Risky Business

Recently the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network emailed members to announce their change of name to Australian Vaccination-risks Network.

The author of the email took the opportunity to falsely attack Australian Skeptics Inc., thoroughly misrepresent the global Skeptics movement and reinforce baseless fears about the risk benefit ratio of vaccines. The email also misrepresented the circumstances via which the Australian Vaccination Network came to have the word “skeptics” inserted into it’s name. As will become clear below the word “risks” could have been chosen by this anti-vaccine group four to five years ago.

The word “risks” was suggested along with “skeptics” by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal as a means by which the group could satisfy a request by the NSW Department of Fair Trading. NSW Fair Trading had written to the AVN referencing;

…an increasing number of requests to have NSW Fair Trading amend the name of the Australian Vaccination Network Inc., based on the contention that the name is misleading and deceptive, and therefore undesirable.

The full letter dated August 28th, 2012 is below.

 

There were ample histrionics from the AVN. Despite the clarity of the correspondence they claimed only the AMA had complained, “- an industry lobby group who obviously feels threatened by the idea that parents might choose not to vaccinate – costing them money”. This was “anti-competitive behaviour” on the part of NSW Department of Fair Trading. Democracy and truth were threatened. The matter was an “abuse of process”. Skeptic blogs began to report on the issue about one hour before media outlets did. Thus, Meryl Dorey conspiratorially queried;

Is there a direct line of communication between the Australian Skeptics, Stop the AVN (SAVN) and government departments?

Which brings us back to the groups’ most recent email, the very tiring attacks on skeptics and the even more tiring contention that Australian Skeptics Inc. is linked to Stop The AVN. It’s worth noting that because of confusion with the official sounding Australian Vaccination Network, the volunteer citizens group Stop The Australian Vaccination Network had prior to the time of NSW Department of Fair Trading involvement changed their name to Stop The Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network.

Now, above I mentioned attacks and misinformation on the part of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. Let’s continue to call them the AVN. Below is a snap from their email;

It seems quite clear the connotation of the email is that NSW Fair Trading “forced” the AVN to adopt the noun skeptics as part of their name. Worse the noun skeptic is purposefully misrepresented in the context in which it is used, which leads to such ridiculous name calling as “anti-skeptics”.

Let’s examine the misrepresentation of a very basic definition of the word “skeptic” with the term as it is understood by the Skeptic movement first. Then by examining the evidence that Ms. Dorey discarded the option of “risks” to instead choose “skeptics” after losing an appeal against NSW Department of Fair Trading, we will appreciate the deceptive argument that is laid out.

The noun cited above is a very basic, indeed rather limited understanding of the term. In fact by citing this and then immediately referring to the global skeptic movement Ms. Dorey (whom I have little doubt wrote this unsigned email) confirms she is ignorant of the difference between a skeptic and the Skeptic movement. She has completely ignored the importance of evidence and scientific consensus to the Skeptic movement.

Her view of a skeptic as used to attack genuine scientific skeptics would seem to be someone who doubts reality. I have written about this childish abuse of science and philosophy in addressing her blog The Real Australian Sceptics. At that time – May 2012 – Dorey used the exact same definition of the noun “skeptic” as in the email above. The article examines why Dorey and the AVN are in fact pseudo-skeptics, despite her antagonistic habit of using that term to describe skeptics who request she prevent current, reproducible, peer reviewed evidence.

I imagine the inventive ‘those who do not question accepted opinions and attack those who do’, may well reflect the anti-SAVN work of Brian Martin who was initially contacted and misled about apparent attacks, by Ms. Dorey herself. He then published a number of extremely biased pieces, which laden with conspiracy theory, appear to repeat the same conclusion from various angles. Namely that the SAVN and skeptics have bullied and attacked Ms. Dorey. Yet there is absolutely no mention of Dorey producing convincing evidence.

The Skeptical Movement page hosted at Wikipedia has far more suitable definitions under Scientific Skepticism. Note the importance of evidence as opposed to opinion and ideology.

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and, especially important, to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premises or starting point and whether that premise is true.

— Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World, 1995, p. 197

Science is […] a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, who comes ambling along.

A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.

“Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas—no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position.”

Back to the possible choice of “risks” to add to their name. Verily did the AVN appeal the NSW Department of Fair Trading request after proclaiming in the July 20th, 2012 email “The AVN Asks – What’s In A Name”;

The Australian Vaccination Network has no intention of changing its name and any group or government department that believes it has the right to try and force us to do so will find themselves strenuously opposed.

The AVN lost the appeal [ABC]. The full Administrative Decisions Tribunal finding can be found here.

I’d like to draw your attention to the Introduction of Reasons for Decision. A section of Part 3 has been emphasised;

1) The Australian Vaccination Network Inc (AVN) has been directed to change its name. The main reason the Director General of the Department of Finance and Services gave for making that direction was that the name is likely to mislead the public in relation to the nature, objects or functions of AVN. The Director General found that AVN’s message is anti-vaccination and that the name does not reflect that message. Two other reasons the Director General relied on were that the name is “undesirable” and that it suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government.

2) AVN applied to the Tribunal for a review of that decision. I have decided that the decision to direct AVN to adopt a new name is the correct and preferable decision. But my conclusion is not based on a finding that AVN’s message is exclusively anti-vaccination, that the name suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government or that the name itself is undesirable.

3) AVN’s main object is the dissemination of information and opinions that highlight the risks of vaccinations. AVN is sceptical about vaccinations. The existing name, Australian Vaccination Network Inc, suggests that the association is pro vaccination or, at least, is committed to providing comprehensive information and opinions about the pros and cons of vaccination. The name should be changed so that it is not likely to mislead the public in relation to its main object. Although I do not have to decide this issue, a name that includes the word “risk” or “sceptic” such as Vaccination Risk Awareness Association Inc or Vaccination Sceptics Network Inc would, in my opinion, be acceptable. The name could also include the word “Australia” or “Australian” without suggesting a link to government.

Still the choice made by Ms. Dorey and others was the word “skeptics”. They were not forced to use the term. Far from not wanting to be associated with the Skeptic movement it is more likely, given the online attacks by the AVN toward skeptics, that they enjoyed insisting that a true skeptic doubted everything. Their mistake of course is that members of the Skeptic movement are far more interested in seeking evidence and actively exposing charlatans, fraudsters and those who care little for discarding ideology in place of evidence.

Nonetheless there we have it. One simple email and once again members have been lied to. Unfortunately the group will continue to mislead the same members and readers about the risks of vaccines, which are very minor indeed.

  • Please speak to your GP about any safety concerns regarding immunisation
  • Department of Health – Immunisation
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“Sacrificial Virgins”: Misinforming viewers about the HPV vaccine

Recently the Australian Vaccination skeptics Network (AVN) announced via email that it intends to run a “Sacrificial Virgins tour” from QLD to Victoria. This, we are told, follows on “from the incredible success of last year’s tour of VaxXed; from coverup to catastrophe“.

Vaxxed has been comprehensively debunked, fraudulent tricks such as the manipulation of the so-called “whistleblowers” phone call audio exposed and the far reaching dishonesty of conspiracy theorists who promoted that venture is clear. It appears we can expect the same once again with another fraudumentary from the creative folk at SaneVax and UK Association of HPV Vaccine Injured DaughtersSacrificial Virgins: Not For The Greater Good.

Whilst this conclusion can be drawn from researching reputable source material and understanding the AVN’s misuse of the USA’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), Australians have a unique means by which to judge the AVN.

A public health warning about the AVN from the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission was published in 2014 and includes;

The investigation found that AVN provides information on vaccination that is misleading to the average reader because it is either incorrect, inaccurately represented or because it has been taken out of context. Specifically:

  • AVN makes specific assertions about the efficacy of the Gardasil vaccine used to prevent cervical cancer caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It states that:
    • the connection between HPV and cervical cancer is tenuous at best and incomprehensive at worst
    • the vaccine contains only four of the 100 strains of HPV and therefore its use is a “shot in the dark”
    • it is an experimental vaccine with no proven record of safety or effectiveness.
  • AVN does not qualify that:
    • Gardasil contains the four strains of HPV that have the greatest potential to cause cancer
    • the link between HPV and cervical cancer has been established beyond reasonable doubt
    • significant research went into assessing the probable safety and efficacy of Gardasil before it was ever used in humans
    • since its use, extensive worldwide data on its safety and efficacy has been collected supporting its safety.
    • […]
    • AVN uses data from the United States Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) on its website, without qualifying that no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. This is because VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination and it is specifically stated that any report of an adverse event to VAERS is not a causal link that a vaccine caused the event.

By running a “tour” the AVN also stand to make a profit. Rather than inform members and followers that they could watch the film for free on YouTube, the AVN will charge $25.00 per head and follow up with a Q&A session. Meryl Dorey is the founder, past president, spokesperson and ever-present driving force of the AVN. Her anti-vaccination fervor and singular ability to deny the scientific consensus that upholds evidence based medicine has persisted for decades. These qualities are matched only by her focus on making money from an unsuspecting public.

If one cannot attend any of the seven screenings of Sacrificial Virgins, “(or even if you can), you can also help with a sponsorship – no matter how small – to assist the AVN in providing these sorts of high-quality events into the future.” More to the point any gathering of similar minds encourages attendees to spend. In this case to purchase anti-vaccine material and possibly AVN membership. Although the AVN, and particularly Meryl, insist they/she are/is not anti-vaccine.

Then again, recently on Twitter (Meryl = @nocompulsoryvaccines)…

Could the video be anti-vaccine?

The email included;

IS THIS DOCUMENTARY ANTI-VACCINATION?

No. This documentary presents information from scientific experts about known risks of this medical procedure. It simply suggests that in order to make a vaccination choice, all available information should be made available to parents and those considering taking the HPV vaccine.

Which brings us back to the source of their information. The reason you haven’t heard of these “sacrifices”? In an AVN email yesterday promoting today’s “vaccination conference”, The Censorship of the Vaccination Debate in Australia Today unverified contentions in the form of questions were included.

Originally posed on the “conference” site they are;

Why can’t we talk about vaccines?

Why are the media, pharmaceutical companies and industry lobby groups dictating government vaccination policies?

More importantly can mandatory vaccination policies actually protect our health?

This is utterly ridiculous, offensively misleading and completely inline with the earning of a public health warning. It therefore says much about Australia’s larger anti-vaccine lobby and particularly those who spoke today. They were;

  1. Australian INDEPENDENT vaccine policy expert, Judy Wilyman PhD. (I kid you not)
  2. Brian Martin, Emeritus Professor, University of Wollongong.
  3. Elizabeth Hart.
    Author of the website ‘OVER-VACCINATION. Challenging Big Pharma’s lucrative over-vaccination of people and animals.’
  4. Jamie Mcintyre
    Author of ‘The Great Vaccine Con.’
  5. Meryl Dorey AVN
    Founder of ‘The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network,’ 1994.
  6. Helen Lobato
    Author of ‘Gardasil: Fast-Tracked and Flawed.’

So back to our question. Why haven’t you heard of these “sacrifices” at the end of an HPV vaccine needle? As the second question above ludicrously suggests, the media in part “dictate” Australian vaccine policy. Apparently we can’t talk about vaccines but do have, so-called “documentary” screenings attacking vaccines and vaccine schedules. Also this sentence in the email promoting Sacrificial Virgins. Bold mine;

2019 will be the year of the seminar so your help today will ensure that we are able to bring this message to as many locations in our huge country as we possibly can.

It seems it’s more a case of not being able to talk about vaccines in the way the AVN would like. Which includes spinning the conspiracy that the media and lobby groups “censor” this imaginary “vaccine debate”. Back to the email promoting Sacrificial Virgins;

Unintended adverse reactions have blighted and even ended the lives of girls, young women, men and boys around the world. Despite this fact, pharmaceutical manufacturers and many health authorities have refused to acknowledge there is a problem and the medical community continues to aggressively market this vaccine.

We must ask, where do these agents of deception get off rocking the stones to so casually pin together this many lies about one of the world’s safest vaccines? Many will parrot the nonsense spread by identities such as the six above who erroneously believe vaccine policy discussion is censored. Yet consider the example below, which in various forms, has for so many years fed the notion that VAERS provides the truth that mass vaccination is “a problem”.

This “problem” is created in part from the abuse of self reported adverse reactions to VAERS and non-established side effects. More so, serious conditions, including death, that have not been established as side effects are misrepresented in a quantifiable sense. For example the unverified claim that Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is triggered by the HPV vaccine, may be followed by a verified claim that side effects occur in “four out of five HPV vaccinations”. Without proper explanation a casual reader may conclude that 80% of HPV recipients go on to develop a serious, disabling, chronically painful neurological condition. Similarly unverified claims may be made for Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), and/or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

So what has the anti-vaccine devotee done to mislead readers? As we see in Question 8 of this NCIRS FAQ sheet;

Overall, there is no strong scientific or epidemiological evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccines can induce POF, POTS or CRPS. These diseases of unclear aetiology, unfortunately, do occur in adolescents and young people, whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated, and there is no evidence that they occur more frequently in HPV vaccinated populations.15,21,32-35

Whilst evidence doesn’t support the HPV vaccine as a cause or trigger or likely toxin for these conditions it is true that four out of five HPV vaccines produce a side effect. What are these side effects? Bold mine;

All medicines, including vaccines, can have side effects. The reactions people have had after the HPV vaccine have been similar to reactions after other vaccines.

The most common side effects of vaccination are pain, redness and/or swelling at the site of injection. These symptoms occur after around 4 in 5 vaccinations but are temporary and show that the immune system is responding to the vaccination. These symptoms can be treated with a cold pack or paracetamol if needed.

Side effects such as anaphylactic reaction are very rare occurring at around three per one million vaccinations.

Antivaccinationists really have no excuse to continue to abuse VAERS to form their constantly shifting narrative against vaccination. If you are baffled by the power those against vaccines have imbued to vaccine package inserts, you’re not alone. In Understanding VAERS the FDA include;

VAERS scientists look for unusually high numbers of reports of an adverse event after a particular vaccine or a new pattern of adverse events. If scientists see either of these situations, focused studies in other systems are done to determine if the adverse event is or is not a side effect of the vaccine. Information from VAERS and vaccine safety studies is shared with the public. Throughout the process of monitoring VAERS, conducting studies, and sharing findings, appropriate actions are taken to protect the public’s health.

For example, if VAERS identifies a mild adverse event that is verified as a side effect in a focused study, this information is reviewed by CDC, FDA, and vaccine policy makers. In this situation, the vaccine may continue to be recommended if the disease-prevention benefits from vaccination outweigh the risks of a newly found side effect.

Information about newly found side effects is added to the vaccine’s package insert that lists safety information. Newly found side effects also are added to the Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) for that vaccine. If serious side effects are found, and if the risks of the vaccine side effect outweigh the benefits, the recommendation to use the vaccine is withdrawn.

Also included is a succinct explanation of how an adverse event becomes a side effect. What is crucial, and constantly ignored by the anti-vaccine lobby, is that adverse events may or may not be caused by a vaccine. Significant follow up, research and investigation is needed before the event can be coupled to a vaccine in the form of a side effect.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has a thorough explanation for visitors to the Database of Adverse Event Notifications.

So, returning to the video. What about the name – Sacrificial Virgins? In his September 2017 piece, Another antivaccine film disguised as a documentary, this time lying about HPV vaccines, Orac correctly notes;

Anyone who’s followed the antivaccine movement can guess immediately which vaccine this is about, namely the HPV vaccine, which is administered to preadolescent girls. That age is chosen because it is before the vast majority of girls become sexually active, and HPV is primarily a sexually transmitted disease. So the best time to achieve immunity is before girls (and, according to the latest recommendations, boys too) become sexually active. The term “virgin” is clearly designed to play on this timing. If a woman is immune to the proper serotypes of HPV before she becomes sexually active, then the cervical cancer caused by those serotypes can be prevented. That’s how HPV vaccines work, and they are very effective.

I recommend reading the entire article. There is an excellent example of abusing VAERS to push fear of Gardasil. HIV/AIDS denialist and board member of Rethinking AIDS, Christian Fiala, offers;

Officials report that there have been 17,500 or more “adverse” incident reports that have been made over the last few years because of the use of the vaccination.

Actually anyone can report adverse incidents and whilst VAERS is the official reporting system, until extensive trends and further research establishes a side effect linked to a HPV vaccine, Fiala’s claim is simply meaningless.

One target of antivaccinationists is summed up in this sentence from the AVN email;

Originally released as a method for preventing cervical cancer in women, its use has since been expanded to include young men and boys despite the fact that its effectiveness as a cancer preventative is medically unproven.

Others have noted this pointless argument as disingenuous, and I’d agree. Not enough time has passed for those initially vaccinated with the HPV vaccines for valuable data to be gathered on changes in cervical cancer epidemiology. Still, it makes a nice straw man if your goal is to convince others that the real aim is to make money and the only demonstrable action is many thousands of adverse reactions.

I’d also recommend reading Gardasil facts – debunking myths about HPV vaccine safety and efficacy, by Skeptical Raptor for further insight into the vaccine’s efficacy.

Earlier this year the HPV vaccine was improved to cover more strains of HPV. Readers may remember Judy Wilyman for criticising the vaccine because it targeted an insufficient number of HPV strains. No doubt she will soon acknowledge this change. In September 2017 the ABC wrote;

Doctors are hailing the development of a new vaccine as an important victory in the fight to protect women against cervical cancer. The vaccine is an improved version of Gardasil, which already protects women against some strains of HPV, the virus that can cause the cancer. The new formula of the jab has been shown to prevent 93 per cent of HPV strains.

“It’s a real bonus, whereas we previously had protection for cancer-causing types, which were 16 and 18, which made up 70 per cent.”

Professor Garland said the other benefit of the new vaccine is that it only requires two, instead of three doses.

From the NCIRS HPV FAQ document;

  • Why has the HPV vaccine been replaced in Australia? What is different about the new vaccine? (Page 2)

There are many HPV virus types, some of which are considered to be ‘high-risk’ because infection with these types is associated with the development of cancer (HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59 and 68),1 and some of which are ‘low-risk’ because they result in less serious disease like genital warts (HPV types 6 and 11).2 The high-risk HPV types can cause a variety of cancers in both males and females, including cancers of the vagina, cervix, anus, penis and head and neck.3 In unvaccinated people in Australia, HPV types 16 and 18 account for about 77% of HPV-positive cervical cancers, and HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 for another 15%.4 […]

The new 9vHPV vaccine, available in Australia since early 2018, protects against all the 4vHPV types plus an additional five high-risk HPV types, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

It is well worth reading through the NCIRS FAQ document. It covers a large amount of relevant information and already covers many of the deceptive themes that are found in Sacrificial Virgins.

  • How do we know HPV vaccines are safe?

Overall, the HPV vaccines have an excellent safety profile, similar to that for other vaccines routinely used in the National Immunisation Program. Monitoring done around the world in millions of people across many countries has found no credible evidence that there is any illness that occurs more frequently among people who have had HPV vaccine compared to those who have not.15,16 […]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), to date over 270 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed worldwide, with many countries monitoring vaccine safety post-licensure (i.e. after the vaccine is in use).17

Clinical trials have shown that the 9vHPV vaccine is safe and there are no significant concerns regarding its safety in Australia. Studies have showed that the 9vHPV vaccine has a similar safety profile to that of the 4vHPV vaccine and that it is generally well tolerated in adolescent girls and boys as well as women and men.

The document goes on to address whether the vaccine causes autoimmune disease (No), cancer (No), fainting, CRPS (No), POTS (No), POF (No) or infertility (No). It is not a genetically modified vaccine. Questions include whether Gardasil addresses enough strains of HPV, or as cervical cancer is rare, whether it is necessary at all. Data specific to the importance of HPV vaccination in Australia is very promising. Can we trust vaccine trials sponsored by manufacturers? Why is their information claiming the vaccine is dangerous, if it isn’t? And so on.

No doubt Sacrificial Virgins will prove somewhat interesting. The difficulty for antivaccinationists is that the evidence refuting their claims is available in abundance. More so it continues to grow pushing the chorus against the HPV vaccine further into the realm of conspiracy theory.

Further reading:

The fight against anti-vaxxers continues despite Andrew Wakefield’s ongoing deceit

In early August last year the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network held one of many Australian screenings of the fraudulent, debunked anti-vaccine film Vaxxed at Hawthorn town hall in Melbourne Victoria. The director of this nonsense is disgraced former gastroenterologist and persistent enemy of public vaccination, Andrew Wakefield.

At this event the AVN hosted a rogue Melbourne GP who, using bogus claims, was helping parents circumvent No Jab No Play legislation. With video of the GP published online, the outcome was immediate revelation of his identity. Three weeks later Dr. John Piesse faced suspension by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). At that time it was reported he “vowed” to continue placing innocent children and the community at risk until he was indeed suspended. Not long after he agreed to stop practising while AHPRA investigated his conduct.

By mid September he had his licence suspended. The ABC reported;

A Melbourne doctor who has been under investigation for his anti-vaccination stance has had his licence to practise suspended.

Dr John Piesse’s practice in Mitcham was raided by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and police officers last week following allegations he had helped families avoid compulsory childhood vaccinations.

He had agreed to stop practising temporarily while AHPRA investigated the matter.

But the Medical Board of Australia’s Immediate Action Committee met on Thursday and decided to suspend his registration while the investigation into his practice continued.

An excellent and comprehensive summary of Dr. John Piesse may be found at Diluted Thinking.

Because of the danger posed by Piesse and an unknown number of other GP’s who may be engaging in similar conduct, new No Jab No Play laws were recently announced by Victoria’s Minister for Health, The Hon Jill Hennessy MP. [PDF]

The damage done by the anti-vaccination lobby across the developed and developing world continues. Their lies cost lives and quality of life. In addition they promote angst for innocent parents and attack hard working advocates – who may be grieving parents themselves – with relish.

It is now 20 years since Wakefield published his fraudulent paper in The Lancet contending a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism. It was ultimately described by The Lancet’s editor-in-chief as “utterly false”. A 2004 investigation by Brian Deer of Britain’s Sunday Times uncovered enormous financial conflicts of interest. Wakefield was exposed as a liar and fraud and struck off the UK medical register. Astonishingly three dozen charges were found proved. Almost all of his fellow authors withdrew their names and support from the fraudulent paper.

With thunderous arrogance Wakefield “rejects” all of the findings against him.

Years of research failed to reproduce or uncover phenomena similar to his claims. Wakefield continues to push his fraud from the USA, profiting now from the global Conspiracy Theory movement, destroying public health and what is left of his callous character as he goes.

One understands Vaxxed is simply his most recent project. If and when more follow, as has been suggested, they too will be debunked.

Recently BBC 4 produced an excellent review of the anti-vaccine movement titled, In the Wake of Wakefield (BBC).

Twenty years ago, in February 1998, one of the most serious public health scandals of the 20th century was born, when researcher, Andrew Wakefield and his co-authors published a paper in the medical journal The Lancet.

  • You can access the audio below, © BBC 4;

Measles makes a slow start to 2018 in Australia

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health;

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by the Morbillivirus. The virus is spread from person to person through droplets in the air. Symptoms take between 10 and 14 days to show after infection and include rash, fever, cough, runny nose and inflammation of the eye. Complications of measles include ear, brain and lung infections, which can lead to brain damage and death. Approximately one child in every 1,000 who contracts measles will develop inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Immunisation rates of up to 95% are required for the sustained control of vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles.

The description above was last updated on March 20th, 2014. As evidenced in the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System table below, 2014 was a frightening year for measles infection. The year’s total of 339 was the highest for 16 years and each of the first three months had higher notifications than any other month of the year. Although June and July notifications were only two and four less, respectively.

Numbers of measles notification per State and Territory are tabulated here.

In fact 2014 saw measles outbreaks across the globe. Australia experienced an influx of cases from Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines which resulted in unvaccinated children in Australia being infected according to the Department of Health. There were over 58,000 cases in the Philippines and 110 deaths, reported in February 2015. The USA experienced an outbreak with a similar cause.

The Disease Daily reported in Outbreaks of 2014;

Over the course of the last year, there have been 610 reported cases of measles across twenty states.  The reemergence of measles can be attributed, in part, to increased international travel where infected travelers have imported the disease into the United States. Particularly for 2014, many measles case clusters were traced back to the large ongoing measles outbreak happening in the Philippines. However, those in the United States who have become infected are generally unvaccinated, often by their own volition.

Further highlighting the role the unvaccinated play in sparking measles epidemics, one notes that the CDC also highlighted the role of unvaccinated Amish communities;

2014: The U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks in 2014, including one large outbreak of 383 cases, occurring primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Many of the cases in the U.S. in 2014 were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines, which experienced a large measles outbreak.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also raised concerns of measles infection and unvaccinated children;

Widespread use of the measles vaccine has dramatically reduced the numbers of cases in Canada over the past 45 years. But the recent outbreak in British Columbia is underscoring how the highly contagious virus can very effectively seek out groups of unprotected children.

With respect to The Netherlands a paper by Woudenberg, et al, entitled Large measles epidemic in the Netherlands, May 2013 to March 2014: changing epidemiology examined two measles epidemics (1999-2000 and 2013-14) that primarily effected orthodox Protestants. In the second epidemic, 27 May 2013 – 12 March 2014, 2,700 cases were reported. Molecular typing of the outbreak strain indicated a sequence indistinguishable from a strain first identified in Wales UK in the second half of 2012: the Taunton sequence.

The first Dutch case was identified with the Taunton sequence in May 2013. By this time 900 identical sequences had been reported from the UK, France, Ireland and the Russian Federation, making a source country difficult to identify. The Netherlands outbreak was indicated as the source of outbreaks in Belgium and Canada and from Canada to the USA. Social ties between orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands and Canada leading to the spread of vaccine-preventable disease such as polio, measles, mumps and rubella to Canada has been previously reported.

Reinforcing the importance of national herd immunity to international control of measles the authors of this study conclude in part;

The number of individuals refraining from vaccination is insufficient to sustain endemic measles transmission in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, this situation does pose a risk to public health in the Netherlands and contributes to the worldwide spread of measles, thus forming an impediment to the elimination of measles in Europe and elsewhere.

Amish communities and orthodox Protestants had a documented impact on reducing measles herd immunity in the USA, and Europe and Canada respectively and this was reflected in the 2014 outbreaks. In Australia whilst small numbers struggle to meet immunisation requirements due to social hardship, the anti-vaccination lobby have for years worked hard to spread disinformation, driving down immunisation rates nationally.

In June 2015 the ABC reported that the “surge” of measles the year before resulted in health authorities calling on Australians to ensure they were up to date with immunisations. If we compare this month’s present number of 4 notifications to the 78 for January 2014 it is clear measles notifications for the first month of this year are just over 5% of January 2014. The figure may rise slightly as further notifications for January reach the NNDSS but at this stage such a low figure is comforting.

Still, there have been warnings specific to measles this year and late last year. Victoria issued a measles health alert (Confirmed measles case in Melbourne) on December 5th 2017. This was a single case acquired overseas and fortunately the national total for December 2017 remains at 2. The alert is now resolved. An identical measles health alert for Melbourne, differing only in where the individual travelled when infectious was issued on January 17th 2018 and remains active.

This was reported in The Age on the same day.

Passengers who flew from Dubai to Melbourne last Thursday have been warned that a fellow passenger has an “extremely infectious” case of the measles.

[…]

Measles has an incubation period of seven to 18 days, so fellow passengers may develop symptoms from Thursday until the end of the month.

As today is the last day of the month this status may change to resolved as of midnight. W.A. Health issued a very similar warning via Twitter on January 11th.

This was reported the same day in Perth Now by Cathy O’Leary.

We have no way of telling what measles notifications will be over the remainder of 2018. September and October last year saw a worrying spike in notifications in Melbourne. However we in Australia can be grateful for No Jab No Pay legislation.

Globally at present measles is proving a problem in developed and developing nations. In the UK the NHS has confirmed well over 100 cases in five regions. The high risk of being unvaccinated and travelling is being stressed to the public. Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England said;

People who have recently travelled, or are planning to travel to Romania, Italy and Germany and have not had two doses of the MMR vaccine are particularly at risk

Countries at risk are evident in this January 12th, 2018 report, Measles in the EU/EEA: current outbreaks, latest data and trends – January 2018. Most cases were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. The report included.

The spread of measles across Europe is due to suboptimal vaccination coverage in many EU/EEA countries: of all measles cases reported during the one-year period 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017 with known vaccination status, 87% were not vaccinated.

In the first two weeks of January the measles outbreak in the Ukraine has resulted in 1285 cases. Ukraine measles vaccination uptake is regarded as the worst in Europe, being under 50% in recent years according to the Ukraine Health Ministry. It was reported on January 21st that The Acting Health Minister Ulyana Suprun said;

Yesterday it became known about yet another death from measles. This is a child who has not been vaccinated. This is the eighth death case since the start of the outbreak, and this is the tragedy of our society, in which people die from diseases that are prevented by vaccinations […]

In order to achieve the measles elimination goal, the vaccination coverage rates for children targeted by routine vaccination programmes should increase in a number of countries, as the vaccination coverage of the second dose must be at least 95% to interrupt measles circulation and achieve herd immunity.

Presently a tragedy due to neglect, poverty, malnutrition and measles is unfolding in Papua, Indonesia.

AFP reported on January 28th;

Some 800 children have fallen ill and as many as 100 others, mostly toddlers, are feared to have died in what Jakarta called an “extraordinary” outbreak that was first made public this month. […]

When Widodo took office in 2014, he vowed to speed up infrastructure development and services, bolstering hopes for the region, observers said.

“What the government is saying is what we think is important to do (for Papua) is in fact not being done,” said Richard Chauvel, a Papua expert at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. […]

“As measles is easily prevented with a safe and inexpensive vaccine, these deaths should never have happened,” said Freddy Numberi, a former governor of Papua. [He added] that Papua has Indonesia’s lowest life expectancy and highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

Without a doubt it is the same pattern across the globe. Measles epidemics will sprout wherever herd immunity is unsuitable. More so it is the unvaccinated who will suffer the consequences of widespread infection, whether in developing or developed nations.

Indeed even with low levels of infection the unvaccinated, with an infection rate of approximately 90%, bear the brunt of infection. Australia’s anti-vaccination lobby has for years pushed fear and disinformation, spreading ignorance and apathy leading directly to low herd immunity and epidemics of vaccine preventable disease.

This has resulted in effective legislative change manifesting as No Jab, No Pay and No Jab, No Play. The policy has been successful in raising vaccination uptake.

According to Immunise Australia;

The disease which requires the highest level of vaccine coverage to achieve herd immunity is measles as it is highly infectious. It is estimated that coverage of 92-94% is required for herd immunity from this virus. For this reason the national aspirational immunisation coverage target has been set at 95%. This target provides sufficient herd immunity to prevent transmission of other vaccine preventable diseases and supports Australia’s contribution to achieving measles elimination in the Western Pacific Region.

Fortunately January 2018 has indicated measles notification the lowest in four years. Whilst measles continues to present challenges around the world, Australia should remain vigilant and ensure we keep ahead of any potential outbreak.

Features of the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook

Recently Australia’s most vocal, persistent and offensive anti-vaccine pressure group, The Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network argued vaccination is a breach of religious freedom. They misinformed the federal parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom that vaccines were prepared with “the products of abortion”.

Vaccination was therefore “a moral evil”, violating teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, they contended citing absolutely no evidence to support their stance. The Australian Medical Association noted that their position was “irrational” and “unscientific”.

It was clear that the AVN was trying to find its way around the No Jab No Pay family assistance requirements and the No Jab No Play policy requirements. In April 2015 it was initially announced that religious exemptions for vaccination would cease. This was reinforced by health minister Greg Hunt in March this year. The only grounds for exemption of childhood vaccination are medical. The AVN’s claim that vaccines contain “the products of abortion” is not only baseless, but well refuted.

The AVN’s ignorance of the moral considerations involved are not difficult to discern. A Vatican City 2005 Statement, Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses, includes in reference 15;

…the parents who did not accept the vaccination of their own children become responsible for the malformations [due to rubella infection] in question, and for the subsequent abortion of fetuses, when they have been discovered to be malformed.

Still it is quite predictable that this morally bereft pressure group will continue to press the fallacious contention that vaccines contain aborted foetal cells. Social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter are means by which the anti-vaccination lobby interact. Indeed the conduct of antivaccinationists on Facebook has revealed much of their conspiratorial, cruel, cult-like nature.

First we witnessed the anti-vaccine lobby grow with simple access to misinformation via the Internet combined with the ability to invent and spread more. With the growth of social media we have witnessed this social malignancy improve it’s networking skills and spread their dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories in real time.

In this light I was grateful that the sharp eyes of others interested in the impact of the anti-vaccination lobby had come across the following research paper.

Mapping the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook. Naomi Smith and Tim Graham.

Information, Communication & Society

Published December 27th, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2017.1418406

It looked at 6 anti-vaccine Facebook pages.

  1. Fans of the AVN
  2. Dr. Tenpenny on vaccines
  3. Great mothers (and others) questioning vaccines
  4. No vaccines Australia
  5. Age of autism
  6. RAGE against the vaccines

Post, like and comment data were further used to generate 6 social networks which were then further analysed.

Abstract;

Over the past decade, anti-vaccination rhetoric has become part of the mainstream discourse regarding the public health practice of childhood vaccination. These utilise social media to foster online spaces that strengthen and popularise anti-vaccination discourses. In this paper, we examine the characteristics of and the discourses present within six popular anti-vaccination Facebook pages. We examine these large-scale datasets using a range of methods, including social network analysis, gender prediction using historical census data, and generative statistical models for topic analysis (Latent Dirichlet allocation).

We find that present-day discourses centre around moral outrage and structural oppression by institutional government and the media, suggesting a strong logic of ‘conspiracy-style’ beliefs and thinking. Furthermore, anti-vaccination pages on Facebook reflect a highly ‘feminised’ movement ‒ the vast majority of participants are women. Although anti-vaccination networks on Facebook are large and global in scope, the comment activity sub-networks appear to be ‘small world’. This suggests that social media may have a role in spreading anti-vaccination ideas and making the movement durable on a global scale.

Some key points from the paper’s Discussion and Conclusion might be listed as follows.

  • There is a large amount of online information that is important to the anti-vaccination (AV) community.
  • Social media acts as an “effective hub” in the communication of AV information. The information is “designed to encourage grass roots resistance”.
  • AV communities are relatively sparse, not functioning as close knit communities of support.
  • Yet participation alone in AV groups can reinforce AV beliefs.
  • AV participants are reasonably active across a number of groups.
  • This suggests AV users participation in various AV groups is more autonomous than would be explained by Facebook’s recommender system.
  • Liking and commenting across a number of AV pages may create a “filter bubble” effect.♠
  • This effect is a pattern of involvement and activity that reinforces AV beliefs and conduct.
  • More research is needed to discern how much of this effect is due to the users own conduct as opposed to Facebook’s algorithmic structure.
  • AV Facebook pages exhibit “small world” network structure characteristics. Information diffuses quickly through the network via user comments.
  • “Small world” characteristics may be due to inherent aspects of the AV movement or may manifest due to the Facebook “platform”.
  • Either the former or latter aspect driving development of “small world” specifics will have unique and interesting implications.♣
  • The former suggests that as a social movement the AV lobby might develop as a “small world” network that may be amplified and made more visible online.
  • If the latter, the Facebook platform may be instrumental in the growth of the AV movement, protecting from disruption of outside influences.
  • Wide sharing of posts suggests the AV community has scope beyond the public Facebook pages.
  • Sharing may be important in spreading AV information and growing the AV movement.
  • Gender composition of AV movement reflects cultural understanding of parenting – primarily maternal.
  • Vaccination is historically “a mother’s question”. AV is described by the authors as “a mother’s question”.
  • “AV movement is primarily led by women”. Note; Sherri Tenpenny runs “Vaccine Info” on Facebook.
  • Whilst anti-vaccination is not gender specific, the “gendered nature” of Facebook page participation suggests the AV movement is “feminised”.
  • Several key pre-occupations of AV communities are evident on Facebook pages; institutional arrangements are seen to be perpetuating the harmful practice of vaccination.
  • AV community is “morally outraged about vaccination and structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media”.
  • There is a strong belief in conspiracies driven by government and media; Cover up of vaccine injury and death, spreading of Zika virus by Bill Gates and belief in chemtrails.
  • Comparison of vaccination to the Holocaust indicates strong sense of persecution within AV Facebook pages studied.
  • Strong anti-science and anti-medicine beliefs in tandem with use of natural remedies.
  • Findings limited by sample size.
  • Further, more comprehensive research is needed.

♠ Commonly referred to as an “echo chamber’.

Final paragraph;

The results of this investigation suggest a robust and highly gendered network structure that has a strong sense of moral outrage associated with the practice of vaccination. This ‘righteous indignation’, in combination with the network characteristics identified in this study, indicates that anti-vaccination communities are likely to be persistent across time and global in scope as they utilise the affordances of social media platforms to disseminate anti-vaccination information.

Concerns about vaccination reveal a community that feels persecuted and is suspicious of mainstream medical practice and government-sanctioned methods to prevent disease. In a generation that has rarely seen these diseases first hand, the risk of adverse reaction seems more immediate and pressing than disease prevention.

♣ Regarding “small world” characteristics being due to either AV specifics or to the Facebook platform, the authors write;

Both outcomes are equally interesting. The former suggests that social movements (like anti-vaccination) may inevitably develop as ‘small world’ networks structure that is further amplified and made visible online. If it is the latter, this demonstrates that Facebook as a platform has important implications for the dynamics, spread, and durability of social movements outside of the specific case examined here. Indeed, if the materiality or architecture of Facebook shapes networks towards ‘small-worldness’, this suggests that such platforms may be instrumental for the anti-vaccination movement and social movements more broadly to blossom, flourish, and resist being dismantled or disrupted by outside influences.

The above paragraph rings true and undoubtedly applies to a number of anti-science movements and conspiracy theories across the developed world.