29: 331-338: Do Anaesthetists Need to Wear Surgical Masks in the Operating Theatre? A Literature Review with Evidence-Based Recommendations. M.W.Skinner, B.A. Sutton.

Mask Mythbusters: Common questions about kids and masks

Corona children studies “Co-Ki”: First results of a Germany-wide registry on mouth and nose covering (mask) in children – DOI: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-124394/v3

The impact of face masks on children-A mini review: PMID: 33533522 PMCID: PMC8014099 DOI: 10.1111/apa.15784

BMJ Rapid Response – Conclusions from the Danish study

Danish study doesn’t prove face masks don’t work

Why nobody will ever agree on whether COVID lockdowns were worth it – The Conversation

Reignite Democracy Australia – You Can Say No

Reignite Democracy Australia – Informed Consent

Reignite Democracy Australia – Face mask Exemptions

Updated: 19 August 2021

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We Are Coming… but with whom?

Monica Smit loves being the centre of attention.

The present pandemic Australia is experiencing, and successfully managing to the envy of much of the world, has given attention seekers like Smit a spotlight they could previously only dream of. She clearly has no problem denying the scientific evidence and the necessary reality of COVID-19. Rather, Smit sees it as a tool to manipulate the gullible and those already tuned to conspiracy theories to further her own aims.

The COVID opportunity wasn’t lost on other conspiracy theorists around the world, particularly anti-vaccination lobbyists. As Vaxxed producer and CEO of the Informed Consent Action Network, Del Bigtree boasted last year the pandemic was “a dream come true”. It was to be capitalised upon. It was an opportunity to “get people to wake up”. In practice what this really means is convincing people that they have been asleep. A task that became easier when COVID lockdowns and restrictions yielded an attentive social media audience.

Smit’s attention-seeking includes an attempt to get a spot on Australian Survivor in 2017. The audition video is an interesting clip and Smit tells us that, “my willpower will definitely put up a very good fight” to scenes of her balancing on one leg (see below). Monica Smit has demonstrated her will power through the establishment of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA), a $1 company of which she is the only director and sole shareholder. RDA has over 50,000 supporters with strong wellness, anti-vaccine and conspiracy beliefs.

Smit has also displayed unique energy in her willingness to jump onto any conspiracy theory that is popular amongst anti-lockdown protesters. Her website tells visitors that RDA is a political movement*, not a political party. It’s a clever line. Particularly if hiding your allegiance to political connections. The site also offers a discredited study disputing the efficacy of masks and the now worn out anti-vaccine trope that PCR tests are oversensitive and thus COVID-19 cases are false positives. She would reject conspiracy theory labels and does reject being anti-vaccine.

smit balances to impress judges

Smit is attempting a unique balancing act in protesting the anti-vaccine label. In a video on her RDA website today she offered a “recap” of yesterday’s protest at the office of Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

Despite the presence of anti-vaccine protestors, signage and rhetoric Smit rejected media reports of an anti-vaxxer presence and maintained she was “about informed consent”, the standard anti-vaxxer catch cry.

Monica Smit is, unsurprisingly, hard to get a handle on. She can be found online as a freelance journalist, although as we’ll see, this is a role she has apparently abandoned. That site is now focused on attacking Dan Andrews and massaging the fears that link COVID public health measures to an impending death of democracy. The site hosts Smit’s articles covering a range of topics from around the world. Despite claiming she will “only work with positive endings” she manages to find negative subject matter. Caps lock and repeated exclamation marks abound.

She also describes herself as a “Catholic pilgrim”. Following the Journalism menu to Catholic one finds a Regina Coeli Report in PDF featuring an interview with Smit on pilgrimages. Smit talks about God, the devil and evil. She references the fight for the Catholic faith and getting a “clear response from God to my efforts” for which she “wept out loud with joy”. Asked what she would say to convince someone to go on a pilgrimage she answered.

You won’t regret it I promise! Just turn up and God will do the rest! You’ll see!

She would be just perfect for the emerging far right in the Victorian (and Australian) Liberal Party. As she bellowed at a rapturous crowd in Melbourne last weekend the fight she is leading against Bill Gates, Anthony Fauci, Scott Morrison and Dan Andrews is one, “between good and evil and we are the good and good always prevails”. Smit maintains she is independent. Not affiliated with any political party.

Smit’s involvement in attacks on Victorian premier Dan Andrews goes back at least to working for online group Victoria Forward. The group hides its allegiance to the Victorian Liberals claiming to be “bipartisan”. The main identity is Facebook-friendly teen Edward Bourke. As reported by Gizmodo Australia Bourke started work as Male Vice-Chair at the Sunbury branch of Victorian Liberals in December 2019. It was one month before Victoria Forward emerged. Bourke is a firm Trump supporter who is proud of his plan to “import US political culture” starting with the launch of Victoria Forward.

In May last year Monica Smit worked with another apparent freelance journalist Stephanie Bastiaan in video production for Victoria Forward. Bastiaan, a member of the Victorian Liberal Party, is co-administrator of Victoria Forward’s Facebook page. Bastiaan is an integral part of the party’s conservative faction associated with branch stacking last year. She is the wife of Marcus Bastiaan who resigned from the Victorian Liberal Party in August last year due to the same branch stacking revelations.

Victoria Forward is anti-Dan Andrews and has capitalised on political sore spots for the Andrews’ government. Anti-lockdown sentiment, the Belt and Road agreement with China, volunteer firefighters and the unfortunate but necessary brumby cull. Opposing the last issue found support from another anti-Dan Andrews group Project Rural which has close links to Victoria Forward. Another website has put time and energy into fighting the Andrews’ government’s planned brumby cull. That of Monica Smit “freelance journalist”, which includes images and the article Racing to save last descendants of WWI ‘waler’ brumbies. Smit and Stephanie Bastiaan were praised for their efforts defending the brumby by member for Western Victoria, Bev McArthur of the Victorian Liberal Party.

Monica Smit is also a darling of Sky News. She was interviewed in October last year during her stint on the Let Us Work bus with the “Sack Andrews” hashtag. With what would become a tactic of Smits during arguments with police at anti-lockdown protests she used her apparent status as a journalist to shirk social distancing restrictions. The bus was the idea of Laurie Pincini, of Rockleigh Tours and the sign was courtesy of another small businessman. Both had lost their businesses to the lockdown impact on movement and Smit used their situation to her advantage. Alan Jones on Sky interviewed Smit after the Stop the sale of Victoria rally last November.

Smit kept drawing attention over 2020 and into 2021. She would attend protests and have herself filmed arguing with police over her right not to wear a mask, because she was a journalist. As noted above yesterday she was vocal at a protest outside the office of Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Channel 7 reported on the event. In one bizarre post on the RDA site today is a screenshot of her message that, “It WASN’T and (sic) anti-vax protest just FYI”. In the shot is an image of a woman holding a sign that reads, “It’s a DNA altering poison to change who you are!”.

Her most compelling performance was last Saturday February 20th in the Botanic Gardens Melbourne. The much promoted Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccination. Immediately before she spoke, some organisers appeared to be trying to get the crowd to stay in groups and maintain some semblance of social distancing. Smit jumped onto the podium, grabbed the microphone from the speaker and yelled, “Do what ya want, awright!”, to rousing cheers. [Video: see 1min 15]

Then Smit almost screams, “We are coming!”. More cheers. She puts on a pair of gloves promising it will make sense. She went on to yell that the door that closed was Gates, Fauci, Morrison and Andrews. The window that opened was them. Cheers. The people around are fighting for your future, your children’s future the crowd was told. They would die for this country. Louder cheers. They had tried to do the right thing. Wrote petitions. Nobody opened the email. She stamps her foot, not for the first time. “Guess what? We’re coming for all the marginal seats”, Smit managed to loudly sneer leaning forward jutting out her chin.

She was in her element. Attention, glorious attention. Stuff Australian Survivor. They would never get cheers like this. She goes on firing up the crowd with promised threats to governments, Federal and State. A monster has been awakened and the fire in its belly is so bright it can’t be put out, she yells. “Guess what? We have God on our side… this is a battle between good and evil…”. She continued on leaving no doubt that her plan is revenge through political victory. Anyone who knows her, the crowd was told, would know she has been towing the line, she’s been a reporter (self-appointed freelance journalist), doing everything right. “Well guess what? The gloves are coming off”. She pulls her gloves off and throws them down. Then finishes with another, “We are coming!”. Chants of “Moni-Ka, Moni-Ka” followed.

You can also check Monica Smit’s performance by audio here [MP3 5MB] or listen below. After Smit is a few seconds of the angry crowd chanting at police, “Free Australia, freedom, freedom”. There were twenty arrests.

It was a well planned speech. Monica Smit has no doubt what her next move is. Exactly who she may have offering or even giving support is not clear. Past form would suggest conservative factions of the Victorian Liberal Party. Yet Smit’s conduct would almost convince that she is striving to be an independent liberal. Reality says she will be a conservative. Her attacks on the Morrison government serve to create the impression she has no time for a coalition government and perhaps the Liberal Party.

But impressions can be deceiving. Monica Smit can be deceiving and is likely deceiving her supporters. Time will tell if she has truly abandoned Victorian Liberals. At one point Smit yelled that the most dangerous thing was a person with nothing left to lose. She blamed the government/s for this. The scale of selfishness and recklessness at play in exploiting public health measures necessary in a pandemic, can’t be overestimated. Little wonder there were twenty arrests.

A pressing issue in this light is the growing protest movement and the rise in anti-vaccination traffic on social media. It is concerning that there is little doubt such protests will continue. I recently mused in a comment about this so-called mandatory vaccination march. What fascinates me is that this is going on in the wake of the severe oppression and jailing of Hong Kong protestors who dared publicly say, “Independence for Hong Kong”. At the same time as Myanmar is experiencing a military coup and suppression of democracy. The same time as the actual dictator (not Dan Andrews) Alexandar Lukashenko, crushes anyone who dares object to him stealing the most recent Belarusian presidential election. At the same time as Putin jails many who gather to vocally support opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Who himself was jailed in a penal camp for breaching conditions of a suspended sentence.

It goes to show what a secure and fair democracy Australia is when the utter vacuum of any need to protest leads to the invention of faux suppression. So the privileged bored can role play. COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory. Nor are they ‘experimental’. But more so, we know much of the anti-vaccine, anti-COVID measures and conspiracy theories have been generated by Russian trolls and bots [BMJ]. So how does Australia treat ex-pat Putin loyalists who regard us as a USA puppet and Western “enemy”? It lets them protest and say whatever they like. To even counter-rally against Ukrainians who are also rallying for their own cause to be independent from Putin’s Russia. Because that’s what this county allows. Democracy.

I imagine protestors will continue to enjoy this game. To pretend their rights are being taken away. To act as if they can’t refuse the vaccine. Pretend vaccines don’t work but instead cause widespread injury. Gather absurd information from social media and accept it as truth. Become hysterical about the Nuremberg code and argue their rights are breached, which they aren’t. Praise the scam artists profiting from their gullibility. Never question how full-time anti-vaxxers – white, financially comfortable and safe, support themselves. Pay no attention to the genuinely oppressed in the world, unless they want to liken their pretend oppression to real suffering.

Australia and its democracy may not be perfect but it has given rise to the bizarre symptom that is faux suppression – the pathetic, selfish obsession with fantasy. These protestors are without a doubt a malignancy born from democratic values. If they can not only invent suppression but afford (financially and socially) to role play as if it were real, no matter what the health cost to the society that props them up, then they certainly live in one of the greatest nations on the planet.

Australia has flaws of course, and our government is far from perfect. But the purported reignited democracy from the likes of Monica Smit who has inane support from the likes of Bernie Finn and Craig Kelly would be truly horrifying.

Well guess what? Reignite Democracy Australia is not coming with anything Australia needs.


* 4 September 2021 – The site now describes RDA as “An advocacy group and aspiring media outlet.”.

Last update: 2 March 2021

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Losers, loss and denying evidence in 2020

Losers. 2020 has seen a lot of them.

Whether genuine loss, disadvantage through the actions of others or continuing a failing streak, this year has served up a global platter. The COVID-19 pandemic has dictated that when it comes to denial of evidence SARS-CoV-2, its spread and how we managed the fallout were topics of choice. Conspiracies ran wild and we were even confronted with an infodemic. As usual so many who gain entry to these troubled pages are full throttle in a failing streak but convinced they have a winning strategy.

Denial of evidence may effect one in a small way. Such as rejecting the scientific consensus on the necessity of multi-vitamins and continuing to pay for expensive urine. Using vitamins or herbs to manage or “cure” an illness or injury can carry more serious implications. Not least being the shift in critical thinking that permits one to embrace an anti-science ideology, perhaps without initially realising this. Continuing to reject the scientific consensus on alternatives to medicine, one may ultimately delay seeking genuine medicine for a serious and ultimately terminal condition. Or refuse vaccination to prevent a nasty, harmful and potentially lethal condition.

Losers who believe they are on a winning streak inevitably ensure loss and disadvantage for the gullible who believe what they say or sadly for the innocents who rely on their judgement for health and wellbeing. The anti-vaccination movement continued unabated this year and swelled into a truly awful beast once it fed on COVID-19 disinformation. Necessary restrictions on crowd size and movement provided the ideal template for those already peddling terms like “health fascism” to insist the entire pandemic was a plot to control the population.

Of course this was a first world trend. Thanks to the positive impact of effective public health policies, education, medicine, law, public order and available media, quality of life is high. So high in fact we can invent faux abuses of our rights. Long before Karen from Brighton ignored travel restrictions because she had “walked all the streets” of that upper class suburb the notion of enduring lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19 was too much for self appointed freedom warriors. Social media losers vented their manufactured angst. Yet with our quality of life so good, a government that failed most frequently in climate policy and a P.M. who crept off to Hawaii during Australia’s bushfire crisis, it took months before ‘freedom day’ protestors gained attention. Even then it was for being deceptive in the making of their crisis.

Speaking of pretending life is tough, one term that kept popping up in anti-vaccine member emails was a favourite from AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister. “Show up. Speak up. Be brave.” The email linked to above was sent to members in mid January and peddled disinformation that the WHO had questioned vaccine safety. This calculated move involved the use of the WHO logo in the AVN press release. In fact Prof. Heidi Larson, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project had spoken at the global vaccine summit in December 2019. The AVN selectively misrepresented what she said to convey a false impression.

On February 3rd the WHO legal counsel wrote to the AVN warning them to stop using the logo and to make it clear the press release was not approved by the WHO. In what would become a signature move for the AVN over 2020 they cowered into submission removing the press release and posting the WHO letter on their site. This was accompanied by standard antivax rhetoric and the claim that they had “responded” to the WHO. Members would be kept informed of “all correspondence”. But of course the WHO would never reply to their delirious mandates. Nor, later in the year, did any of the councils, parks or a business that banned their bus.

Hafemeister’s quote on being brave hadn’t really hit home at AVN Central it seems although it continued in member emails. Hafemeister would take her quotes to bizarre levels. In a May Facebook video promoting the AVN Vaxxed bus she went so far as to voice the worn out anti-vaxxer quote from Margaret Mead. Hit the audio button below or delight in the MP3 file.

“So never doubt that a small group of people can change the world because indeed it is the only thing that ever has”. AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister May 31st 2020.

There’s little point restating the AVN’s exploitation of those who have lost a loved one to death or injury and are vulnerable to the ‘vaccine injury’ profit machine. You can delve into the reality behind the scheme here and marvel at the scope of the delusion on sale here. Meryl Dorey scored extra points for claiming in April that her personal opinion was that viruses could only be transmitted by injection, then deleting the comment once it was made public.

The politicisation of hydroxychloroquine began on the back of Donald Trump’s endorsement of the drug. Despite a number of studies demonstrating cardiac problems linked to the drug shortly after and ultimately refuting its worth [2] the “triumph of hope over facts” continues on Twitter and elsewhere. It seems to be linked to denial of evidence supporting lockdowns and the use of PCR. A strong supporter of Trump and hydroxychloroquine is Chris Kenny of Sky News. Kenny is a stand out loser in our apparently lucky country. He has spent an inordinate amount of time this year launching attack after attack on Paul Barry, Media Watch and the ABC.

I covered this back in May and had a good look at Kenny’s flawed defence of hydroxychloroquine. His argument was simple. There are studies not yet finished. Thus Paul Barry who, Kenny repeats ad nauseam, hosts the most expensive 15 minutes of TV in Australia should apologise to his audience who, he also repeats ad nauseam, pay for the show. Kenny wrongly kept referring to a QLD study. The study however is looking into a very specific application of hydroxychloroquine for healthy young health professionals as a preventive measure. It is not studying the impact of treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine. Kenny should be the one apologising.

In May he claimed “Barry and Media Watch preach global warming alarmism, promote leftist climate policies [and] defend the ABC”. Well. That does sound a lot like presenting the evidence News Corp tends to suppress. All this was part of an attempt to accuse Paul Barry of holding a biased opinion against George Pell despite his successful appeal. At the time I pointed out that Barry was the only journalist to argue that claiming Pell had simply been found “not guilty” was flawed. Barry argued that as one is innocent until proven guilty Pell was in fact innocent. Kenny however had taken a statement of Barry’s out of context and informed Sky viewers, “How about that for fairness and courage? What a whimp“.

It was a low point for Kenny who promotes himself as an arbiter of the ABC and Media Watch. As I covered back in May, Paul Barry had not only defended Pell but had soundly criticised the ABC for biased reporting on the topic in certain areas on certain shows. Well surprise! On 18 December Kenny presented his latest episode attacking the ABC. It included unsubstantiated comments about ABC bias toward Pell. One of the clips Kenny used to support this was the part of the Media Watch segment I’d cited in which Barry highlights the failure of Louise Milligan and Four Corners to report on Pell’s defence. This again shows Kenny to be biased in selection of material and deceptive in its omission.

Episodes of The Kenny Report (2020) devoted to attacking the ABC and Paul Barry have reached twenty that I know of since April. One included citing Alan Jones’ praise for hydroxychloroquine. That’s a handy introduction as Jones deserves a mention for appearing on Pete Evans’ podcast for a lengthy interview. You may subject yourself to the podcast here. It perhaps goes without saying that there’s enough on Pete Evans being an enemy of reason this year to satisfy the greatest of curiosities. There’s nothing I can add to it.

Judy Wilyman however. Well that’s a different story. She featured quite a lot supporting pretty much every COVID conspiracy going. Hosting service of her newsletters, Mailchimp, had clearly had enough. They closed her account and deleted all of her archived newsletters. Judy was not happy. Many others were delighted schadenfreude style. Wilyman claims COVID is a hoax and for years knew such a scam was coming. Perhaps most bizarre was the Natural and Common Law Tribunal for Public Health and Justice on which she sat as a judge. Using the International Criminal Code this group indicted most world leaders, international banks and entertainment companies, developers, inventors, etc, etc.

The 108 page indictment is too long for this post but some observations on Wilyman are crucial. On page 100 we learn that Prince Charles, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Google and Ray Kurzweil are involved in creating a;

5G/AI artificial intelligence Coronavirus as a nanoparticle energy weapon [delivering] remote energy virus, virus, bacteria or other form of artificial intelligence induced remote directed energy weapon as part of a 5G/AI Coronavirus Genocide….

And that they;

…are entrained by and in criminal co-conspiracy with PPAI, a sentient Off-planet, predatory, pathogenic, invading Inorganic AI Artificial Intelligence, and are “entrained AI proxies, AI hosts, and AI sponsors” in creating and maintaining the 5G/AI Coronavirus Genocide that is causing imminent and irreparable harm to all human beings similarly situated.

Also these villains;

…appear to be among the key PPAI-entrained AI proxies, AI hosts, and AI sponsors for the sentient Off- planet, predatory, pathogenic, invading Inorganic AI Artificial Intelligence.

And I thought Musk’s greatest crime was naming his child.

Prince Charles also apparently covered up the invading alien intelligence and had the British Royal Society investigate potential problems with nanotechnology. This led to some media chatter about gray goo. The British Royal Society concluded in 2004 that such technology was too far in the future to be a problem worthy of present concern. Ergo, we were duped and horror awaits us.

Wilyman actually published this article about the tribunal on her site at the time. It was later deleted. It’s worth speculating as to why. Perhaps Brian Martin who has published two papers defending her from accusations of conspiracy theory thinking advised her to think it over. Also one James Lyons-Weiler who publishes antivax articles is keen to promote a scholarly face with antivax ’studies’. He endorsed Wilyman’s work in December last year and was the praise-singing, reviewing editor of her most recent publication, ‘Misapplication of the Precautionary Principle has Misplaced the Burden of Proof of Vaccine Safety’.

US resident Lyons-Weiler deserves a mention for his November 2020 paper contending that vaccinated children are less healthy than unvaccinated. Manifest flaws with key methodology are presented here. The AVN donated US $5,000 to this project. The money had come from donations for previous projects such as a promised High Court challenge to the No Jab No Pay legislation. The remaining float was just under AU $80,000. In a February 2019 email they urged members to donate to a GoFundMe page to help fund the study. It’s worth noting that funds raised for a purported challenge to Australian legislation were ultimately given to a US anti-vaxxer to help fund his US based project.

Brian Martin must surely be mentioned for evidence denial in 2020 thanks to publication of his paper Dealing with Conspiracy Theory Attributions in April this year. It focuses on defending both Judy Wilyman and the AVN from having conspiracy theories “attributed” to them. Granted these are very specific conspiracy theories and his publication is, shall we say, unique. However Brian still fails to grasp the larger issues of academic veracity and intellectual honesty involved here. Issues of public health sabotage aren’t quite ready for semi-philosophical musing.

Judy Mikovits and her appalling Plandemic scam must of course be mentioned. Not least because despite heroic efforts to convince critics of the validity of her claims so many were able to be deemed fake as soon as she spoke. For example her reliance on the study of Greg Wolfe was tacky. Claiming his research supported her contention was demonstrably fallacious. His research sample was during the 2017-2018 winter. Long before COVID-19 was detected. He later wrote a Letter to the Editor stressing the error of anti-vaccine claims. Of her claims.

A special mention must go to all those who have misrepresented the risk of COVID-19 vaccines before distribution but particularly after. Cases of anaphylaxis were rare given the total number of vaccinations. One wonders how the anti-vaccine lobby would react if peanut butter sandwiches were rolled out to the same population. The mysterious-cannot-be-found Khalilah Mitchell, RN with Bell’s Palsy was so clearly suspicious I wondered at why it was picked up so quickly.

There are so many I would like to mention but time does not permit. Do visit the many fact checking publications and sites that are available.

Of course, there’s always next year.

  • Video: A Song for Anti-vaxxers by Flo & Joan

Last update: 1 Jan. 2021

♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎

Vaxxed III: the aim of the Vaxxed II bus tour

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.

Aneeta Hafemeister told viewers of a May 31st Facebook video

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. The sample was omitted because the boys were diagnosed with autism before they were vaccinated. MMR is just one vaccine that secures eligibility for autism services. 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” [2]. 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. I recommend reading this deconstruction of the claims in Vaxxed which expands on the details that are misrepresented in 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, Vaxxed was 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 from The 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].
 

Vaxxed history in Australia

The AVN were keen to promote Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe in Australia. In December 2016 they organised 8 screenings across QLD, NSW and Victoria. The article Lies and deceit from Australia’s “Vaxxed” promoters, was published here 30th July 2017 revealing nasty conduct behind the screenings. At one point the AVN posed as lovers of organic food to gain access to a venue, resulting in this front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin. The film was slammed by media and authorities at Lake Macquarie. The Newcastle Herald published Anger as Charleston Community Centre The Place screens film linking vaccines with autism

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.

Newsweek reported in October 2019;

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 [2]. 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.

An 8th May 2020 AVN member email claimed;

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 Channel features 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.

Conclusion

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.

Last update: 6 Feb. 2021

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Coronavirus pandemic prompts increased transparency of drug companies

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 Ipsos surveyed 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.

The New York Times also reported;

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.

There has been research into immunisation and the likelihood of subsequent development of transverse myelitis (TM) and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Key points from the 2016 paper Acute Demyelinating Events Following Vaccines: A Case-Centered Analysis are as follows;

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.

Acknowledging vaccine safety concerns as a cause of vaccine hesitancy, in July this year Nicola Principi and Susanna Esposito published a narrative review, Do Vaccines Have a Role as a Cause Of Autoimmune Neurological Syndromes?

The authors wrote in part in their abstract;

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 vaccination read 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 read Key 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?

It included;

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.

An out-take from the pledge from Pfizer’s website is as follows;

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.


REFERENCES

Phase 3 clinical trial of investigational vaccine for COVID-19 begins

Moderna Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

Pfizer Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccine

AstraZeneca Clinical Trial Protocol – COVID-19 vaccine

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (July 2020)

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (Sept. 2020)

Willingness to vaccinate against COVID-19 in Australia

9 in 10 Australians say they would get vaccinated for COVID-19 – Ipsos

Global attitudes on a COVID-19 vaccine – Ipsos [PDF]

A future vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at risk of vaccine hesitancy and politicisation

Biopharma Leaders Unite To Stand With Science – Pfizer

Moderna and Pfizer reveal secret blueprints for coronavirus vaccine trials – NYT

AstraZeneca under fire for vaccine safety releases trial blueprints – NYT

Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? – Institute for Vaccine Safety, John Hopkins University Dept. of International Health

Acute demyelinating events following vaccines: a case-centered analysis
– DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciw607

Do vaccines have a role as a cause of autoimmune neurological syndromes?
– DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00361

FSM supports equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccine nationalism threatens global plan to distribute COVID-19 shots fairly

The rise of vaccine nationalism – should we be worried? – ABC Podcast

Herd Immunity: Understanding COVID-19 – DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2020.04.012

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