“No balance possible between facts and non-science”

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

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

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

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

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

 

In his statement Norman Swan observed;

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

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

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

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

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

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

… that’s just an overstated and misrepresented argument …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

International Overdose Awareness Day – August 31st

Time To Remember                                  Time To Act

 

 

 

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day.

Access the IOAD link above to find an activity, get resources or make a donation. On the main page just under a couple of videos, we read;

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on 31 August each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.

Thousands of people die each year from drug overdose. They come from all walks of life.

Do you recognise the signs and symptoms of overdose? What is the impact of drug use and overdose on family, friends and those experiencing it?

These videos include people affected by the impact of drugs use and overdose who share some of their stories.

Australia’s Alcohol and Drug Foundation have a comprehensive site set up for IOAD. There’s helpful information here such as Signs and Symptoms of an Overdose, Harm Minimisation, How to Help in an Emergency, along with references and resources.

This morning on ABC Melbourne Jon Faine ran a great interview. The info’ paragraphs run as follows;

Cherie Short’s son Aaron died of a drug overdose in 2015. She tells Jon Faine we need to change drug policy and “make humane decisions” to stop others from dying.
“This tragedy is preventable, I believe overdose is preventable,” she said.

Ms Short is joined by Kayla Caccaviello, who dated Aaron and has overcome her own addiction to drugs to become a drug and alcohol counsellor.

The interview is titled “Humane drug policy could have saved my son”: Mum

You can download the 8 minute mp3 file here.

Activities for this year globally and across every state in Australia can be accessed on this page. Fortunately Australia is second from the top and easy to access. But of course please use the drop down menu for fast access to the area of your choice. Australia has 79 activities with 48 in Victoria, 11 in NSW, 7 in WA, 4 in QLD and TAS, 3 in NT and 2 in ACT.

Activities are varied ranging from O.D. prevention training, to art display, to group naloxone (opioid antidote) training, to afternoon tea – followed by naloxone training and a free kit, remembrance events to de-stigmatise overdose, etc.

Australia has only two supervised injecting centres. One, the MSIC in Kings Cross Sydney opened in May 2001 and after more than 11 years of successful trial moved to permanent basis. The MSIC in Richmond, Melbourne commenced on a trial basis at the beginning of 2018. Whilst it is running successfully and saving lives daily the entire concept is a punching bag for conservative politicians.

Regrettably whilst it is easy to manufacture the illusion of government funded drug induced harm and negative community appearances the peer reviewed evidence, globally, supports the health benefits of Safe Injecting Facilities. Always be aware of the myth of a Drug Free Australia.

This notion is pushed on the back of pseudoscience, the rejection of peer reviewed evidence and moral panic. You can read up on the antics of Drug Free Australia Ltd via their tag here.

Evidence backed themes that are often presented on IOAD support the fact that prohibition and the “war on drugs” waste money, ruin and cost lives. Harm minimisation practices such as harm reduction approaches like needle exchange and injecting facilities, prevent overdose, the spread of blood borne diseases and community dysfunction.

Evidence supports harm minimisation and particularly harm reduction.

Prescription Drug Overdose

One area to receive increasing attention again this year is that of prescription opioids. According to this ABC article OD fatalities have risen almost 40% in the last decade.

A constant concern for those who need adequate pain management via prescription, is that the “war on drugs” mentality may permeate policy modification under the belief it is a sensible solution. Once again the political conservative gravitates to this mode of moral dictation.

Overseas activity suggests that those who are denied prescription medication for prolonged pain management may find their way to illicit opioid abuse and inherit all the problems of crime, disease, socioeconomic stress and violence that come with such abuse.

We must yet again be careful that in managing this emerging problem we do not allow the denial of rights and an ignorance of incumbent facts such that we see punishment and manipulation of those in need.

Black Salve – The Pro-Necrotic Agent

Last April Questions for Pseudoscience published an informative video on the very nasty, dangerous, bogus skin cancer “treatment” known generally as Black Salve.

Main points might be summed up as;

  • It isn’t anti-tumour cream.
  • It is anti-skin cream.
  • It kills tissue via the caustic salt zinc chloride (listed by the FDA as a fake skin cancer treatment) and sanguinarine (a toxic alkaloid).
  • The combination of zinc chloride and sanguinarine is “incredibly lethal to living tissue”.
  • Apart from burning skin due to its caustic nature zinc chloride adversely effects other body organs and systems (eyes, G.I. tract, lungs).
  • Sanguinarine blocks sodium potassium pumps located in the cell membrane, killing cells.
  • The ridiculous myth peddled by proponents of Black Salve is that cell death can be controlled by removing the salve at just the right time so that only cancer cells are effected.
  • However once begun the process continues leading to widespread necrosis. As cells die, enzymes are released leading to the breakdown of neighbouring cell membranes.
  • A domino effect follows leading to widespread cell death.
  • Thus Black Salve is really a Pro-Necrotic Agent and will kill any tissue it comes into contact with.

In March 2012 we visited the issue of AVN selling the One Answer To Cancer DVD – a blatantly bogus promotion of Black Salve. The post included the banning of this dangerous product by Australia’s TGA, (Therapeutic Goods Administration).

The TGA at that time issued a warning on Black Salve, which was covered by the ABC’s The World Today.

  • Listen to the audio in the player below;

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Australian government to provide meningococcal vaccine to teens

Recently the Australian government announced that from April 2019 the meningococcal vaccine Nimenrix will be available free to teenagers aged 14-19. This will prove to be a significant public health measure against Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD).

Nimenrix is a quadrivalent vaccine protecting against 4 of the 13 serogroups of the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The four serogroups are A, C, W and Y. The vaccine Bexsero protects against serogroup B and is presently the subject of a South Australian study. The manufacturers of the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline have confirmed they will seek to have Bexsero listed on the National Immunisation Program once they have the study results. The ACWY vaccine has been freely available to 12 month olds since July 1st, 2018. Of these five primary strains of meningococcal disease, B and W serogroups are the most common.

The incidence of meningococcal disease and the serogroup responsible fluctuates over time. According to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), serogroup B (MenB) was the most common cause of IMD from 2006 to 2015. Over this period MenB accounted for 63% to 88% of annual notified cases where a serogroup was identified. An NCIRS fact sheet notes that since 2013 serogroup W (MenW) has increasingly caused IMD.

In that year 17.4% or 17 cases with an identified serogroup were responsible for the disease. By 2017 MenW was identified as responsible for 38.1% or 139 cases. It is also clinically interesting that the NCIRS have reported, “many of the MenW cases have been due to a single clone of meningococcus, the ST-11 strain type”. This suggests sustained person to person transmission. MenW appears to have a higher fatality rate (9.3%) than MenB (5%).

With serogroup Y there has been a “smaller but notable” increase. In 2014 there were 7.4% or 12 cases of those with an identified serogroup, increasing to 20.5% or 75 cases in 2017. IMD due to serogroup Y is more common in older Australians. 61% of the 75 notified cases in 2017 were in adults ≥ 45 years or older. The decrease in cases due to serogroup C (MenC) is an indication of the efficacy of immunisation programmes.

The MenC conjugate vaccination programme began in 2003. The number of MenC cases with an identified serogroup was 225 in 2002, falling to 14 (3.8%) in 2017. The NCIRS observe that, “serogroup A disease remains rare in Australia”. Nonetheless overall meningococcal disease and death from different serogroups has increased in recent years.

Reporting recently on the government intention to soon provide the quadrivalent Nimenrix vaccine to teens, both SBS and Fairfax published the following figures on IMD for 2015 – 2017.

  • 2015: 182 cases, 12 fatalities
  • 2016: 252 cases, 11 fatalities
  • 2017: 382 cases, 28 fatalities

The Fairfax article was published at 12.00am on September 25th and noted that there had been ten fatalities from meningococcal “so far this year”. A little over 44 hours later at 8.07pm on September 26th the Moree Champion reported;

Laboratory tests have confirmed meningococcal disease as the cause of death in a 25 year old woman in the New England region. The young woman collapsed at home on Saturday, September 22 and was taken to hospital by ambulance, but was unable to be revived.

Meningococcal disease can kill within 24 hours if not treated in time. The audio below is from Meningococcal Australia and addresses important points regarding infection, symptoms, prevention and treatment.

The Meningococcal Australia website notes;

10% of those infected will die, and around 20% will have permanent disabilities — ranging from learning difficulties, sight and hearing problems, to liver and kidney failure, loss of fingers, toes and limbs and scarring caused by skin grafts.

It is important to access reputable information with respect to diseases such as Invasive Meningococcal Disease. IMD from the five primary serogroups A, C, W, Y and B can be prevented by vaccination. This makes it a target for misinformation from the anti-vaccination lobby. In Australia the most vocal group is the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, or AVN.

Meningococcal bacteria can live harmlessly in the throat and nose in 20% of people and IMD is one of the less common bacterial diseases. Antivaccinationists use this information to wrongly assert there is no need to be vaccinated. Yet the reality is that in cases of meningococcal disease the bacteria enter the bloodstream and multiply rapidly, causing septicaemia and damage to blood vessel walls. This leads to bleeding into skin tissue producing the dark purple rash associated with meningococcal disease.

Bacterial meningitis caused by meningococcal disease is the most dangerous type of meningitis. Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the meninges – the lining of the spinal cord and brain. Thus the argument that humans “naturally” carry meningococcal bacteria and should avoid vaccination is based on deceptive reasoning and is dangerously misleading.

Vaccines are demonstrably very safe. The testing of vaccines before approval for use in Australia can take over a decade. Their ingredients are well understood and are themselves tested for safety.

The introduction of the quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine Nimenrix is a positive for Australian public health.

 

Fentanyl: use, abuse, addiction and harm

ABC’s Background Briefing have recently looked critically at the rise in prescription of fentanyl and associated addiction, harm and fatal overdose.

A national emergency Pt. 1 (May 20th, 2018) reviews issues covered in Prescription killer: Australia’s imminent fentanyl epidemic (November 2017).

The programme summary from Pt. 1 of A national emergency follows;

Alarming numbers of Australians are dying from fentanyl overdoses at increasing rates and undercover recordings show just how easy it is to get it.

A NSW coronial inquest into the deaths of six people has just found double the amount of people die from prescription opioids than they do from heroin.

In the first of a two part investigation, reporter Hagar Cohen revisits a story first broadcast last year, she speaks to people whose lives have been torn apart by fentanyl abuse.

You can also listen to the programme below. (33.5 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

On May 27th, 2018 Background Briefing presented A national emergency Pt. 2. The programme summary follows (bold mine);

Paramedics across Australia are stealing lethal opioids to cope with workplace trauma.

Freedom of Information documents reveal nearly 100 investigations into the misappropriation of addictive drugs by ambulance workers since 2010.

In this co-production with the 730 program, reporter Hagar Cohen asks why paramedics have stolen fentanyl for personal use.

A warning, this episode deals extensively with suicide. It might not be suitable for everyone and if it brings up any issues at all for you please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can access the audio above or use the player below. (35.8 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

The opening summary from last year’s Prescription killer: Australia’s imminent fentanyl epidemic is as follows;

Fentanyl is the prescription opioid so deadly a dose the size of ten grains of sand can kill you.

In the US it’s fuelling a national emergency, making up a third of all drug overdoses there.

New exclusive figures show alarming numbers of Australians are dying from fentanyl overdoses at increasing rate.

Undercover recordings show just how easy it is to get. Hagar Cohen investigates. [November 26th, 2017]

You can access the audio above or use the player below. (34.6 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

NB: Transcripts are made available at ABC Background Briefing past programmes shortly after the programme airs.