“The Hill We Die On”: Vaxxed bus takes a predictable turn

When the police were in Ballina and they were telling us we had to move… I called Aneeta who’s the president of the AVN and I explained to her what the situation was… and she said ‘this is the hill we die on’. And that’s what I think too. We can’t be pushed any further, we just can’t. [..] I did not move here to live in a dictatorship… I will live in a free country or I will die.

From “How much further will we be pushed before we push back?” by AVN founder Meryl Dorey, October 20th 2020

In a recent video address to her members an angry, emotional Meryl Dorey blamed the police, politicians and media for interfering with the AVN. Dorey contends they are telling people of their rights and giving them a voice. They are doing work with the vaccine injured that the government should be doing. She has “a huge issue with the intimidation and the bullying that I’m feeling from the government that I pay the salary for”. Nor is the government supporting those “who want to get more information about vaccination”. There “may be millions around the world every year who are being killed and injured by vaccine”.

“These are people who took a bullet… the government wants to pretend you don’t exist”. Dorey wants to know how long before people start pushing back. Angrily she announces, “I’m sick of it, I’ve had a gut full, I really have”. Pushing the false notion that Australians have had basic rights to consent removed and people with children injured by vaccines are being “thrown in the garbage” she urges, “You need to stand up for yourselves, stop being bullied, being afraid, being suppressed. How much further are you going to take this before you start pushing back, before you stand up and say I do not consent and I never will consent? I will not take this COVID vaccine, I will not be forced to take any vaccine… any government that tells me that I have to do this is illegitimate and does not deserve my support my tax dollars my anything”.

Australia is seen, “as a laughing stock, as a dictatorship around the world”. Meryl Dorey tells us she did not move here to live in a dictatorship and she will not. She will die. She has drawn the line. Her voice breaking Dorey continues, “I will not consent to this bullshit. And that’s what it is… we have to take whatever actions are required to protect ourselves”. She also has a direct message for the police. Dorey tells them that they have become tools of a dictatorship (using the word freely now). She advises Australia’s police, “You have no obligation to obey an order that goes against the constitution of Australia… You are here to protect us not to bully us, not to suppress us, not to take away our rights and you need to stop being tools of these fascist dictators”. 

Police are told that under the Australian constitution the police don’t work for “dictator Dan or any other idiot in parliament”. Dorey goes on to argue the government does not deserve our respect, obedience or consent. This government is harming us and is thus illegitimate. We do not need to obey what it is the government says, which is wrong and evil. Dictator Dan, Scott Morrison, Annastacia Palaszczuk and [OLD Chief Health Officer] Jeannette Young are feeding us “pure evil”. They are “power hungry idiots… we need to stop obeying idiots… we really and truly need to get rid of them and start over…”.

Dorey also contends that if listeners don’t stand up for their rights they may wish they weren’t here. The Vaxxed II bus has gone dark as it were. Only those who register will know its location. The full speech was over 23 minutes. The comments above have been taken from a 7.5 minute highlights outtake. I wish to stress this is an edit in chronological sequence. Care was taken to not present false impressions by running phrases together. This resulted in two re-edits. Please feel free to consult the full audio file or visit the AVN Facebook video permalink. Concerns and criticisms are welcome as a comment.

  • Highlights: How much further will we be pushed before we push back?

Part 1: Meryl Dorey’s rhetoric in context

We need to consider what Meryl Dorey hopes to achieve with such anti-authoritarian rhetoric. If she is genuinely upset by councils opposing the presence of the Vaxxed II bus it is not for the reasons stated. Dorey wants the public to believe she is only motivated by the opportunity to give the vaccine injured a voice. Yet the real purpose of the Vaxxed II bus tour is far more predictable. Profit and status from the realisation of a larger plan is what Dorey sees being interfered with. I’ll be expanding on that in the next post. Nonetheless we should examine her historic use of this rhetoric, opposition to the tour and how the AVN have reacted to it.

Her skill at evoking anger and frustration in members by convincing them their rights are being eroded has been honed over 25 years. Dorey has been presenting the spectre of imminent mandatory vaccination for decades. In the audio above she urges listeners to stand up and refuse to take the COVID vaccine and not be “forced” to take any vaccine. But no vaccine available  to the general public in Australia is mandatory. Scott Morrison has retracted his rash claim of a mandatory COVID vaccine. Yet in an AVN video Aneeta Hafemeister warns “we always knew this was coming”. 

This is a standard AVN line. In July 2009 during the “swine flu” pandemic Meryl Dorey claimed “It is happening just as we said it would”. In an “Action Alert” email she contended that a global pandemic would allow the government to use emergency powers to enforce compulsory H1N1 vaccination that was “just around the corner”. The following paragraph from over 11 years ago is indistinguishable in tone, terminology and intent from her presentation just 11 days ago.

…there is no time to sit back and wait to see what happens. We need to take action now to let our elected representatives and the media know what we feel about any form of forced medication.

Influenza vaccination is a requirement of healthcare workers engaged in certain roles. In March 2008 at a forum in Inverell Dorey used this to mislead her audience into believing mandatory vaccination was imminent. On presentation slides she asks “Who will be next?”, then answers: “You and your family!”. The title of her talk was Compulsory Vaccination – it’s Here! These tactics work well at motivating individuals to support the AVN cause. The claim of impending mandatory vaccination is often accompanied by requests for donations. This was the case in April 2012 when Dorey tweeted that donations to the AVN “help support freedom of vaccination choice and oppose compulsory vaccination in Australia!” (See slides below).

Of course, there is still no compulsory vaccination of the public in Australia. Following COVID-19, influenza vaccination has become mandatory for aged care workers. Australian states and territories have specific requirements for vaccination of healthcare workers and visitors to aged care facilities (see below). If a person so chooses they may, albeit unwisely, refuse vaccination for themselves and their children. They may choose to vaccinate selectively or to accept their child’s vaccine schedule at a slower pace. Legislation introduced in 2015 linked childcare rebates and supplements to immunisation as a financial incentive to improve immunisation rates. This does not constitute mandatory vaccination.

Consider the wording of the second slide. Once nurses are vaccinated to protect patients, the patients are vaccinated to protect nurses. Then teachers will be vaccinated to “protect vulnerable vaccinated students”. Then students are vaccinated (again and superfluously) to protect teachers. Firstly, in the intervening years teachers have not been requested to vaccinate. But the contention at play here is that vaccines do not work and actually make the vaccinated more vulnerable to infection with the disease they were vaccinated against. These baseless claims are supposedly steps toward a “logical conclusion”.

I could continue with more examples but there is little point. March 2008, July 2009, April 2012 and today. The message is the same. Your rights are being eroded by a misguided government. You will be forced to have dangerous vaccines. The appalling manufactured case of “death from compulsory vaccination” is typical of the AVN. The details may defy a genuine diagnosis but the heading will stay with audience members as is no doubt the intention.

In a recent paper Distrust, danger and confidence: A content analysis of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network Blog, Thomas Aechtner identifies the “persuasion attributes” of the techniques noted above. We can add our examples in parentheses. Aechtner has identified the Scarcity Principle (reduced vaccination choice, removal of democratic/health rights), Arousal of Fear (harm associated with forced vaccination, “pure evil” in government), Asking Questions (rhetorical: how much more will you take?), Source Cues (claimed scientific credibility of vaccine injury & death, account of a nurses suffering), the Contrast Principle (contrasting the selflessness of the AVN with attempts by corrupt forces to suppress them) and Negativity Effect (the negativity in Dorey’s rhetoric effectively creates attitudes). The paper goes into depth examining these and other persuasion attributes on the AVN blog. Suffice it to say these techniques are recognised in academia and can be applied to understand how the AVN manipulates an unwary audience.

The backbone of this Vaxxed II bus tour is not just vaccine injury and death but as we heard in the audio the AVN stepping in to do the work of the government in giving the victims a voice. The “evil fascist dictatorship” government is corrupted by pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies the AVN falsely claim never conduct research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines. We can compare the AVN to these companies in reporting Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) over the period 2000 – 2002.

Looking at the text under Table 1 in this Department of Health Surveillance of AEFI entry there’s a footnote on unreported or unclear jurisdiction. It goes on to explain that in this sub-category pharmaceutical companies reported 143 AEFI’s and the AVN reported 11. Put another way this entry captures a snapshot in time in which the AVN managed to report 7.7% of the vaccine injuries that pharmaceutical companies did. Although unlikely it may indeed mean that the AVN are just more diligent in reporting AEFI jurisdiction. The important point however is that this refutes their claim that pharmaceutical companies suppress information of adverse reactions to vaccines.

Part 2: Objection to the presence of the Vaxxed II bus

Both Vaxxed films are pseudoscientific constructs. The first directed by Andrew Wakefield casts him as the victim of an elaborate conspiracy hiding the truth about vaccines and autism. This is supposedly backed by a thoroughly debunked claim that the CDC have suppressed data, suddenly revealed by a whistleblower. Vaxxed II is a collection of vaccine injury stories of which Wakefield is presented as an authority. 

Before the Vaxxed II tour began it was criticised by health authorities and the media. Former President of the Australian Medical Association Dr. Tony Bartone spoke on radio 2GB in April this year reminding listeners of Australia’s excellent record in vaccination safety. He observed;

Vaccination has saved lives, it’s safe, it’s effective and anyone that tried to create any other discussion against it is really trying to harm the Australian public. 

Daily Mail UK described it as “the most dangerous bus in Australia”. They reported;

Doctors and medical experts agree there are no links between immunisations and permanent disabilities and say vaccines are a safe and effective way of protecting the wider community from harmful and communicable diseases.  […]

Dr Kean-Seng Lim, a former president of the Australian Medical Association said the tour was ‘concerning’ and ‘irresponsible’. ‘A lot of the anti-vax movement is based on rumours and untruths… any process which increases the misinformation out there is harmful to our society.’  

Australian Skeptics published a comprehensive Call To Action for medical professionals, the media and local councils as the bus got under way. Given the widespread criticism and the fact that Australian anti-vaxxers may be vocal but very small in number it was perhaps ambitious to to think the tour would not face criticism. Public opinion of the AVN was not helped by their eager uptake of COVID-19 conspiracies.

The tour also began with a lot of pent up anger on the part of the AVN. Those who know of their antics and the conduct of Meryl Dorey were not surprised to see aggressively toned emails from the AVN to its members. In a July email headed Aussie Parents Vs. The Media Machine Aneeta Hafemeister taunted;

The AVN also wishes to extend an invitation to the Australian media to join us in performing acts of journalism at any time, if and when the Australian media locate their journalistic integrity

On July 31st the next email brought news of the first council action against the Vaxxed II bus. Relevant paragraphs include;

The Blue Mountains Council in NSW has passed a motion apparently regarding the AVN, although the AVN was not named. […]

We are most concerned that the Blue Mountains Council is unable to research even the most basic facts. I have spoken to Mayor Mark Greenhill and his answers to my questions were quite unsatisfactory. We will pursue this matter further.

Blue Mountains Council had met on July 28th and, as a matter of urgency unanimously passed a motion moved by Councillors Christie and Fell prohibiting bookings by the Vaxxed II bus on council land. The motion reinforces a NSW Health order barring mass gatherings due to COVID-19 risk. The minute can be read below along with Councillor Brendan Christie’s Facebook post highlighting AVN recklessness and his personal interest in sound public health decisions.

  • Blue Mountains council minutes citing intention to ban AVN vaxxed bus
  • Councillor Brendan Christie posted a Vaxxed bus denied image on Facebook

By August 3rd Councillor Brendan Christie delighted sensible Australians with comments in the Blue Mountains Gazette, which reported;

Liberal Cr Brendan Christie told council that a nation-wide bus ‘listening’ tour of an anti-vaccination group called VAXXED may visit the region and he wanted them officially boycotted by council, as he said they also did not believe in the dangers of coronavirus. […]

He moved an urgency motion to deny the group any booking on council property to “spread their anti vaccination propaganda” through the Mountains vulnerable, elderly community which violated the current public health order.

This is madness. During a global pandemic bus loads of anti-vaxxers want to come in droves to areas whose hospitals can’t cope if COVID-19 breaks out? Vaccinations have saved millions of lives globally and these people want to visit our regions?

Cr Christie went on to make a number of similarly themed comments. However one comment he made above reinforced how well Meryl Dorey has fooled the public with the purpose of the tour. He described it as a “listening” tour. The Vaxxed II bus tour is indeed masquerading as such. Dorey wants the public to believe her aim is to provide for the vaccine injured. But her aim is actually to provide for herself to realise a longer term plan.

On August 14th an AVN email arrived headed Propaganda. The subject was Gutter Journalism: MSM Strikes Again. By now, the AVN had already executed their first hit job on one Angus Booker, the CEO of the BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park and on the business itself. Back on July 23rd he asked them to leave the park because they were running their business on his property. By now also, anyone who had checked Facebook could see the AVN shirked advice on social distancing, cramming people into their van. This was at odds with the conduct the CEO expected from his own staff. 

Dorey urged her members to respond. This resulted in the type of attack on innocent Aussies we have come to expect from the AVN as members filled the Big4 Facebook page with abuse. Their conduct came to the attention of A Current Affair who presented a segment on August 11th. This post covers the initial event and the ACA coverage. To be sure after first sending flying monkeys against Angus Booker and the Big4 Holiday Park the AVN sent them after ACA via the Australian Press Council. At no time did AVN administrators object to the abuse of Angus Booker or advise members to raise concerns politely.

On September 9th members received an email that opened with The New Fascist Normal. There was plenty of material opposing Victoria’s lockdown and the promotion of Freedom Day. It included an image of Dan Andrews dressed in a black Mao revolutionary uniform. Referring to the arrest of a pregnant anti-lockdown protest organiser in Ballarat readers were told;

This has been an incredible and horrific week in Australia. It is now apparent that Victoria is basically descending into fascism.

The next challenge to the Vaxxed II bus tour was on October 14th from Nuatali Nelmes, Lord Mayor of Newcastle. She was advised by public health professionals about the bogus claims pushed by the AVN. On her Facebook page she posted her intention to ban any anti-vaccination event from being hosted on public land.

The AVN responded the next day with a video from president Aneeta Hafemeister. Rather than cite the reasons presented by the Lord Mayor or even saying diplomatically that she had been misled by health professionals (she hadn’t of course) Hafemeister chose to get personal. Using the same accusation levelled at the CEO of Big4 Holiday Park she said that Nuatali Nelmes was, “not very happy about people with vaccine injury having a voice”. The same type of persecution rhetoric Dorey uses on October 20th.

On the same day members received a “media release” via email. The account of the Lord Mayor’s statement is different to her actual statement;

The Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Nuatali Nelmes, has issued a statement calling for the censorship, suppression and exclusion of families who, in some cases, have already paid the ultimate price for vaccinating their children. 

Claiming that the Lord Mayor should be ashamed of herself the media release offered;

Like all petty dictators, she may make the lives of those in her area difficult, but she will not control them.

The angst was for nothing as when the time came the bus was able to park on private residential land in Newcastle owned by a sympathetic AVN supporter. The event went ahead on October 25th.

A week before at Ballina however things did not go so smoothly. The thing to remember about this bus is that when it sets up it is holding an event and requires a permit for doing so. Permits which the AVN has no intention of securing. The AVN has not been overly keen to allow too much focus on their money making marquee canopy stall which is set up everyday at each spot as filming proceeds. Anti-vaccination material is sold and flyers are distributed. Meryl insists “this bus makes no money” because the AVN is a volunteer organisation. This is untrue. The entire purpose of that bus is to make money.

At Ballina the bus devotees were first visited by James. A charming lad representing the council Events Manager he asked the AVN to leave as they had no permit. Turning on her charm Dorey asked what would happen if they refused. Told they would incur an infringement notice and possibly a fine in the thousands she decided she would take the notice. It’s only donor’s money after all one might suppose. He stressed they should remove the power connection as this would incur another infringement. Meryl laughed because, after all, as rate payers “we pay for that power”. James left.

Later the police arrived. Of course the power was still on apparently just charging Meryl’s phone. The police were more firm. The marquee canopy stall had to be removed and they should leave. Meryl debated the meaning of the term “event”. Asked if the canopy stall was open to members of the public Meryl answered dishonestly contending, “It’s open to members of our organisation who have contacted us and come here”. The senior police officer went above and beyond the call of duty as Dorey challenged each item mentioned. Selling goods. Handing out flyers. What James had said. Told she could not hand out flyers Meryl became argumentative;

I would have thought that political free speech which is guaranteed under the High Court of Australia…

The police were not going to argue. They had to pack up. At some time as we’re told in the audio Dorey supposedly rang Hafemeister who told her;

This is the hill we die on.

Thankfully nobody died that day and the accuracy of that dramatic claim Dorey made on October 20th is one I have doubts about. 

On October 26th Councillor Linda Scott made a statement posted on Facebook. She had proposed that the City of Sydney approach the State and Federal Government to prevent the Vaxxed II bus from stopping within the city of Sydney Local Government area.

Item 13.16, moved by Councillor Scott and seconded by Councillor Phelps was passed unanimously on October 26th. You can read the Notices of motion here: Anti-Vaccination-Risks Network Bus Tour Ban. Access the full council meeting agenda and minutes for October 26th via this link. Whilst the impromptu name change is much more suitable, the AVN was not happy.

Excellent insight into the importance of protecting public health can be gleaned from audio of the Sydney City Council meeting. You can listen to the audio of this motion being passed below. Councillor Scott moved a procedural motion to have the matter debated earlier than tabled. Lord Mayor Clover Moore put it to council the item should be considered as a matter of urgency. This procedural motion was also passed unanimously. The council meeting’s original full webcast may be streamed here. The procedural motion begins at 1.23.10. 

City of Sydney Council meeting. Item 13.16, 26th Oct. 2020

The AVN pounced. An Urgent Action Alert email sent to members on the same day warned that Sydney City Council wanted to ban the bus in NSW and nationally. It described the motion as a comedy of errors because it did not get the AVN name right. Anyone reading the email was urged to write to council members by 9PM that night. That was 3 1/2 hours from when the email arrived. The details of ten councillors were provided for the flying monkeys behind a keyboard.

Amusingly the email asked, “Does the council have a clue about what it is opposing?” Members were asked to send the council a link to the AVN blog to allow councillors to;

…view some of the hundreds of heartbreaking interviews we have already conducted with the families of those who have been killed or injured by vaccines.

And also;

We also need to ask them to allow the AVN to participate in this meeting which is discussing the rights of the AVN, our members and the people of NSW and Australia who want to protect their own and their children’s basic human rights to bodily integrity.

No doubt a few members did write to council as is their right. However what seemed to take quite a lot of their focus were abusive tweets sent to Councillor Linda Scott. This is what the AVN flying monkeys do best. Attack individuals exercising their rights. Linda was interviewed the next day on 2GB by Deborah Knight about the motion and the abusive tweets. You can tune in here to 2GB or listen below.

Deborah Knight interviews Cr. Linda Scott, 27th Oct. 2020 (© 2GB).

We should remember of course that four years ago the then Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy was subject to the same abuse. Which may be why that again there was no word from Meryl Dorey or Aneeta Hafemeister about the inappropriate conduct of members. Nor any attempt to prevent this from happening in future. Linda herself reads out some of the tweets in a video here on Facebook.

Or just hit the audio button to listen to the 2 min MP3 of the video.

On October 29th the AVN sent an open letter to Sydney councillors. It is highly predictable in painting the evidence vacuum of vaccine injury and the apparently selfless role of the AVN. It also drips with criticism such that the reader wonders why it was sent at all;

The most recent objection to the presence of the Vaxxed II bus happened just yesterday, October 30th, at Centennial Park. The AVN were cutting it fine and no doubt hoped to enjoy a geographical smirk at the City of Sydney. That’s because Centennial Park is in itself a suburb split between the local council areas of the City of Sydney and the City of Randwick. Linda Scott’s motion banned the bus from the local council areas of the City of Sydney. Still, without a permit to hold an activity in Randwick the AVN had to move on. Dorey pointed out that the bus makes no money and the AVN is registered as a not for profit organisation. Thus as others were there so should they be.

Initially rangers arrived and chose to be curt with Dorey. This has caused her much distress. Despite the rebellious tone of Dorey’s audio at the beginning of this post, the AVN sought legal advice. They were advised to move on and chose to do so if asked. The police (who she advised in that audio were working under fascist dictators) arrived. Meryl Dorey did not make her stand or remind them they had no obligation to obey these orders that supposedly go against the Australian constitution. They were after all, more than pleasant. They didn’t appear to be bullying, suppressing, or taking away their rights. The sun was out and it was lovely in the shade. Perhaps it just wasn’t a day for overthrowing fascist dictatorships that don’t deserve Meryl’s consent. Dorey urges others to recklessly rebel while she herself consents without even raising her voice.

Conclusion

In conclusion we can see Meryl Dorey’s highly emotive rhetoric as merely the latest manifestation of an old AVN standard. Rather than having reached a point where she is about to choose “to live free or die” her aim is to evoke and nurture attitudes of heightened emotion and recklessness in AVN members. This is also seen in constantly biased and misleading feedback in emails often penned by Aneeta Hafemeister who has brought a new level of anger and alienation to the role of president. The AVN has comfortably embraced COVID-19 conspiracies and this has added an extra dimension to anti-authoritarian rhetoric.

Despite constant messages on the importance of democratic rights the AVN’s refusal to consider the role of public health policy is reflected in the intellectually vicious responses and personal attacks launched against anyone who dares think differently or exercise their democratic rights. Both Dorey and Hafemeister show no regret for the abuse inflicted upon innocent parties. In attributing bizarre and callous mindsets to those who oppose anti-vaccination disinformation they can depersonalise individuals and revel in their distress.

The Vaxxed II bus tour is a scam successfully projecting the mirage that the AVN is a caring entity focused upon the unjustly abandoned vaccine injured and their families. The real aim of this tour is not to provide a voice or a platform for those who have been “thrown in the garbage”. The real aim is to motivate as many people as possible to believe they are victims of a widespread global vaccine injury epidemic. To then “stand up for yourselves, stop being bullied, being afraid, being suppressed”.

The genuine aim is to encourage large numbers to declare their vaccine injury, death and unvaccinated stories on film. In doing so they allow Dorey and Hafemeister to realise the completion of the first stage of a longer plan.

We’ll discuss that plan and the likely form it will take in the next post.


Nov. 1st 2020: Updated to include reference to ‘No Jab No Pay’ legislation, and mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers para 11, and references below.

References: Policies and recommendations for mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers:

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Last update: 14 Nov 2020

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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True colours: Australian Vaccination-risks Network ponder the rights of others

A Current Affair recently reported on the Australian Vaccination-risks Network after they used the cover of late night to sneak their Vaxxed bus into the BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park.

This bus is used to film anti-vaccine testimonials, sow fear about any possible COVID-19 vaccine and promote COVID-19 disinformation and COVID conspiracies. The CEO of the park Angus Booker quite rightly asked the group to leave. His reason was that he has a policy of not allowing anyone to “conduct their business in our park, especially without our consent”. He explained that this would apply to a political party, to activists or a radio station.

However Meryl Dorey states;

They really don’t care whether your children are killed or injured by vaccines.

This is an unverified claim in an attempt to imply callousness. As there have been no fatalities attributed to vaccines in Australia this is dangerously misleading and highly offensive. The facts help explain why the group, despite advertising for fans to give on-camera accounts of “vaccine deaths” for weeks, still haven’t produced an evidenced backed testimonial. The harm done by this group is seen in the video as a young man contends that his father recently passed away “as a result of a flu vaccination”.

Yet there are no recorded cases of anyone dying as a result of a flu vaccination. It is a bizarre alternative reality they inhabit. One in which according to Meryl Dorey, Italian COVID-19 fatalities were apparently all people who “were going to die anyway” and vaccines, not illness or disease, kill.

In actual reality modern medicine employs a vast arsenal of medication and procedures when managing disease and keeping very ill patients alive. The influenza vaccine is one such tool. It may be given to a patient who is very ill and who later dies from an existing condition or a condition of comorbidity. The vaccine may be given to someone who at a later time passes away from a chronic or acute condition. In both cases however, the flu vaccine has not caused a death. That the AVN revel in this tragic deception, promote it and profit from it is very telling indeed.

Asked to leave the park, Meryl, who raves day and night about the erosion of her rights, reacted in her standard fashion to someone else exercising their rights. She urged Facebook followers to leave “reviews” on the park’s Facebook page. The flying monkeys complied and dutifully threw dirt on both Angus Booker and the BIG4 Holiday park in question. This included the defacing of Angus’ profile picture and reposting it back onto the Big4 business Facebook page. AVN Facebook comments show that others called the caravan park to complain. One loyal devotee to Dorey’s cult urged members to repost the attacks that were removed.

Again, this is tragic. A number of these angry members wrongly believe they have a vaccine-injured child after digesting disinformation peddled for profit by this group. Or believe vaccines can only harm and actively reject life saving interventions for their children and themselves.

So how would the AVN profit from this? Knowing full well that the CEO is within his rights Dorey and AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister still teased that they had “spoken with a lawyer… and are considering taking action… about the discrimination”. Below are just a couple of eager responses.


Fortunately I haven’t seen an active attempt to raise funds for legal costs but the tone of these comments is concerning. In the past there have been donation campaigns for similar costs in which no action eventuates.

In any case asking Facebook flying monkeys to now focus on the press council with complaints about A Current Affair was a predictable response from the AVN.

Presently the Vaxxed bus is in hiatus with the AVN assuring they will be back on the road in due course.

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Call to action on anti-vaccination bus tour

© Australian Skeptics Inc.

By Tim Mendham

July 19th 2020

Australian Skeptics has issued a warning and call to action to Australian media, medical professionals, and local councils regarding the current anti-vaccination ‘revival’ tour of rural and regional Australia:

VAXXED Bus
Delivers COVID-19 Conspiracies and Bad Advice

The so-called “VAXXED” bus is currently touring Australia, spreading misinformation about vaccination at local ‘revival-style’ meetings, often in regional venues owned or managed by local councils or schools. This big black bus carries the logo of the “Australian Vaccination-risks Network” (AVN), an organisation whose leaders have:
● Claimed COVID-19 is nothing more than a bad cold.(1)
● Encouraged people to take photos in hospitals to show COVID-19 is not serious.(2)
● Discouraged face masks for COVID-19 and stated temperature testing is crazy and stupid.(3)
● Likened vaccination to rape.(4)
● Claimed microchips could be injected into the population via vaccines.(5)
● Promoted the falsehood that contrails from aircraft – which they call “Chemtrails” – are used to poison the population.(6)
● Spread the discredited falsehood that vaccines lead to autism.(7)
● Propagated the myth that SIDS and the fatal injuries suffered by some babies who were shaken to death are really the results of vaccines.(8)

With the recent resurgence of COVID-19 in parts of the country, now is not the time to have anyone spread disinformation about the pandemic or vaccine preventable diseases. It is clear from their own statements that the organisers of this tour do not take the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

In 2014, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning against this organisation, stating in part:

Warning – The Commission has established that AVN does not provide reliable information in relation to certain vaccines and vaccination more generally. The Commission considers that AVN’s dissemination of misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers.(9)

MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS: Should be aware that the VAXXED Bus may be visiting their area. This will mean that current and potential patients may be exposed to dangerous misinformation that can have deleterious if not fatal consequences. Anti-vaccine messages should be actively resisted, and we encourage local medical professionals to take a stand on this issue, either via local media, social media or whatever public avenues exist in their area.

MEDIA: We advise the media to take great care when covering the VAXXED Bus and the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. They use the tactic of “tell both sides of the story”, also known as “False Balance”, a misrepresentation that the ABC’s Media Watch has covered with regard to this organisation in 2012(10). The media are advised to focus on the more bizarre conspiracy theories propagated, but are under no obligation to give this group the oxygen they seek.

LOCAL COUNCILS: Should consider very carefully the possible consequences of hiring out venues to this organisation. With parts of regional Australia recording a worrying low level of vaccination in a time of a global pandemic, encouraging parents not to vaccinate their children is irresponsible.

“We have one of the safest outcomes when it comes to preventable diseases in the world, because of our strong immunisation program, and anti-vaxxers should just butt out. Vaccination has saved lives, it’s safe, it’s effective and anyone that tried to create any other discussion against it is really trying to harm the Australian public”
– Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone (Radio 2GB 20/04/2020)

“…there has been somewhat of an upsurge in paranoid and sort of unhinged behaviours.”
– AMA state president (SA) Dr Chris Moy (ABC NEWS 21/05/2020)

“It is concerning that the reports that I have received are that some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy or that it won’t impact on them.”
– Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos (7 News July 2020)

References

1. The Australian Vaccination-risks Network is one group which has moved to downplay the significance of coronavirus, with spokeswoman Meryl Dorey saying the virus “is just the common cold”. “The cold can kill anyone if they’re sick to begin with and coronavirus is no different,” she said on a Facebook video on Sunday. She said people have been “fooled” by a “fear campaign on the silly sheep media”.
https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/health-wellbeing/anti-vaxxers-downplay-common-cold-like-coronavirus-amid-fears-of-forced-vaccinations-c-725089

2. Dorey questioned the COVID-19 pandemic saying: “Are you being lied to?” Requesting that followers “take your phones and pop into the local hospital” and “Let us know how crowded it is — or is not. Is coronavirus really overwhelming our nation or is our nation overwhelming us with lies and killing our economy and us?”
Hansen, Jane (3 April 2020). “Anti-vaxxers deny COVID-19 pandemic, urge others to ignore isolation advice”. The Sunday Telegraph. Sydney NSW.

3. On Face Masks for COVID-19: “… a piece of cheese cloth… something with lots and lots of holes in it is the best to wear.”
On Temperature Testing for COVID-19: “…. temperature testing, that’s just crazy….” “It is so stupid. It just shows the extent of stupidity that our government, our medical community and our media are displaying.”
Meryl Dorey, Under the Wire – https://www.bitchute.com/video/K77QIp3HJQyP (49min 20sec mark)

4. A controversial anti-vaccination group has likened vaccines that prevent disease to rape, drawing condemnation even from some its own supporters.
https://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-vaccination-skeptics-network-compares-vaccines-to-rape-20150422-1mr0wk.html

5. “The next and most logical step is the use of microchips which will contain all of the same information contained on smart cards but which will be injected into us and read and updated from a distance.”
http://web.archive.org/web/20010406083421/avn.org.au/big.htm

6. “The number of chemtrails sprayed over the #CDCWhistleblower #VAXtruth rally was shocking! Many of the protesters were sickened. Stop it NOW!”
Twitter @nocompulsoryvac – 1:15am – 27 Oct 2016

7. Meryl Dorey: “All vaccinations in the medical literature have been linked with the possibility of causing autism, not just the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine.”
https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/false-balance-leads-to-confusion/9973912

8. Anti-vaxxers come up with their most abhorrent lie yet. – “So Shaken Baby Syndrome again, like SIDS, is a waste basket. It is a way of blaming the family for what may have been caused by the medical community.”
https://www.mamamia.com.au/avn

9. The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission – Public statement – warning about the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. (‘AVN’), formerly known as Australian Vaccination Network Inc.
https://tinyurl.com/p6o4yy8

10. False balance leads to confusion (Media Watch ABC October 2012) https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/false-balance-leads-to-confusion/9973912

For reliable information about COVID-19: https://www.health.gov.au
For reliable information about vaccination: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation


Once again please note this post is © Australian Skeptics and the original can be sourced here.

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Chris Kenny attacks Paul Barry, Media Watch and the ABC

Last month Chris Kenny used his programme The Kenny Report on Sky News to launch a knee jerk attack against Media Watch and particularly its host Paul Barry.

It would seem that the facts about hydroxychloroquine not supporting the constant praise Donald Trump gave it as a treatment or preventative for COVID-19 did not sit well with Mr. Kenny. He was having none of the notion that these facts and the manner in which the media did or did not report them could be accurately presented on Media Watch.

His frequently personal, highly opinionated attack on Paul Barry fails to present necessary evidence whilst liberally applying the very deception he accuses Barry of. Kenny’s numerous contentions have become somewhat more relevant in light of the WHO suspending its trial of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 due to safety concerns. [Update: The WHO has resumed the trial of hydroxychloroquine after the study leading to the suspension was retracted by the Lancet. Full update after post]. However first some background on Trump and a review of the Media Watch segment in question.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a veritable cornucopia of weird and wonderful personalities making a range of deceptive, dangerous, conspiratorial or just plain wrong claims.

With respect to hydroxychloroquine as a treatment or prophylactic for COVID-19 the evidence and advice has, from the beginning, been clear. Trials were needed to establish if and how the drug should be taken. Within weeks treatment trials revealed serious problems and fatalities whilst warnings about its use as a prophylactic were unambiguous.

In the latter case warnings were more widespread after Donald Trump began to promote it. On March 19th in a White House press briefing Trump demonstrated a grave error of comprehension. Hydroxychloroquine has been used in the treatment and prevention of malaria for decades. Where suitable it is also prescribed in the management of rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

In a textbook example of why scientific advisors must be consulted by politicians who comment on health matters, Trump’s error of reasoning was to assume this prior, specific use of hydroxychloroquine meant it was apparently safe for other uses. In a March 19 press briefing he said in part;

Nothing will stand in our way as we pursue any avenue to find what best works against this horrible virus.

Now, a drug called chloroquine — and some people would add to it “hydroxy-.”  Hydroxychloroquine.  So chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. Now, this is a common malaria drug. It is also a drug used for strong arthritis. If somebody has pretty serious arthritis, also uses this in a somewhat different form. But it is known as a malaria drug, and it’s been around for a long time and it’s very powerful.

But the nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if it — if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.

Five days later after taking a form of chloroquine an Arizona man died from cardiac arrest and his wife was hospitalised. They had ingested chloroquine phosphate which is not a medicinal form of chloroquine.

Despite Trump’s enthusiasm for hydroxychloroquine Dr. Anthony Fauci had urged caution. The day after Trump’s briefing, during his own COVID-19 briefing, Fauci answered reporters who were querying the use of the drug as a treatment. He stated;

The answer is no, and the evidence that you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence.

Nonetheless, Trump followed by tweeting the drug was a “game changer” and almost a month later on April 14th Trump was still confusing its prior use with presumed general safety [Media Watch – 16 sec mark];

What do you have to lose? They’ve been taking it for forty years for malaria.

That was quite a statement. Particularly given what we know now. Trump announced on May 18th he’d been taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for a week and a half. On May 20th he announced he would stop his “regimen” in a day or two. However almost a month earlier on April 24th the FDA had warned of the serious side effects of hydroxychloroquine [2]. They cautioned it should not be used outside a hospital or clinical trial.

The need for more research into the potential of hydroxychloroquine was reinforced by authorities from the very early days of Trump’s glowing praise for the drug. On the same day as his “what do you have to lose?” comment, it was reported that a high dose trial in Brazil looking at treatment of COVID-19 was abandoned due to a trend toward lethality.

On April 14th Science Alert reported in part;

After 11 patients died across both dosage groups, the team halted the high-dose arm of the trial on day six, citing more heart rhythm problems in the high-dose group, and “a trend toward higher lethality”.

Which brings us to the Media Watch segment, Hydroxychloroquine disappoints, of Monday April 27th. You can watch the segment (6.42) and access the transcript here. Or you can listen to the audio below or grab the mp3 file here (© ABC).

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Paul Barry does exactly what one would expect from Media Watch. He reported on findings from VA hospitals in the USA of higher mortality in those given hydroxychloroquine and the drug’s lack of efficacy. He stressed that the study was not randomised and hadn’t been peer reviewed, but was being taken seriously. He also reported on the disappointing trial results from Brazil and presented the well known tweets from Trump and Giuliani. The latter claiming a 100% success rate of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 was taken down by Twitter. Viewers were also presented with the chorus of hydroxychloroquine support from Fox News and quotes from Trump.

Shining a light on Australian media Barry quite fairly reported on Sky News Australia. After Dr. Fauci and others had warned hydroxychloroquine hadn’t been adequately tested and may be dangerous Sky reporters cited “Trump Derangement Syndrome” as the cause for US media reporting on the problems with Trump’s claims and the facts about the drug.

Rather than present evidence to support Trump’s claims or efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, Sky News contended that it was hatred of Trump that led to reporting of its dangers. Chris Kenny argued that the “real world clinical assessment of this drug at the moment”, was that doctors and dentists were “putting it aside” for themselves or their family.

Kenny also demonstrated the same grave error of comprehension as did Trump. On April 2nd he was promoting the claims of Dr. Vladimir Zelenko who had published a YouTube video making unverified claims about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine given with zinc and antibiotics to treat COVID-19. The same method is known to cause cardiac problems.

Chris Kenny informed his viewers;

Now we know this drug is safe. People have been taking it for these other conditions for decades. So this does hold out great hope.

Yet Zelenko’s claims had already been exposed as unproven. Paul Barry noted it was reported on Snopes;

Zelenko’s claims, however, rest solely on taking him at his word: He has published no data, described no study design, and reported no analysis.

Zelenko’s video was rightly removed from YouTube. Kenny “wondered” if this censorship was due to Zelenko signing off his video with over the top praise for Trump. He professed his love, blessings and hope that God protects [President Trump]. It is now known Zelenko falsely claimed the trial he was enthusiastically promoting as successful had FDA approval. This has brought him to the attention of a US Federal prosecutor.

Paul Barry went on to note Alan Jones thought hydroxychloroquine should be “rushed into the front-line”. Again, as with Trump and Kenny we see the same lack of basic critical thought. Yes, Jones argued;

...given the drug has been around for more than 50 years, it’s approved, the data on it is well established it’s perplexing that we don’t instruct the use of the drug now with the monitoring of existing coronavirus cases to see the results.

Barry continued the segment by including a response to Jones from Professor Peter Collignon of ANU in which he warns of the drugs toxicity and stresses the need for more trials. He finished with playing the footage of Donald Trump’s comments about injecting disinfectant.

Chris Kenny seems to have taken great offence at the content of this Media Watch segment, despite what is the demonstrably factual content. On The Kenny Report of March 28th he launched an attack at Paul Barry, Media Watch its researchers and funding, and the ABC itself. He spent seven minutes of his time on air to do so claiming the ABC and Paul Barry had a “bizarre new enemy to attack”. Namely hydroxychloroquine.

You can watch The Kenny Report here and access a summary beneath it. Or you can listen to the audio below or grab the mp3 file here (© Sky News).

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In last months post on government cuts to ABC funding I touched on some points that are relevant to this post. Namely the terminology used by Sky News and Chris Kenny to convince viewers that the ABC has a leftist ideology. This is a bold claim and when attacking Media Watch the onus is on Chris Kenny to present not just peer reviewed evidence, but a scientific consensus based on the same to defend climate change denial and now the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

What is immediately apparent is Kenny’s frequent attacks on ABC funding. In the seven minutes he refers to taxpayer funding of the ABC and Media Watch five times. It’s difficult to imagine even his most devoted fans simply swallowing that. Each time he repeats a version of viewers being presented with “ideological deceit, deceptive tosh, rot, etc”. Kenny begins by telling his audience that Media Watch, “gets a lot wrong – deliberately wrong”. He continues;

One of the most over-resourced shows on television it uses taxpayers money for an ideological platform. It’s supposed to be a media watchdog standing up for truth, accuracy and the like, but what it does is distort the truth and promote inaccuracies in order to promote its own ideological agenda. This breaches the law of course, it breaches the ABC Charter.

This final claim about the ABC Charter is a calculated low blow designed to create significant problems for the ABC which is presently enduring a three year freeze of funding that began in June 2019. This will cost the ABC $83.7 million over the three years. 800 staff have lost their jobs. Yet most significantly as I wrote last month, the ABC has already stressed that the present cuts threaten delivery of the ABC Charter. Yet Kenny contends he is unveiling an “ideological agenda” of Media Watch. Speaking of which, he continues;

Barry and Media Watch preach global warming alarmism, promote leftist climate policies, defend the ABC and attack anyone right of centre. Especially if they work for News Corp – owners of this station. I’ve detailed their deceptions many times before, and I won’t stop.

He goes on to present a “recent example documented in detail by Andrew Bolt”. This is apparently how Media Watch acquitted the ABC over its “obsessive, biased, unfair, relentless and clearly wrong headed persecution of Cardinal George Pell over many years”. He presents an edited clip of Paul Barry speaking on Media Watch. Barry states;

And did the ABC get their judgements on Pell one hundred percent right? Probably not. Was it a witch hunt and a dark day for journalism? I for one do not think so.

Kenny returns with;

How about that for fairness and courage? What a whimp.

The deception employed here by Chris Kenny to create the bogus impression that Paul Barry is biased in favour of the ABC and against George Pell is highly significant. The out-take is from the lengthy Media Watch segment, Pell – The final verdict. When viewed in its entirety we see Barry is critical of ABC identities and programmes when warranted. We also learn that the story of an investigation into Pell was broken by Andrew Bolt’s own paper, the Herald Sun, in February 2016.

Paul Barry also argued against two respected ABC identities that claimed Pell was not “innocent”. Rather it was found there was insufficient evidence to convict. Barry responded to this as follows;

Technically that may be right.

But the principle of our legal system is you’re innocent until proven guilty. And after a unanimous seven-nil verdict from the High Court, you surely can’t argue that Pell is not innocent of the charges.

There are other examples of Barry criticising the ABC. Such as Louise Milligan and Four Corners for not canvassing Pell’s defence, but rather focusing on those who condemned Pell. Or of Barry citing the ABC’s fairness. ABC’s 7:30 did consider if Pell’s conviction was wrong, interviewing Frank Brennan. When Pell’s first appeal was dismissed The Drum had lawyer Richard Beasley appear and he raised concerns that reasonable doubt wasn’t found.

Over the Pell trial and appeals the ABC gave airtime to a large number of Pell supporters. Added to this must go the number of times his supporters turned down an invitation to appear on the ABC. There are many examples of the ABC’s fairness and bipartisanship with respect to Pell. What stands out is Paul Barry’s dedication to applying the same standards to the ABC as to anywhere else. More so in the spirit of Media Watch he has a right to examine if the Pell case was in the public interest and deserving of in depth coverage. Indeed it was, particularly in view of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This is what Pell told that Royal Commission;

My own position is that you never disbelieve a complaint. But then it has to be assessed as to see just whether it is valid and true and plausible.

– Revelation, ABC, 2 April, 2020

Thus Chris Kenny’s attack against Paul Barry with respect to Cardinal George Pell and purported ABC bias is without foundation. More so, Kenny has deceived his viewers by using a Media Watch clip out of context. The significance of this rests not least on the accusations of deception Kenny goes on to make against Paul Barry.

Kenny moves on to hydroxychloroquine, claiming the ABC and Paul Barry “don’t like the bloke who speaks positively about it”. Despite the evidence of hydroxychloroquine dangers outlined above, Kenny contends the ABC and Barry are, “actually lining up against drugs that are being trialled around the world. Why? Because the US President hopes they’ll work. I kid you not the left have become that nutty over Donald Trump”.

Kenny contended bias by omission because Paul Barry didn’t include two Australian trials, one of which is currently looking at the prophylactic application of hydroxychloroquine. Kenny made much of the fact he would be speaking to that trial’s lead investigator Professor Marc Pellegrini of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Unfortunately for Chris Kenny it’s not at all clear why ongoing trials support his contention that hydroxychloroquine should be considered safe or that Barry is misleading viewers.

At the time it was known the subjects – all healthcare workers – would be well, fit and rigorously assessed prior to entering the prophylactic trial. To fast forward, recently after the WHO stopped the hydroxychloroquine research of the global Solidarity trial on COVID-19 patients SBS reported that Prof. Pellegrini stated;

The WHO Solidarity trial is worlds apart from what we are doing. Understand that it’s very, very different.

On May 20th Clinical Trials Arena reported;

Pellegrini said: “COVID SHIELD is gold standard in its design as a multi-centre, randomised, double-blind study.

“The trial is focused on our frontline and allied healthcare workers who are at an increased risk of infection due to repeated exposure caring for sick patients. Our aim is to help these people stay safe, well, and able to continue in their vital roles.”

The trial will recruit 2,250 participants who will receive hydroxychloroquine or a placebo tablet over four months.

The other QLD study was part of a national trial looking at both hydroxychloroquine, and lopinavir-ritonavir (a combination treatment used to treat HIV) in the treatment of COVID-19. There were no available results at the time and Paul Barry was not hiding the truth. The focus of his Media Watch segment was media. Not a discussion of various hydroxychloroquine trials.

Well before Kenny went to air the FDA warned of severe heart problems in patients given hydroxychloroquine. Still Kenny attacked Media Watch researchers and bemoaned their funding claiming Barry selectively omits items if they don’t fit “his thesis”.

Kenny worked hard to whip up anger over taxpayer funding of the ABC. He returned to his comment that the real world clinical assessment of hydroxychloroquine was that health professionals were “putting it aside”. This was because he knew that Paul Barry’s “large research team” had received this correspondence from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. In it the PSA president notes that there has been an unprecedented demand for hydroxychloroquine following some promising data on the treatment of COVID-19 and Trump’s support of the drug.

It goes on to mention reports from pharmacists that doctors are prescribing for doctors and their families, as are dentists. Non-medical prescribers are prescribing bulk amounts. There is no mention of conclusive data supporting treatment of COVID-19. Key parts of the correspondence include;

If this medication does indeed have the efficacy that we would desire against COVID-19 then it needs to be prescribed and used judiciously. […]

Our strong advice to pharmacists at this point in time, until further advice is available, is to refuse the dispensing of hydroxychloroquine if there is not a genuine need, and that need is for those indications for what it is approved for – inflammatory conditions or the suppression and treatment of malaria. […]

The only way this [treatment of patients who genuinely need the drug] is possible is for prescribers to not write prescriptions for this medicine as a ‘just in case’ measure and for pharmacists to refuse the supply outside of these indications at this point in time.

I’m quite baffled as to why Kenny thinks this letter supports the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine or why he thinks Paul Barry should have included it in his segment. Barry did not accuse Kenny of lying about GPs and dentists grabbing a supply of the drug. Rather, the issue is that Kenny believes such rash behaviour by some health professionals is a “real world clinical assessment of this drug at the moment”. The fact is such off-label prescribing is most certainly not a clinical assessment and to tell viewers this, may have serious, dangerous consequences. TGA amendments to hydroxychloroquine prescription give a clear picture now and did so at the time Kenny went to air.

Kenny was also concerned that Media Watch didn’t mention his interviews with the PSA, Peter Doherty and a number with Professor Peter Collignon of the ANU. This is unusual given what Collignon had said on Alan Jones’ breakfast show on April 9th as reported on the very Media Watch segment Kenny accuses of being selectively and deceptively biased. Collignon stated;

The reality is it’s hard to believe why this drug would work. Now, like all other drugs, I think we’ve got to have an open mind and study them. But there’s as many reports showing it doesn’t work as there are, and it’s not a drug that hasn’t got any toxicity. People have already died from heart conditions by taking this drug in inappropriate dose.

Professor Collignon later told Media Watch by email that larger and more definitive studies were needed and that;

I am even more sceptical as more data is coming in.

Yet Kenny omitted this instead telling his audience;

Paul Barry has deliberately hidden and distorted the truth in order to pretend that we have been misleading you. It’s that brazen, that unhinged and it’s done with your taxpayers money.

Kenny also decided to leave out any mention of Vladimir Zelenko despite him being previously mentioned to support Kenny’s claim of left wing bias against Trump, hence bias against hydroxychloroquine. Zelenko has recently labelled negative data on the drug as “garbage”. Nor did he mention Dr. Anthony Fauci or his position on the drug. He does mention Paul Barry’s reporting of Trump suggesting injection of disinfectant. Kenny then observes;

That’s the level at which Barry operates. Like a kid on Twitter he wants to pretend that the President recommends mainlining Dettol. It’s that inane.

Kenny goes on to disapprove of Barry’s salary which he’s paid, “to produce fifteen minutes of deceptive tosh a week”. He’s not happy that, “up to a dozen researchers” are paid either. Research, Kenny contends, that is, “left out if the facts get in the way of [Barry’s] thesis”. He finishes off with more of the same, this time including a taunt;

The ABC spends, what, two or three million dollars a year on this programme of ideological deceit. And then they scream for more funds – more of your taxes. Good luck with that Ita.

Kenny’s performance is really worth watching. The evidence shows that the one omitting relevant material to deceive his audience is Chris Kenny himself despite his proclamations about Paul Barry. He may have a predetermined, erroneous notion of what Media Watch should be and how it should run. Yet given the many deliberate and malicious references to ABC funding and the motivation of Paul Barry it’s a safe bet that Kenny’s intentions are nefarious. He’s lashing out at Paul Barry and Media Watch because the facts aren’t to his liking or his ideology.

The denial of evidence can always have serious consequences and regarding climate change already has. However at the present time with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic orchestrated deception like that presented by Kenny is not only outrageous, but immoral. The fact is that today so much of right wing rhetoric is anti-science and indeed post truth. That Kenny would cling to his anecdotal belief that the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine can be gleaned from it being snapped up by some health professionals is a failure of critical thinking. That he tried to defend this by tacking together various claims that Paul Barry had omitted material he felt supported his belief gives disturbing insight into the logical fallacies he entertains.

There is really no doubt. Hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to be of genuine benefit in fighting COVID-19 as data stands. Hydroxychloroquine should not be used for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. Donald Trump was wrong to promote it. Sky News journalists are politically motivated in defending Trump.

Chris Kenny is wrong. He failed to present the evidence. Paul Barry and Media Watch are right. The evidence in this case is what the ABC presented.


UPDATE 6/6/2020: