Latest AVN legal fundraiser to scoop up orphan donors

At the end of June this year I posted on a dubious-looking legal fundraising campaign announced by the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. They were, apparently, proposing private action against Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, and injunctive relief against the federal government.

It was not surprising to learn they were claiming the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was an experiment and must be stopped. The full 18 June letter to Hunt and Mark Butler MP is here. They had given Greg Hunt seven days to respond, and in the post I included part of their demands:

If you do not respond or if your response once again does not address our concerns, we would feel that we have no option but to consider legal action against you yourself, Minister Hunt, in the form of a private prosecution and against the Government to seek injunctive relief to immediately stop this current experiment on the Australian population…

Hunt, of course, did not respond. Meryl Dorey announced on the eve of day seven that, absent his response, a page would be set up for donations and legal action would proceed. Or rather it would if “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. What followed was… well, nothing. Or rather, nothing from deep in the AVN bunker. One suspects that this is because other actors, planning legal action against COVID public health initiatives, were drawing significant funds from motivated donors.

The AVN is an anti-vaccine pressure group with a history of dubious legal fundraising schemes. Last year all roads led to funding their Vaxxed bus tour. This has long since ground to a halt, as Meryl Dorey struggles to reinvent herself, yet again, to sell the unsuspecting the same decades old packages of vaccine disinformation. Dorey attracts reasonable numbers to her Facebook videos but this isn’t an income stream. One suspects the AVN is keen for an injection (pun intended) of donor dollars.

Recent failed COVID legal challenges

In June 2020, COVID conspiracy lawyer Nathan Buckley’s popularity grew when he advised Victorians to ignore lockdown directives. Eleven long months before AVN thought to raise money for COVID related legal challenges, Buckley had already suggested up to $10 million would be needed for a High Court challenge against Australia’s lockdowns. He further used the AVN playbook to propose action against flu vaccine legislation and No Jab No Play laws in South Australia. At the end of July 2021 he was still attracting attention in mainstream media.

Nathan Buckley reportedly raised over $575,000 via crowdfunding, to challenge vaccine mandates and public health orders related to COVID-19. An October report suggested he had raised $700,000. Both lawsuits brought before the NSW Supreme Court, targetting NSW health minister Brad Hazzard were dismissed by Justice Robert Beech-Jones on Friday 15 October. Buckley’s bizarre social media posts attacking Justice Beech-Jones and misrepresenting his findings, contributed to his suspension from the NSW Law Society. For the AVN, this meant Buckley’s generous donors were potentially available.

The efforts of Tony Nikolic and Matthew Hopkins of AFL Solicitors have also attracted a great deal of attention and donor dollars. Nikolic targeted Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant. At one point antivaxxers contributed by publishing misrepresentations of evidence given by Kristine Macartney, the director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. The NCIRS published a statement addressing each item in the falsified court transcript. AFL solicitors, who had brought one of the suits, were moved to reject those antivax claims on Telegram.

After these cases had all failed, AFL and G&B joined forces in an attempt to force Australia’s Prime Minister to apologise outside the Polish embassy for “deceiving” Australians. The chosen location for the apology was based on COVID conspiracy theorists belief that “Polish government officials” had protested outside the Australian embassy in Warsaw. In fact the protest was not by government officials but members of a far-right political party, with a history of spreading COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracies. In another case challenging the human rights of vaccine mandates, Marcus Clarke QC representing plaintiffs, unsuccessfully called on Justice Melinda Richards to excuse herself from the trial.

Serene Teffaha of Advocate Me, reportedly raised over $654,000 before her practising certificate was cancelled in April this year. Even after this, her efforts continued to divert funds for vague and futile legal efforts, away from the AVN. Finally, Maatouks Law Group raised close to $100,000 for a NSW class action. At the beginning of September, Cam Wilson’s article in Crikey listed the main players crowdsourcing funds for eventually hopeless legal gambles. He rightly noted it’s not illegal to test the authority of public health restrictions. The text of his article captures the absence of transparency available to donors regarding the quality and integrity of expenditure decisions. There are many other examples, and appeals are still being heard.

That organised, well funded action based upon disinformation and rampant conspiracy theories, stewing on encrypted social media, overly seasoned with offensive personal attacks on anyone who dare think differently, is high praise indeed as to free democracy in Australia. A fact that does not resonate with Meryl Dorey’s 20 November opening line to the AVN’s latest legal fundraising blurb. On the pages of Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo [Archive], we read:

Australia is in a tailspin – descending almost inexorably into tyranny.

Orphaned donors an opportunity for the AVN

“Tyranny” has been a well worn word for COVID conspirators during the pandemic. The AVN has given “Medical Tyranny” and “fascism” ample airing, as Dorey urged followers to donate in support of the fight for freedom, and as a reason to attend illegal protests during lockdown. The AVN had frequently promoted the efforts of Buckley, Teffaha, Nikolic and Hopkins. Nikolic had cited AVN antivax material in a long letter to Brad Hazzard. The AVN has watched these fraught legal efforts with scrutiny. Is it cynical to suspect that as legal challenges fell to “fascist medical tyranny”, eyes in the AVN bunker also noticed increasing numbers of ‘orphan’ donors had lost their cause for donation?

The fundraising blurb continues:

We are not able to travel from State to State or overseas, work in our normal jobs – even when those jobs are part of our own business, go out to eat, drink, to the cinema, dance, sing, or do just about anything else without agreeing to take an experimental jab that has already killed hundreds of our countrymen and women and injured over 80,000.

It is obvious to anyone who has observed what’s been happening over the last 22 months that our governments – State and Federal – are determined to remove every right our parents and grandparents fought for in many wars over the last 100 years or so.

We at the Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN) have watched this with great dismay, as we know many of you have done as well. We have participated in protests, made submissions, written letters and for the most part, though these actions have put the government and their bureaucracy on notice, their course seems to have been set and unchanged through it all.

Court cases have arisen and been lost – and others are ongoing – we wish them all well. Though we have informed people of these cases and done everything we can to offer whatever assistance we can to the organisers, the AVN has not personally gotten behind any of them.

Until Now.

We recently met with a legal team that has rendered a legal advice that has been reviewed by two eminent Australian and English legal minds, (a former Justice and a current QC), that the case has merit and, if it wins (there is never a guarantee) .. of completely turning the current situation on its head!

The AVN claim to feel so strongly they have donated $20,000 into the “AVN Judicial Review Fund of our instructing solicitors Irish Bentley”. That might sound generous and is intended to motivate donors. Yet we must remember the AVN 2016 High Court challenge against “tyrannical ‘No Jab, No Pay’ federal legislation”. According to their own emails and website, this ultimately left them holding a minimum of $80,000 and possibly close to $110,000. These figures vary because their own published totals of raised funds and apparent legal expenditure both varied significantly. Was $160,000 raised or $152,000? Was expenditure around $70,000 or was it $50,000? This disparity remains online and has never been explained.

At the time, donors raised concerns and sought clarification, to no avail.

  • donors challenge meryl dorey over missing funds
  • donors challenge meryl dorey over missing funds
  • donors challenge meryl dorey over missing funds

Money from this remaining kitty that the AVN might claim was spent on antivax pursuits, distills into two efforts. In February 2019 the AVN advised members they had donated $5,000 USD to ecologist James Lyons-Weiler, to help fund his crowdsourced “Vaxxed vs unvaxxed” study. Published in the International Journal of Research and Public Health, it was quickly demolished [2] by critics of the new and dubious methodology. The study was retracted in August this year. In March this year the AVN advised that £4,000 was apparently donated to Professor Christopher Exley of Keele University in the UK. This was to assist his work into linking aluminium to neurodegenerative diseases, including the long debunked “vaccine-autism” trope. That money supposedly vanished in the midst of controversy that saw Exley leave Keele University in August this year.

The fundraising blurb attempts to justify their position in defending all Australians, whether vaccinated or not. It’s about freedom and slavery, no less.

Now is the time for ALL freedom-loving people – those who have taken the jab and those who have not; those who are staring down unemployment and those who are still able to work; those who want to protect their children and grandchildren and those who simply believe that the government’s rights stop at our skin – to pull together as one.

Whether you are able to donate $5 or $5,000, we need you now! And if you have no money to give to this cause, we need you to share this with everyone you possibly can – both here in Australia and overseas.

What we do here and now can have wide-ranging and positive influences on the entire world. There are more of us who believe in freedom than there are those who want to enslave us.

Cleaning Up Their Act

What’s notably different about this fundraising attempt is that the AVN have provided terms and conditions. They actually name real solicitors and refer to a trust account. It’s now clear to those who read the terms that the AVN is not a charity. That last point is a hard learned lesson that previously cost them significant funds. The 2016 High Court challenge ceased abruptly and the reason, is something the AVN has tried to keep secret. After announcing $160,000 had been raised, and that double that was needed, the AVN suddenly went silent. Three and a half months later, on Christmas day, they quietly revealed by email that, “counsel has advised us not to proceed due to the poor chance of success and the high costs of a High Court challenge”.

That was not accurate. What had actually happened was the AVN (then ‘Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network’) were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the fundraiser. The Australian reported the facts two days after the AVN had formally ceased fundraising. An August 2018 letter from Fair Trading, eventually advised then-AVN president Tasha David of the outcome. Essentially, the High Court fundraiser had indeed broken the law, but the AVN would not be prosecuted.

It included:

The Inquiry has found AVsN’s representations as to the money solicited on its website, and received by it, include a charitable purpose in that it purports to be for the promotion of education and learning. A copy of s. 9 of the Act is attached. […]

On this occasion NSW Fair Trading does not intend to initiate legal proceedings. However, AVsN must immediately cease the conducting of unlawful fundraising. If AVsN fails to comply, a further investigation may be conducted. If a future investigation finds that AVsN is continuing to conduct fundraising unlawfully, Fair Trading will consider appropriate enforcement action.

NSW Fair Trading investigations are bound by the limits of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. In simple terms that means they can act if non charities, such as the AVN, appear to be raising funds for a charitable purpose. By stating now that they are not a charity, the AVN hope to avoid accusations of unlawful fundraising and the promised “enforcement action”. Naming their solicitors, as opposed to previously alluding to anonymous representation, is something they had to do. For almost two years now, proposed crowdsourced legal action against public health directives and COVID-19 vaccination, has had names and faces. The AVN pre-COVID claim of needing secrecy to avoid revealing their strategy to the government and “the pharmaceutical lobby”, will no longer work.

I suspect that now having actual solicitors whose professional reputation is involved, means that a trust account has been strongly recommended. Legally, as the AVN is not a charity, the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 does not apply. In 2016 donors were asked to identify payments with the initials “NJNP”. All routes of deposit led to a long standing Westpac “AVN Community Solutions” account. There simply was no dedicated bank account, and if donors did not initial cheques, money orders or PayPal donations, the AVN advised, the money would be assumed to be not for the High court challenge and used as they saw fit. It may not be essential to provide a dedicated account for funds raised, but it is sound practice and the AVN have learned not only from their own mistakes and critics, but quite likely from recent critics of Serene Teffaha.

The Terms and conditions are as follows:

The goal is $300,000. Total to date since 20 November, is $123,040. Two realities have emerged with respect to recent legal challenges of this nature. The chance of success is unlikely in the extreme. The chance of significant profit is high. Item 10 in the terms and conditions allows the AVN to spend donor monies on what they may deem related administrative costs. Item 11 states that only donors who contribute over $500 “may elect” to receive a pro rata return from surplus funds, if over $5,000 is left.

If at the completion or cessation (for whatever reason) of the proceedings (which may include appellate proceedings) there are monies exceeding AU$5,000 remaining in the AVN Judicial Review Fund (i.e. surplus funds), donors who have contributed an amount greater than $500 may elect to receive a pro rata return from the surplus funds (i.e. their total donation as a proportion of the total funds raised). Any funds remaining after such pro rata return will be paid to AVN.

One awaits further developments with interest.


♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎ ♠︎

Latest update: 4 December 2021

Chiropractor Simon Floreani Suspended: Lessons Learned

Fundamentalist chiropractor and career anti-vaccination activist Simon Floreani, was last week suspended from practice for six months, from 18 October 2021.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) handed down the ruling [Archived] after Floreani was referred by the Chiropractic Board of Australia (the Board) in March 2019, for professional misconduct. In November 2016 Floreani featured in a video podcast interview titled Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia. In December 2016 Floreani facilitated the screening of Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe at his chiropractic clinic. Not surprisingly the film’s thoroughly debunked theme and content are, “contrary to the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s codes and statements”.

Floreani was initially suspended on 27 September 2017, after an Immediate Action Committee (IAC) was convened. The transcript informs [item 5]:

The IAC made that decision on the basis it formed the reasonable belief that action was necessary because Dr Floreani posed a serious risk to persons and it was necessary for it to take immediate action to protect public health and safety.

That suspension lasted around six weeks as it was stayed by the VCAT. Conditions were imposed in March 2018 [item 142], and have applied since then. The Tribunal accepts Floreani has complied with them. The matter had returned to the Tribunal, “because the Board decided it was appropriate to refer Dr Floreani so the Tribunal could consider making disciplinary determinations.” [item 8].

The conditions, designed to limit Floreani’s anti-vaccination influence when he returns to practise, will be in place for twelve months. These include a ban on anti-vaccination signage, materials, advice to practice clientele, and “public comment discouraging vaccination”. If asked about vaccination by a client, Floreani must refer them to an appropriate practitioner. These are an effective continuation of conditions imposed by VCAT in 2018 and “there is no dispute Dr Floreani has complied with them in full at all times”. There is another pre-existing condition (noted item 178) that will also continue. Floreani must display the following sign in all waiting areas.

Please be advised Dr Simon Floreani does not provide any patient with advice regarding vaccination. Any patient requesting such advice will be referred to an appropriately qualified medical practitioner

He must permit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) access to waiting areas during business hours, to monitor compliance with signage. Floreani must also submit to practice inspections during which AHPRA may access appointment diaries, booking schedules and any social media accounts used in conducting his business. AHPRA will provide a minimum of 24 hours notice before these inspections, and not conduct them more frequently than once per calendar month. Despite this, they are referred to as “random practice inspections”.

One reads:

The respondent must bear his own costs of complying with the above conditions.

The videoed interview Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia was with US based anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and chiropractor Billy DeMoss. During the 3 November 2016 interview Floreani suggested that “they” are trying to silence screening of Vaxxed in Victoria and because people “have to have secret screenings”, it was “a nanny state”. He went on to make some extraordinary statements such as:

…we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination […]

I’m, under my regulation and registration requirements, not allowed to talk about vaccination. But under the laws of this country I have to do what’s right… I have to tell people the truth, as a health practitioner, as a leader, as a father, as a community member […]

…parents are trusting their gut and saying, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t inject this poison in my baby’s body and be okay with that” […]

…the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe

Prior to 10 December 2016, Floreani was contacted by then president of the anti-vaccine pressure group, Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN)*, Tasha David. She requested he screen the film Vaxxed at his clinic. Floreani and his wife, anti-vaccine author and chiropractor, Jennifer Barham-Floreani are past professional members of the AVN. The screening at his clinic was one of a number the AVN had organised at the time. The event was covered in depth, including a video of the entire evening, by reasonable hank. Glaringly obvious, but important from a legal standpoint, the Tribunal has observed that prior to the screening, “Floreani was aware of the content of the film”. Indeed.

Both allegations, which are detailed in the ruling transcript, are that Floreani engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct. Both allegations note that he:

(i) failed to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and/or control; and/or 

(ii) failed to provide balanced, unbiased and evidence-based information to the public; and/or

(iii) promoted and/or provided materials, information or advice that was anti-vaccination in nature and/or made public comments discouraging vaccination.

That sounds like the Simon Floreani I’m familiar with. His transgressions in the above regard range far further afield than those covered in the Tribunal ruling. This is reflected in item 197 of the transcript:

The Board submitted the admitted conduct represented ‘repeated brazen departures from the standards expected of a registered chiropractor’.

This may be a statement about Simon Floreani. However, in that it describes his stance on vaccination, it confirms that similar views held by a large number of practicing chiropractors are therefore well removed from “standards expected of a registered chiropractor”. The problem is one inherent in chiropractic, although I rush to add it is not absolute in chiropractic nor exclusive to chiropractic. The re-emergence of vitalism in chiropractic has led to an influx of practitioners who almost certainly began the study of chiropractic with an established aversion to evidence-based medicine. Once qualified, they see themselves as representatives of a viable alternative to the medical profession if not a replacement for it. This is a problem of staggering proportions and one that the Chiropractic Board of Australia is seemingly ill equipped to address.

A unique example emerges when considering the transcript of the VCAT hearing. As noted there’s no dispute about Floreani’s compliance with conditions initially imposed in November 2017 [item 144]. As we read in item 150 the Board considered another notification about Floreani in 2019. It was received by the Board in 2017, and concerned conduct from 2016. The Board decided to investigate in May 2017, concluding on 26 July 2019. The professional conduct issue related to items published by Floreani on Facebook and his business website. He made claims about the effectiveness of chiropractic for conditions and circumstances, in the absence of any evidence. Namely [item 151]:

(a) Chiropractic care for childhood illness, colic, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy and asthma;

(b) Chiropractic care to treat infants who are having trouble sleeping or have persistent ear infections or reflux;

(c) Suggesting homeopathy could be used in lieu of traditional vaccines; and

(d) Suggesting that conventional medicine was ‘poorly performing’.

The transcript tells us the investigation lasted twenty six months. Twenty one months in, on 20 February 2019, Floreani appeared on A Current Affair defending the actions of Andrew Arnold who was filmed the previous August performing a series of non-evidence based adjustments on a two week old infant. Floreani told ACA:

I’ve been doing this 20 years, and the proportion of paediatric patients has gone from one in 10 to three or four in 10.

The next day Arnold was put on an undertaking by the Chiropractic Board, published on his website, that he would not treat children from birth to twelve years or provide any material in support of such treatment on any internet platform. It’s inconceivable that Floreani was not aware of the Board’s ongoing investigation into his advertising. He chose to publicly defend Arnold despite the highly controversial and widely reported circumstances.

Ultimately the Board found that his 2016 performance was unsatisfactory and below the expected standard. He failed to work “within the limits of his competence and scope” and failed to comply with the Board’s Statement on Advertising. After AHPRA requested removal of the material it was removed in full. The transcript observed that this was said to demonstrate, some level of insight and compliance by Dr Floreani in relation to his advertising”. Floreani had already been cautioned in 2014 for provision of anti-vaccine material (see below). In response to the evidence-free claims above, which are anything but unique in chiropractic advertising, the Board cautioned:

The practitioner is cautioned in relation to the publishing of advertising and other material in relation to chiropractic care that is not supported by sufficient evidence.

One should acknowledge that this is seperate from the career antivaccinationist activity Simon Floreani is known for. Perhaps the record of compliance with conditions and the evidence he gave does support him having turned a corner. Perhaps. We can get an idea of his prior and current vaccination beliefs by revisiting his comments about his wife’s book, Well Adjusted Babies, both during the DeMoss interview and when giving evidence. Item 65 contains longer responses of Floreani’s from the DeMoss interview. During these he clearly relies on the book as a source of “evidence” and “research”. He talks about working with the regulator to show them “evidence”. He tells DeMoss his wife had been snowed under and produced:

18 reams of paper worth of evidence and research around every single question they asked […]

…and you give these people what they want. When they want evidence, you know, there is – we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination.

This is only twenty eight months after the Board had cautioned Floreani for providing Australian Vaccination-risks Network booklets in his waiting room. It was submitted to Tribunal by Marion Isobel, counsel for the Board, that he had done so despite being aware that the Board had that year, “released a communique requesting practitioners to remove all anti-vaccination material from their websites and clinics” [item 202]. On 22 July 2014 the Board advised of the caution. It was as follows [item 148]:

The Chiropractic Board of Australia cautions Dr Floreani that in the future he ensures that he is familiar with and complies with the Board’s guidelines for the advertising of regulated health services.

Returning to Floreani’s chat with DeMoss, the transcript includes:

And, you know, really the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe, and it’s a really – you know, my wife, God bless her, has worked tirelessly to bring the evidence together, and her next book will be – you know, we’ve got this multimedia platform where we can share the research as it becomes available, in layman’s terms, to help people actually hear the truth, not through the media but through multimedia platforms. We can share around the world exactly what the truth is, exactly what the research says and let people make informed decisions…

This confirms the level of disinformation Floreani and his wife were content to disseminate through various media. Indeed VCAT and the Chiropractic Board of Australia are limited to Floreani’s conduct as a chiropractor, or activity demonstrated to be in a professional capacity. Well Adjusted Babies was published through the group Well Adjusted Pty Ltd. Floreani and his wife are the shareholders and Floreani’s son is the director [item 64].

In evidence, Floreani confirmed he had been active in the company as a “research assistant” and currently has no role. He maintained he does not promote the book Well Adjusted Babies. Dr. Ann Koehler [item 41] gave expert evidence to the Tribunal, including the risks associated with statements made in the book’s chapter on vaccination; chapter 15. She quoted the preface to this chapter [item 70]:

Laying aside the very real possibility that various vaccines are contaminated with animal viruses and may cause serious illness later in life (multiple sclerosis, cancer, leukaemia, ‘Mad Cow’s’ disease, etc) we must consider whether the vaccines really work for the intended purpose.

Regarding his role in development of the book Floreani said he, “helped distil information into lay terms” [item 187]. Perhaps the above paragraph reflects his prior, and not his current stance on vaccination. Or, perhaps not. Giving evidence, Floreani was asked if he stood by the content of chapter 15. He referred to the book as “an evidence-based document”. Dr. Koehler stated that the content was “inaccurate, misleading and alarmist”. Floreani disagreed. In fact it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss because the Tribunal was not “workshopping the book”. Asked how he would describe the content of chapter 15:

He said again it was an evidence-based document which was ‘up for discussion’ as was all research information. He said he was not in that arena and did not deal with that kind of material and was not prepared to ‘walk down that path’.

When asked if he still held the same views on vaccination but had agreed to not make public statements, Floreani replied that he was “a researcher at heart and a critical thinker” [item 189].

He said he would appraise any information and he was not fixed in his views. He said he was ‘very prepared to take [his] medicine’. He then stated that he understood that, in the whole area of vaccination, there were ‘diverse opinions’.

In addition, Floreani’s current curriculum vitae lists him as a “contributor” to Well Adjusted Babies 2005, Well Adjusted Babies Revised Edition 2006, Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition 2009 Vitality Productions and Well Adjusted Babies Practitioner Guide 2009 Vitality Productions [item 166]. The antivaccinationist in Simon Floreani is an ingrained part of his identity. His C.V. reflects that he is not only happy to be seen as having promoted anti-vaccination views but is proud of it.

Reading the transcript, it’s tempting to accept he is motivated to keep an anti-vaccine image out of his professional life. Yet even this purported change isn’t something that evolved. He has been forced into this position after repeated breaches of the Chiropractic Code and/or Statement. To use his own words he feels he has been “bludgeoned about the head” [item 185].

He was no doubt also motivated to avoid a suspension and, having already been suspended in 2017 by the IAC for the same matter, was aware the Board would seek another. Reading through the transcript it isn’t surprising that the Tribunal agreed one was warranted. Particularly in light of his entrenched views outlined above, which is reflected in item 14:

However we remained concerned that his statements to us showed he has not fully absorbed relevant Code obligations and he appeared to maintain a level of scepticism about vaccination.

Under Dr Floreani’s submissions on determinations, the transcript noted via his counsel, Mr. Shaun Maloney, that Floreani agreed a reprimand was an appropriate order [item 204]. Also, that written submissions “contended that a suspension was wholly unsustainable in this case and was in fact a punishment” [item 205]. It’s further contended that suspensions are reserved for protection of the public and to ensure the practitioner gains insight and ‘the message’. “None of those matters are present here”, it was submitted.

Other noteworthy points from submissions include [item 205]:

Dr Floreani has full insight. […] He is apologetic and has recanted. […] The risk of repetition is non-existent. […] This is a health practitioner who has committed isolated error for which he is truly sorry… […] …the only possible justification for a suspension is as a matter of general deterrence. […] It is illusory to suggest that general deterrence is necessary here… […] …seen in the light of that which it truly is, being an isolated act, made in error through a transitory erroneous opinion… […] Accordingly, any period of suspension is not warranted for protection of the public, either for specific deterrence or for general deterrence.

Clearly the Tribunal did not accept the argument from submissions. I also found the source and content of references for Floreani compelling [item 168]. Not one referee stated a clear purpose for the reference nor indicated they were aware of the VCAT proceedings or Floreani’s involvement with the Board. One name leaps out immediately. That of Canadian chiropractor Elizabeth Anderson-Peacock, who in 2019 lost re-election for her seat on the executive of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO). The National Post reported this was in the wake of speaking at a conference that also hosted Del Bigtree. Earlier that year she had endorsed Vaxxed – the same movie Floreani now faced disciplinary action for permitting to be screened at his clinic. The reference was dated 22 June 2021.

The Tribunal didn’t refer to this thumbing of the nose at proceedings from Floreani, but did provide a quoted section from Anderson-Peacock’s reference which they were “very concerned by”. It included in part [item 172]:

On occasion that [ensuring clients can make a fully informed decision] sometimes includes inconvenient or alternative viewpoints from mainstream allopathy. Dr Floreani encourages people to do their own research and think.

Another, dated 7 June 2021, referee is Mr Giles A. La Marche, Vice President of University Advancement and Enrolment, Life University Canada. On 13 April 2020 BuzzFeed News published Chiropractors Are Feeding Their Patients Fake Information About The Coronavirus. A paragraph was devoted to La Marche who, on April 10, had then shared a conspiracy video about Bill Gates’ plan to depopulate the planet with COVID-19 and articles on how Fauci was planning to profit from a COVID-19 vaccine. On 21 May 2021 La Marche featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after posting a story from the antivax disinformation mill Children’s Health Defense on a purported COVID-19 vaccine death.

Floreani referee likens Hitler to free thinking scientists

More recently on 27 September this year La Marche posted a video on his Facebook page, Canadian doctors destroy the COVID-19 fear narrative. On 7 September he shared “important info” on “jaw dropping mask and vaccine failures”. He’s also just bought Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book, The Real Anthony Fauci. On 30 August he wished someone a happy birthday. Smiling from the accompanying photo is one Billy DeMoss who hosted the Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia podcast – the same podcast Floreani now faced disciplinary action for airing his anti-vaccination laundry on.

Eric Russell, past president of the New Zealand college of chiropractic is devoted to the promotion of vitalism in chiropractic and “subluxation-based research”. He has spoken of chiropractors going into the world to help humanity and the chiropractic philosophy. In 2009 he was inducted into Palmer College of Chiropractic’s Great Hall of Philosophers. At last year’s Parker seminar he spoke about chiropractic philosophy and how this shapes Wellness past, present and future.

In an undated reference chiropractor Kimberlie Furness praised Floreani, having been impressed by him almost twenty years ago. He had worked on infants, toddlers and children. The transcript observed [item 174]:

She referred to his practice being evidence-based, combining the ‘best available research evidence with clinical judgement and patient preference’.

The Tribunal observed it’s often inappropriate to present references from clients “given the uneven power dynamic between practitioner and patient” [item 171]. However they did note that Ms. Andrea Pavleka “senior executive, legal practitioner” [item 168], was positive about professional treatment received and personal qualities of Floreani.

Looking at these references it is far from surprising that the Tribunal observed:

Taken as a whole, the references did not show the authors were aware of the content of the Allegations or the nature of the Tribunal proceeding. Some appeared to support chiropractic care which might well fall outside the Code and Statement [item 222].

It’s equally unsurprising that submissions arguing against a suspension included.

His references are excellent. They reveal a respected and trustworthy health practitioner.

The underlying story of the references is a reflection of Floreani’s entire defence. It’s a story of going through the motions, keeping within the lines. Indeed Simon Floreani doesn’t have to think like a health professional, but merely act like one. Ultimately that’s all that is required and it underscores the problem with chiropractic today and the Board’s inability to initiate serious change.

More so, as a chiropractor, Floreani need not be educated as an effective health professional nor maintain and update an evidence-based skill set. Despite his rhetoric, evident in the transcript, of him being a “critical thinker”, referring to “evidence” and “research”, vitalistic chiropractic deals in anything but. Floreani just won’t admit that his disdain for the sciences important to public health, is what keeps leading to disciplinary action. From item 184:

Dr Floreani was asked about his past disciplinary history. He agreed a caution was an important regulatory tool for practitioners who ‘misunderstood’ what they were doing consciously or unconsciously.

As mentioned, Floreani reinforced his anti-vaccination views by defending Well Adjusted Babies. He contended the content was “up for discussion” and thinks it is “research information”. This is what defines Floreani and his wife, Jennifer Barham-Floreani. These problems and others, did not escape the Tribunal as evidenced by item 220. It included:

While the content of that book is not strictly before us, Dr Floreani’s comments raised questions in our mind about whether he has absorbed the fact that the profession of chiropractic does not have adequate training or expertise in the science supporting vaccination. His reference to the ‘political climate’ being a factor in the discussion about the safety of vaccines was worrying.

The Board should be worried. Consider the disparity between assurances Floreani gives to regulators, and his wife’s response to a 2013 crackdown by the Board on anti-vaxxers.

Chiropractors will certainly be working towards making sure that the information that they convey to parents is the latest, up-to-date information that presents both sides of the vaccination debate. I think it would be very rare that there would be chiropractors giving only one side of the argument.

Which brings us back to the problem the Board faces. Whether it’s anti-vaccination beliefs, advertising claims void of evidence (if not plausibility) or the motions carried out on infants and in the name of “maintenance”, pseudoscience is endemic in vitalistic chiropractic. It’s an ideology that is enormously profitable and it exudes a trendy energy that continues to be disturbingly popular with an unsuspecting, cashed-up public. One gets the feeling the horse has bolted in reading item 234, in which the Tribunal comment on discourse arising from Floreani’s support of Vaxxed.

The underlying scepticism towards science continues to be potentially damaging and likely to bring the profession into disrepute.

The Tribunal was aware Floreani presented himself as a leader in his field [item 236]. It didn’t help him. Rather it contributed to the decision to enforce a suspension. It was seen as:

…an aggravating factor because it is inconsistent with the standards of the profession for such a person to promote the anti-vaccination cause and to provide unbalanced, biased and non-evidence-based information to the public.

This is as it should be. Any perceived success of Floreani should add to the suspension’s value in deterring others. Floreani had held a number of influential positions with the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA), now the Australian Chiropractors’ Association, including president from 2009-2012 [item 162]. Under his direction and authority, pseudoscience gained firm traction. His supporters were delighted when Floreani decided to run for the 2017 CAA presidential election. Then they were crushed when his short suspension (for the same reasons that led to this hearing), threatened his chances. At the time reasonable hank published Suspended chiropractor’s supporters liken themselves to Jews and AHPRA to Nazi Germany.

It’s an essential read and very much a case of in their own words. In pleading Floreani’s case they apply the very same offensive allusion to Nazism that has led in part to his suspension. For our purposes note the familiar theme we have come to hear almost daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often from chiropractors, one of whom was a referee for Floreani in this very hearing. Namely that when vaccination is attacked, those who defend the high standards of evidence-based health care and the science it relies upon are as the fascists of Nazi Germany. Those who wish to do what they want regardless of the harm it may cause others, are as the persecuted Jews whose very nature was unjustly targeted.

Which for the very last time brings us back to the problems faced by the Chiropractic Board of Australia. Problems that are ingrained in fundamentalist elements in chiropractic, in all countries in which they thrive. Australians have the right to ask how this came about. How can a movement that seemingly regards accepted evidence and regulatory standards as almost anathema, hold the position it does? How can chiropractors, be highly regarded by colleagues and rise to positions of influence, whilst spreading harmful disinformation?

Floreani’s referee Liz Anderson-Peacock was, in fact, one of three senior members of the council of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario to endorse anti-vaccination views. At the time she was vice-president of the CCO, report the National Post. There are similarities to Australia. The CCO is not unlike the CAA under Floreani’s influence. Jonathon Jarry is a science communicator at the Office for Science and Society at Canada’s McGill University. He noted that anti-vaccination views are “innate to a certain persistent strain of chiropractic”. With respect to the three members of the CCO, he had a winning comment:

If a professional regulator is allowed to be so wrong about a basic building block of public health, the public should demand change for its own protection. Swift action is needed to correct this dangerous misfire.

The answer to our questions then, is in appreciating that chiropractic here is often modelled on the already tarnished international movement that resurrected the unscientific beliefs of D.D. Palmer and now passes them off as health care. In fairness to Palmer, who got the idea from a deceased doctor’s ghost, he stated in 1911 that chiropractic should be regarded as a religion and he, its founder. The 126th anniversary of his first “adjustment” was recently observed on Facebook by Floreani’s referee, Gilles La Marche.

By necessity, Australia must at times internalise scientific trends from overseas. This is particularly true for evidence-based medicine. By definition then, we should firmly resist the influence of vitalistic chiropractic. The challenge for the Chiropractic Board of Australia and indeed for AHPRA is to do just that. A proactive regulatory process is needed. It should not be the responsibility of advocates for evidence-based public health to ensure reckless, dangerous actors are brought to account.

Simon Floreani has for years actively promoted disinformation and misinformation related to vaccination whilst attacking evidence-based medicine. He has given no indication that he has changed his views. Were he to have genuinely changed he would be a rarity in fundamentalist chiropractic. More so, he only need refrain from being overtly anti-vaccination in a professional sense. The problem with this, is that he never need be motivated to give sound advice on the topic.

A six month suspension is an undoubtedly insufficient sanction. Yet given the current scope of regulatory power it is an understandably appropriate response. The real problem is that Simon Floreani and other chiropractors like him should never have been practising in the first place.

That is the problem that must be managed.

* The Australian Vaccination-risks Network was at the time the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, and before that the Australian Vaccination Network. They are referred to in the ruling transcript as the Anti-Vaccination Network.


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A week is a long time in social media

These days social media is seething with COVID related disinformation and misinformation. The last week however brought out the best of the worst in those intent on denying reality.

Without a doubt last weekend’s protests in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane left some as excited as a lonely school kid might get after their first school dance in long pants. That does not explain the nonsense that followed however. That comes down to the antivaxxer, COVID conspiracy theorist trait of seizing a splinter of fact and presenting it in a way to support a broader deceit. The week’s carry on was unique for a couple of reasons. Firstly only a meagre understanding of the subject matter was needed to grasp the reality. Also corrections and clarifications were available in almost real time.

NSW, COVID-19 and Vaccination

When it comes to grasping the situation with Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, things are simple: it’s well behind schedule. More to the point, the delay in shipping Pfizer vaccine has been a constant hum in our news cycle for months. This has been amplified by confusion around advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which has seen changes in the recommended age groups for receipt of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In six weeks over June-July it changed from 50 years and above to 60 and above. ATAGI advice held firm when Scott Morrison suggested all Australians should consult their GP to consider getting it, then ultimately the age was lowered to 18 years and above in view of the raging Delta variant in Sydney.

There was the backlash over an 11 July COVID-19 advertisement which carried the text, “Covid-19 can affect anyone… Book your vaccination”. The woman featured in the ad’ was in the age group for which Pfizer vaccine was recommended. But supply wasn’t there. Last Friday NSW health minister Brad Hazard made a plea to other states for Pfizer vaccines. He was left disappointed. The point to this brief and tedious history lesson is that a meagre (that word again) attention span is enough to grasp that NSW is in serious need of COVID-19 vaccines. Until last Saturday that had to be Pfizer for under 60s. Additionally, the impact of COVID-19 vaccination in keeping people out of intensive care has been making news across the developed world. When NSW Health gave updates on COVID-19 hospitalisations during press conferences we quickly learnt the same success is evident here.

When Dr. Jeremy McAnulty misspoke

As we moved into last weekend a trend of sorts emerged as senior NSW Health physician Dr. Jeremy McAnulty presented his reports. On 22 July the seriousness of the Delta variant was underscored by the fact that of 118 in hospital, 28 were in ICU of whom 14 were ventilated. He reported that forty two were under 55 years of age and fifteen were under 35. On 24 July Dr. McAnulty reported that 139 people were in hospital. There were fifty five patients under 55 years of age and twenty eight who were under 35. He noted that of 37 patients in ICU, 17 required ventilation, 36 were unvaccinated and one patient had received one dose of AstraZeneca. It was a disturbing trend. Young Australians were being hit hard by the Delta variant and hospitalised in increasing numbers. In the intensive care unit nobody was fully vaccinated. One person was partially vaccinated.

This was what we had feared may come of a slow vaccine rollout. Without the protection of vaccination COVID-19 was making adults of all ages very ill indeed. On 25 July Dr. McAnulty had the awful task of announcing two COVID related deaths. A woman in her late thirties, and another in her seventys had died. One could see the softly spoken public health expert struggle over the words. He moved on to report 141 people were in hospital of whom 43 were in ICU, with 18 requiring ventilation. Continuing with the same data sets of previous press conferences he reported that sixty of those hospitalised are under 55 and twenty eight are under 35. He noted that of the 43 in intensive care one was in their teens, seven were in their 20s, three in their 30s, fourteen were in the 50s, twelve were in their 60s and six were in their 70s.

At this point viewers keeping track of the new disturbing trend knew what was coming. Dr. McAnulty will report on the vaccinated status of those in ICU. Which he did. However he misspoke and said, “All but one are vaccinated, one has received just one dose of vaccine”. It was however clear what was meant: all but one are unvaccinated. The ICU patient numbers had increased by six and there had been two deaths. Even for viewers not catching sequential daily updates (I know I wasn’t), it was clear this was a slip of the tongue. As outlined above, Australia has had a sluggish vaccine rollout. On that day only 15.8% of NSW residents were fully vaccinated. Being vaccinated was not the norm and certainly not for Aussies under 60. Yet it wasn’t until journalists were asking questions around half an hour later, that Dr. McAnulty was able to correct himself.

Here’s the two relevant clips run together.

By then no doubt anti-vaccine activists had edited out the few seconds they needed and gleefully hit social media. Taylor Winterstein who makes a living from bad influencing on Instagram posted this the next day.

You might have noticed how she struggles with numbers. Dr. McAnulty was referring to forty three people in intensive care when he misspoke. Not 141. This same mistake is repeated elsewhere in the antivax rabbit hole. As is the response that his correction was false. Either bogus or doctored or whatever they can grab to avoid the facts. No surprise there. Although there was one surprise. Del Bigtree was swift to tweet the video with a message to see the point where Jeremy McAnulty misspoke, proclaiming that, “all were vaccinated but one”. The reality was pointed out to him. An hour later his first tweet was deleted and he tweeted a correction acknowledging his mistake. “Since he made a correction I must too”, Bigtree offered.

This is reasonably significant in light of the fact Del Bigtree is responsible for a copious amount of disinformation and misinformation regarding both vaccines and COVID-19. He is firmly convinced COVID-19 vaccines are ineffective or worse. Credit where it’s due however. After all, Dr. Dan Wilson of Debunk the Funk is a former conspiracy theorist. The same credit can’t be given to Del’s Twitter followers. Most reacted like the proverbial End of World cult faced with a world that didn’t end. Their justifications covered all bases including denial and even transforming a correction into a retraction! Then there was that darn antivaxxer problem with the number 141.

This scene was played out in social media rabbit holes everywhere. Replies to Taylor Winterstein were equally stupid. Which is an achievement as Winterstein controls who can comment on her Instagram account. Fact checking followed. AAP published a review of the fake claim, an analysis and supporting evidence of COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness. CoronaCheck included it in their weekly update and AFP Fact Check published a comprehensive slap-down of numerous misleading sources. Nonetheless such calculated disinformation has the potential to harm Australian public health and even cost lives.

When it comes to pumping up disinformation like this, it’s always hard to pass by Meryl Dorey, founder of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. She too had trouble with the 141 number and even re-employed Dr. McAnulty as a “politician”. Dorey also claims COVID hospitalisations and deaths globally and specifically Israel, the USA and Europe are fully vaccinated. That’s another version of the carefully crafted mistake seen courtesy of Alan Jones and Craig Kelly who failed to grasp a statistical reality, and were splendidly refuted by Paul Barry on Media Watch. It is an example of base rate bias or base rate fallacy. This video explains it very well.

You can grab the mp3 here or listen below.

The CDC announcement about COVID-19 PCR testing

A look back at this week isn’t complete without highlighting the COVID PCR kerfuffle. On 21 July the CDC alerted laboratories that they would retire-with-a-gold-watch the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel. What most of us know as the COVID-19 PCR test. Polymerase Chain Reaction testing is highly accurate. The process identifies the genetic material of a specific virus. It does this in a way that is similar to providing a yes or no answer to the presence of X virus. It cannot give a this or that answer to the presence of X, Y or Z viruses.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the anti-science conspiracy lobby has pushed two absurd claims about the detection of COVID-19. The first is that it has never been isolated. False. The second is that the PCR test is so fantastically unreliable that it produces only false positives. False. What’s interesting about these claims is that if one believes the first, then the second is true no matter what test is used. This however didn’t stop COVID-19 deniers from trying to discredit the technology of the test as a means to more or less blame it for positive results they didn’t like hearing about.

Because of the closed nature of the PCR test, further resources and expense are needed to test for other viruses. This is ultimately why the CDC want to discontinue the PCR test at the end of 2021. This is done by removing its request for emergency use authorisation for the test from the FDA. The CDC still support the accuracy of the test. However by encouraging the use of multiplex tests single samples can be tested for a variety of viruses. For example influenza A, B and COVID-19.

Echoes from social media rabbit holes erupted. The claim was that the CDC withdrew support for the COVID-19 PCR test because it couldn’t distinguish between influenza and COVID-19. This then, and not closed international borders was why influenza cases had dropped dramatically. Links to the CDC alert were published with pride. Concepts of vindication were liberally mixed in with this sudden inability to read. G&B Lawyers’ conspiracy theorist Nathan Andrew Buckley made the news. Ali Haydar, Will Connolly (aka ‘Eggboy’) and Reignite Democracy Australia featured amongst many to spread falsehood. AAP published another great takedown and analysis. FactCheck have a particularly comprehensive SciCheck article on this. CoronaCheck included a debunking in the same piece that debunked the abuse of Jeremy McAnulty’s slip.

“There’s a little bit of misinformation going around”

I’m perhaps pressing my luck with the Fixated Persons Unit, but I’d like to share some vintage Meryl Dorey Gish Galloping about the CDC’s recent PCR alert. Delightfully she kicks off by warning that, “There’s a little bit of misinformation going around”. Well I hadn’t noticed, so I’ll be on the lookout. At one point Dorey fancies herself as a lab technician telling her audience, “Because we are using a cycle rate of forty to forty five, every single positive is a false positive”.

There’s an mp3 here for your collection, or you can use the player below.

Conclusion

The COVID conspiracy, anti-vaccination activist movement that thrives on social media continues to deceive. The last week saw two fresh examples of disinformation. One of which callously exploited an obvious error, corrected shortly thereafter, during a NSW Health press conference.

Please get vaccinated. It can save your life.


References

ATAGI Statement re AstraZeneca – 17 June 2021

ATAGI advice on AstraZeneca remains unchanged – ABC 12 July 2021

ATAGI Statement re AstraZeneca – 24 July 2021

NSW Health press conferences

NSW Health 22 July

NSW Health 24 July

NSW Health 25 July

No, hospitalised COVID-19 patients in NSW aren’t all vaccinated – AAP

Posts mislead on proportion of vaccinated Covid-19 victims in Australian state’s hospitals – AFP Fact Check

Facebook post – Dr. Brytney Cobia tells of dying patients wish to be vaccinated

Israel, 50% of infected are vaccinated, and base rate bias

RMIT ABC Fact Check

Viral Posts Misrepresent CDC Announcement on COVID-19 PCR Test – FactCheck

Wild claims about CDC PCR alert don’t pass the test – AAP

Originally published as A week is a long time in social media disinformation

Latest update: 1 August 2021

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Meryl Dorey’s latest ‘legal challenge’ fundraising scam

A recent email to members the Australian Vaccination-risks Network included a bizarre letter to the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, demanding immediate cessation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

It is a bizarre demand for a number of reasons, foremost being that evidence supports continuation, not cessation of the vaccine rollout. In addition is a fundamental misunderstanding of how scientific and regulatory advice ensures the most effective ministerial and government decision making. Next come the reasons for justifying these demands. All have been refuted with evidence or debunked as conspiracy theory thinking. Finally the extensive demands themselves are impossible and meaningless in scale and intent.

One claim I will address however. An AVN favourite is that the vaccine rollout is an ongoing experiment that Greg Hunt himself called the world’s largest clinical trial. Back in March we dealt with the antivax trope that the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is an uninsurable experiment set to wind up in 2023. It is demonstrable disinformation that manipulates the fact data are continually collected on drugs and vaccines after approval for use. The scale of post-approval data related to COVID-19 vaccination is vast. Enter Minister Hunt’s comments.

During an Insiders interview on 21 March this year David Speers asked a question about herd immunity and longer term goals. Greg Hunt told Speers in part;

The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.

The next day during a doorstop interview a journalist asked;

Minister, when we have vaccinated the majority of the population, what does the new normal look like? Do we still have to worry about social distancing and hand sanitising with this vaccine?

Hunt replied that COVID-safe practices will be with us for a long while. Longevity of antibodies must be considered. That this is something the world will learn. And that;

We’re engaged in the world’s largest ever vaccination rollout and, at the same time, effectively, clinical trial. We will learn more; we’re already learning more.

Viewed in the context of questions he was answering it’s clear that Hunt was talking about how the vaccine will effect social activity. Not a trial of efficacy and safety as antivaxxers allege. Never has he used the word “experiment” either. Referring to Hunt in a live chat with Meryl Dorey two nights ago (Monday 28 June) anti-science crusader Senator Malcolm Roberts mentioned the Insiders episode then falsely claimed, “He himself said it’s a trial, it’s an experiment” [4min 35 mark]. In fact COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers published Phase III trial protocols more than six months before Hunt made those comments.

It is thus absurd that the AVN and others continually make this claim. It is also a predictable straw man as it provides a basis for their objection to COVID-19 vaccines. Meryl Dorey and the AVN gave Hunt seven days in which to reply. The demand states in part;

If you do not respond or if your response once again does not address our concerns, we would feel that we have no option but to consider legal action against you yourself, Minister Hunt, in the form of a private prosecution and against the Government to seek injunctive relief to immediately stop this current experiment on the Australian population…

If it looks like a scam…

Given the absurdity of the demands made upon Greg Hunt there is no chance of a favourable response. And this is exactly what Meryl Dorey wants. This makes way for her to announce that legal action will be pursued. Legal action that needs to be funded by AVN supporters. Financial donations to an organisation with no charitable fundraising authority are essentially free from accountability if not deemed for a charitable purpose. More so, the likelihood of successful legal action is zero. The private prosecution of a federal health minister who did not acquiesce to anti-vaccination demands is a calculated impossibility.

The chances of securing a court ordered injunction against the federal government to stop the vaccination of a nation against COVID-19 are (need I say it?) also zero. The party seeking the injunction must demonstrate they are at risk if vaccination is not prevented. As the vaccine is not mandatory and the plaintiffs have clearly stated their opposition to receiving it no risk can be demonstrated. So the AVN will claim to be defenders of Australians. They will need to demonstrate the nation is at risk if the vaccine rollout is not stopped. Again, the vaccine is not mandatory so clear evidence that the public are “guinea pigs” is lacking. If found to be in the wrong the AVN must pay the government’s damages. All this and more must be absolute before the case can go ahead.

This is without a doubt a scam to make money from pledges and donations.

The reaction from those familiar with Meryl Dorey’s money-making scams is proving prescient. Next would come an appeal for money to fund the legal action. After a time Dorey will announce that the action has no chance of succeeding after a rational (and expensive) legal team has reviewed it. The money will be kept and all too swiftly the AVN will return to the day to day business of processing membership fees and “sponsorships”.

On cue Meryl Dorey primed her audience on the morning of Thursday 24 June. The final minutes of a Facebook live video were dedicated to the announcement that the time was almost upon Minister Hunt. The AVN will need all the financial support they can get and a page will be set up for that purpose if, “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. It’s a performance of deception which you can access via mp3 here or listen to on the player below.

Her viewers were told over 300 Australians have died and over 30,000 have had serious reactions because of the vaccine. Dorey is doing this for you, for the Australian people who, “have a very dark future ahead”. We’re told, “tyranny and communism have descended on Australia”. Dorey twice slips up saying, “when this happens… when this goes ahead”. She knows it’s not a case of if. Thus if the AVN announce the case is going ahead, supporters must be presented with written evidence of legal advice confirming a chance of success. For as we know, Meryl Dorey has form in dangling the prospect of a legal victory in front of AVN supporters.

Previous ‘legal challenge’ fundraising scam

In 2016 the AVN, then known as the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network, launched a similar scheme using the promise of a High Court challenge to No Jab No Pay legislation. This social services legislation amendment introduced an initiative to withhold state payments from families where children were not fully immunised. The year began with the AVN asking supporters to pledge money to fund a High Court challenge. By late March it was announced the challenge would proceed. Funding requests continued with so-called updates yet donors were kept in the dark.

Concerned donors soon suggested the AVN were being secretive as no legal team or strategy had been revealed and not one invoice for legal fees had been sighted. The AVN responded by email on 8 September 2016 saying they couldn’t show their hand because, “both the government and the pharmaceutical lobby would love to know what we are planning”. The AVN promised to reveal all when the time was right. They announced the total raised by that time was $160,000 and that double this was needed.

Three weeks later Meryl Dorey, AVN president at that time Tasha David, and another member were in the USA meeting with Del Bigtree and the Vaxxed team and protesting at a CDC rally. This trip wold have been months in the planning and was not the first for David. Two months later on Christmas day, contrary to months of published updates, donors and supporters were informed by email that the High Court case had no chance of success. Donations had continued for fifteen weeks since the $160,000 total was announced. Yet now the AVN were claiming only $152,203 was raised and $72,526 was spent on legal advice. The irregularity continued the following day when an identically worded post from Tasha David on the AVN website claimed just $50,371 was spent on legal advice.

For now, let’s work with the figures the AVN published. The pressing question is thus, will the AVN be using any of the money left over from the supposed 2016 attempted High Court challenge to fund this latest venture? Using the lower reported figure of funds raised and the highest of expenses, the least that could have been left turns out to be $79,677. That’s provided we take Meryl on her word that they actually did spend money on legal fees. The next logical question is, was any of that money later spent on antivax campaigns? It turns out that we can draw some conclusions regarding what was promised that Christmas day in 2016 and what later transpired.

Astonishingly lofty suggestions were made regarding the remaining funds. Pursue individuals in the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) or PBAC (Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee) with the tort of misfeasance in public office for “the harm they cause”. Then, that it’s far better to lobby local representatives for a possible Royal Commission into Vaccination. The purchase of advertising perhaps. Begin the process of bringing people together to conduct the much sought after vaccinated vs unvaccinated study was another suggestion. A watered down version of this last option was followed up in 2019.

On 28 February 2019 an email went out to members outlining how the AVN had donated $5,000 USD ($6,590 AU) to Dr. James Lyons-Weiler, a long standing US anti-vaccination activist. He is the CEO and president of the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK) and a vocal supporter of Judy Wilyman. AVN supporters were directed to a GoFundMe page which unsurprisingly still exists today. The resulting “vaxxed vs unvaxxed” paper was significantly biased and had pronounced methodological flaws. The sort of thing you need your own institute to produce. You can access the paper and a thorough take-down here.

  • UPDATE: On 11 August 2021 it was reported by Retraction Watch that this paper had been, well, retracted. The International Journal of Research and Public Health, have written:

The journal retracts the article “Relative Incidence of Office Visits and Cumulative Rates of Billed Diagnoses along the Axis of Vaccination” cited above [1]. Following publication, concerns were brought to the attention of the editorial office regarding the validity of the conclusions of the published research.

Adhering to our complaints procedure, an investigation was conducted that raised several methodological issues and confirmed that the conclusions were not supported by strong scientific data. The article is therefore retracted.

On 26 March this year another AVN email revealed what the less charitable may refer to as karma. You see dear reader, £4,000 ($7,300 AU) apparently donated by the AVN to Professor Christopher Exley in May 2019, is missing. It was to assist with his research at Keele University into the neurodegenerative effects of aluminium. This Guardian article written at the time helps to assess AVN thinking. Apparently Exley was being investigated for anti-vaccine activity. The Dean of Natural Sciences at Keele Uni had suspended his research and “disabled” his website. Exley explained there were problems “reviewing” donations and those asking for a refund had received inaccurate information from an unreliable source. The AVN are hoping for a full refund.

  • UPDATE: This dosh may be done for, dear reader. Exley is to exit exited the University of Keele at the end of August this year. You can read more about this decision, and far more about Exley’s anti-vaccine pursuits, over on Skeptical Raptor.

The two donations to anti-vaccine research total $13,890. We can also identify some advertising. In October 2018 the AVN funded a controversial billboard at Carseldine in QLD displaying the question, “Vaccinated or unvaccinated: Who is healthier?”. An AVN email sent 8 October 2018 includes their objection to a demand from two QLD MPs for it to be removed. It had also drawn the ire of the QLD health minister at the time, Steven Miles. In today’s prices the 6x3m billboard would have cost around $3,500 for the month it was on display and under $1,000 for printing and installation. Let’s say $5,000 for the billboard.

In the spirit of rounding off shall we say the two donations and the billboard cost $20,000 from the leftover High Court challenge float of $80,000 leaving a not too shabby $60,000. If we accept the second account that 2016 legal fees were just over $50,000 the remaining balance becomes $82,000. Indeed $50,371 spent on legal fees is the figure that remains on the AVN website today. Comments under the post are beyond amusing. High praise, highly curated. Donors on social media at the time were scathing. One rejected such expenses existed contending the AVN had significant pro bono support.

Again I stress that these figures are based on AVN publications and thus biased in their favour. Nonetheless no announcements specific to spending the remaining funds from 2016 have been made. Unrealised options suggested at the time focused on legal action. Well, the time has arrived. $60,000 would buy a significant amount of legal advice. So the question is where is that money and will the AVN use it in this campaign? Members have a right to know. A fundraising campaign such as that conducted in 2016 is inappropriate, irregular and unnecessary.

Speaking of questions the most pressing in relation to the 2016 High Court campaign fundraiser also needs to be asked. Did the AVN reveal the necessary information about strategy and expenses to donors as promised? The answer is no. The necessary transparency needed to confirm the AVN did what they claimed never eventuated. Thus in calculating what the available funds for legal action might be, there is in fact no reason to accept any account of the AVN. There is no evidence that any legal team existed or that a minimum of $50,000 was spent on legal fees.

The hard fact is Meryl Dorey and her team saw no reason to provide this evidence or honour the promise that all would be revealed at the right time. If there is a reason for this strange lack of transparency they have never commented on it. They were keen to explain why secrecy was needed when donations were incoming, yet silent once they put an end to the campaign. At the last the AVN claim to have raised $152,204 months after announcing $160,000 had been raised. This means after raising an average of $50,000 per month for three months they expect donors to accept they raised just over $2,000 in total over the last six months of the campaign. Despite all this it is imperative that one not fall prey to conspiracy theory thinking and conclude absolutely. Suffice it to say that what took place cannot be what the AVN reported. In an upcoming post we’ll look closer at the scale and audacity of this scam.

NSW Fair Trading Investigation

Almost certainly the reason fundraising ceased is because the AVN were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the campaign. This was reported in The Australian two days after the AVN announced an end to fundraising. Fair Trading investigations however, only consider if the campaign was a fundraising appeal for the purposes of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. The Inquiry Report from September 2017 states that the view of the inquiry was that it was not (see p.3) and no action was taken. However all details are far from clear in that heavily redacted document. We learn more from an August 2018 letter to AVN president Tasha David from Stephen French, Investigations Manager in the Department of Finances, Services & Innovation.

The unambiguous and firmly written letter includes;

The Inquiry has found AVsN’s representations as to the money solicited on its website, and received by it, include a charitable purpose in that it purports to be for the promotion of education and learning. A copy of s. 9 of the Act is attached.

The AVsN website includes the following content that must be removed immediately.
• Lobbying Federal Parliament for changes to legislation, to educate them on this issue and to combat draconian new vaccine laws that are being brought in to Australia.

On this occasion NSW Fair Trading does not intend to initiate legal proceedings. However, AVsN must immediately cease the conducting of unlawful fundraising. If AVsN fails to comply, a further investigation may be conducted. If a future investigation finds that AVsN is continuing to conduct fundraising unlawfully, Fair Trading will consider appropriate enforcement action.

This is yet another example of how Australia’s regulatory acronyms let down the public. The inquiry report also fails to mention what later correspondence clearly states. The AVN High Court fundraising campaign was in breach of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 but NSW Fair Trading decided against legal action. Specifically, the AVN was in breach of section 9 of the Act because their website confirmed donations would be used “to educate” members of parliament with respect to legislation regarding vaccination. Instructing the AVN to remove the offending text substantially reduces the chance that future fundraising campaigns will be in breach of this Act.

It seems we have our reasons as to why the AVN never mentioned the campaign again. It is frustrating that NSW Fair Trading have no mandate to investigate the honesty of the campaign nor report on the fate of funds raised. This was justifiably never within the scope of the inquiry. An inquiry that was in hindsight very literal and linear in action. The ACCC should have been notified but instead the AVN received a helpful warning. For those of us who value the application of legislation where scams are concerned it is a sterling example of losing in the lucky country. For AVN founder Meryl Dorey however, it was another financial win.

Meryl Dorey claims to make ‘absolutely nothing’

Perhaps now is an ideal time to revisit Ms. Dorey’s recent claim that she makes “absolutely nothing” through the AVN. In February this year Jane Hansen presented the documentary Big Shots: Anti-Vaxxers Exposed and in doing so revealed a number of disturbing truths about anti-vaccination activists in Australia. This included the AVN and Meryl. Believe it or not the High Court caper wasn’t mentioned. Shortly after, Dorey scrambled to publish a “response” which was in fact a collection of falsehoods presented as answers to leading questions posed by anti-medicine fanatic Tom Barnett. His opening question was about income. You can grab the mp3 here or listen on the player below.

Conclusion

The chance of the AVN winning legal action against Greg Hunt or the Australian government as a means to stop the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is zero. In 2016 fundraising for a similar, failed legal pursuit was conducted in a highly irregular manner. The AVN refused to reveal key information about strategy and expense. This and the failure to refund monies was reported as having “divided the anti-vaccination community”. However the increase in traffic to anti-vaccination social media since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided AVN founder Meryl Dorey with fresh targets to fleece.

If the AVN and supporters wish to make a statement by being publicly seen to pursue possible legal action that’s all well and jolly. Tyranny and communism may be descending but democratic freedoms are alive and well in Australia. Sadly the AVN is supported by many who believe such a case is viable. But a fundraiser is not necessary. The aim should be to discern if legal action is viable. The AVN should have remaining funds for this purpose. They also receive constant donations and sponsorships for the stated purpose of fighting for “the health rights” of Australians. Should the AVN proceed they must provide potential donors with written evidence of legal advice stating the likelihood of success.

This is about disregarding legislation and profiting from the donations of vulnerable supporters. NSW Fair Trading launched an inquiry into the 2016 fundraising campaign. In a judicious application of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991, information on the AVN website was demonstrated to render the fundraising campaign in breach of that Act. Regrettably no action was taken. A warning with the promise to act against future unlawful fundraisers was issued. This has effectively educated Meryl Dorey in how to avoid the reach of Fair Trading. In addition to the fact there was no investigation into the misappropriation of funds Dorey’s confidence has likely risen.

Despite claiming to make “absolutely nothing” from the AVN, Meryl Dorey makes very good money. She is confident and capable in doing so by dubious means. We in turn can be confident this latest venture is a scam. As with all AVN fundraising campaigns the truth will be obfuscated and the goal will not be reached. Dorey will profit, questions will be suppressed and something else new and shiny will be promoted.

You and I dear reader, should consider reporting all scams to the ACCC. One eagerly awaits developments from the AVN bunker.


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Latest update: 10 November 2021

The Nuremberg Code and COVID-19 vaccines

Following the development and subsequent global rollout of successful COVID-19 vaccines one particular anti-vaccine trope has been delivered with increasing gusto. Namely that the administration of these vaccines is in breach of the Nuremberg Code.

This isn’t the first time the Nuremberg Code has been used by the anti-vaccination lobby in an attempt to argue against the legality of vaccination. It is however the most widespread use of this piece of disinformation to date. It also includes the threat that health professionals will be tried as war criminals. To arrive at the conviction that COVID-19 vaccination is in breach of the Nuremberg Code, a triumph of non-critical reasoning is necessary. Specifically that the vaccine rollout is an ongoing experiment and that recipients have not given informed consent.

The latter is a misguided application of the first point of the Code. Global, real time scrutiny of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout means recipients are better informed when giving consent than for any other vaccine in history. Whilst the first point of the Code includes the most lengthy accompanying explanation of all ten points in the Code, it opens with the requirement:

The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

Background

An early claim that vaccine recipients are denied informed consent can be found in a 1997 NBC interview with Barbara Loe Fisher and her related article on the NVIC website [Archive]. Loe Fisher provides five bullet points contending there is inadequate knowledge of injury, death, side effects, vaccine failure and that vaccination, “could reasonably be termed as experimental each time it is performed on a healthy individual”. The postulation at play here is that if such uncertainty exists then informed consent cannot be given. Another ambitious claim is that post-marketing surveillance of vaccines is “a de facto experiment”.

Further on in the article the Nuremberg Code itself is addressed and the deception immediately begins apace. Loe Fisher exploits the words of physician and ethicist Jay Katz. His work is included in Nazi Doctors and The Nuremberg Code – Human Rights in Human Experimentation. Loe Fisher selectively chose in part:

The rights of individuals to thoroughgoing self-determination and autonomy must come first. Scientific advances may be impeded, perhaps even become impossible at times, but this is a price worth paying.

As the tone indicates, this is a quote about human experimentation, not vaccination as Barbara Loe Fisher is suggesting. The article trots on to mislead readers that, “bioethicist Arthur Caplan concurred when he said”:

The Nuremberg Code explicitly rejects the moral argument that the creation of benefits for many justifies the sacrifice of the few. Every experiment, no matter how important or valuable, requires the express voluntary consent of the individual. The right of individuals to control their bodies trumps the interest of others in obtaining knowledge or benefits from them.

Jay Katz passed away in 2008. Arthur Caplan is a professor of bioethics at New York University and in June last year informed FactCheck.org that the NVIC use of his quote is “completely erroneous” and reflected “ignorance of history and ethics”. He also observed that it is:

… a gross disservice to the victims of brutal Nazi experiments to distort my words for lame anti-science that will kill people if this bilge is taken seriously.

The above quote is no doubt not lost on those familiar with the harm anti-vaccine activists ultimately achieve and the disrespect they so often reveal in doing so. It also brings to mind the reality surrounding the Nuremberg Code. It is the result of one of the Nuremberg trials that followed the Second World War. The Doctors’ Trial (USA vs Brandt) focused on 23 German doctors and administrators who performed unethical, inhumane experiments in concentration camps and 3.5 million sterilisations of German citizens.

The Nuremberg Code itself has a controversial history surrounding authorship and was largely ignored for 20 years following the Nuremberg trials. In The Nuremberg Code and the Nuremberg Trial: A Reappraisal, Jay Katz wrote that careful reading of the judgement indicates it was written:

…for the practice of human experimentation whenever it is being conducted.

The vaccine ‘experiment’

This helps us appreciate the importance of, and the rationale behind, insisting that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an experiment. In the last post I covered another reason as to why the anti-vaccine lobby pushes this line. Namely to wrongly claim that hospital cover for adverse events following immunisation will be withheld by insurance companies on the basis that the vaccine is an “experimental treatment”. The trial it is alleged runs until 2023.

Helped by a widely disseminated video from the UK (here), misinformation regarding the Pfizer Phase III clinical trial is sustaining the belief that a long term “experiment” involves all vaccine recipients. This is demonstrably false. In fact the clinical study description cited in the video refers to the original participants who will be followed on a post-marketing basis until 6 April 2023. In a comprehensive 10 December 2020 article Pfizer report under Adverse Events:

Safety monitoring will continue for 2 years after administration of the second dose of vaccine.

In Australia Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network has been quite vocal about Nuremberg Code breaches. She contends the “experiment” is admitted to by the TGA, FDA and European Medicines Agency. In fact the Australian TGA provisional approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine is valid until February 2023. This is almost certainly a source of added confidence regarding the false claim of an ongoing experiment.

On 13 March 2021 during Under The Wire (Source) Dorey spoke about, “crimes against humanity as determined by the Nuremberg Code” due to COVID-19 vaccine administration and the so-called ‘vaccine passport’. At one time she challenged, “if you even believe that COVID exists”. Download the MP3 here or listen below.

Meryl Dorey followed this with a firm message warning medical professionals. MP3 here or listen below.

War crimes

During the same episode Dorey presented a flyer (below) warning “all medical practitioners” involved in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout that they will be on trial for war crimes and held accountable. These flyers continue to be letter dropped, faxed and placed on car windscreens to reach doctors and nurses.

To suggest that medical practitioners will be subject to war crimes is as baffling as it is offensive. The claim is international and again hints at a massive break down in critical thinking. Only cursory reflection is needed to realise that administering a vaccine during peacetime cannot possibly constitute a war crime regardless of the human rights issues one may think apply. The Nuremberg Code reflects not only what happened during the Second World War but also the ethical standards that existed in Germany before the war.

Nuremberg Code and ‘No Jab No Pay’

Use of the Nuremberg Code as an argument against vaccination legislation was honed in Australia in response to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill in 2015. The legislation ensures a childcare benefit, rebate and a tax benefit supplement will be withheld from parents of children under 20 years of age who are not fully immunised. This legislative amendment followed community concern in response to “conscientious objection” to immunisation.

Submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs arguing against the Bill focussed often on the argument that informed consent would be denied. There are a number of examples and the following are indicative. Submission 511 offers further insight into the first point of the Nuremberg Code. Namely that consent should be:

…without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.

And:

By refusing welfare payments to family’s (sic), this is a clear form of financial duress and coercion (and also over-reaching by Government). Some families rely on welfare payments to enable or assist them to provide for their family. To deny access to welfare payments is coercion of parents to subject their children to a medical procedure. 

Submission 508 also refers to the first point of the Nuremberg Code and suggests that the Australian Immunisation Handbook, in its section on consent, reflects a hitherto unknown aspect of the Code. The author notes:

The Australian Immunisation Handbook reflects the Nuremberg Code is requiring valid consent as a pre-cursor to vaccination.

Another submission combined the My Will command with reference to the Nuremberg Code, the Australian constitution, the Immunisation Handbook and the 2005 Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights, Article 6, Section 1. Despite the use of so many references to rights and ethics (Submission 511 also cited the AMA code of ethics and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights) the submissions highlight a common flaw. No Jab No Pay is an incentive. Indeed to see it as active coercion and ignore the harm caused by vaccine preventable diseases is uniquely selfish.

As a testament to how the anti-vaccine lobby manage to keep alive the notion that vaccines constitute grave abuses of human rights we can see that Article 6 of the UDBHR has also been trotted out today for COVID-19 vaccines. A striking LTE in the Elko Daily alluded to the Pfizer clinicaltrials.gov information, the Nuremberg Code and the UDBHR. Article 6, section 1 states:

Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be expressed and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice.

Despite the vocal insistence of an experiment being run without consent the main antagonists of the anti-vaccination lobby are aware this is a false claim. Enter the inane insistence that the COVID-19 vaccine is set to be mandatory in developed nations. The AVN still push the tired line that Scott Morrison aims to make it “as mandatory as possible”, despite his very clear walk back of that unfortunate statement. The next “march against mandatory vaccination” is set for 29 May 2021.

Nuremberg Code Today

As for the Nuremberg Code itself an adequate critique is beyond the scope of this post. Nonetheless, whilst it does reflect important ethical standards it is likely not legally enforceable. It has not been adopted by any government and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is more readily recognised. Of major importance in this regard is the CIA post 9/11 experimental torture programme that utilised unwilling human subjects. Critiques of the Code raise justifiable concerns from its acceptance of animal experimentation to the arguably ridiculous item five which states:

No experiment should be conducted, where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

Today the recognised standard for medical ethics is the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration. It may be considered superior to the Nuremberg Code for one simple reason. That of regular revision. It has been amended seven times since June 1964. The most recent occasion was in October 2013.

Conclusion

The claim that COVID-19 vaccination is in breach of the Nuremberg Code is the most recent manifestation of an anti-vaccine deception that is probably over 25 years old. It is a falsehood that relies on calculated disinformation. Namely that vaccine recipients are denied informed consent and that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an experiment. Social media has aided the dissemination of this claim and a genuine COVID-19 vaccine Phase III trial document is being misrepresented as confirmation of a global trial.

The Nuremberg Code was written at the time of the Nuremberg War Crime trials. As such, baseless threats that medical practitioners will be tried as war criminals are being circulated. The Nuremberg Code clearly refers to experimentation on human subjects and says nothing about vaccination. Submissions to state and federal parliament in Australia opposing the No Jab No Pay/Play Bill 2015 unsuccessfully tested the veracity of the Nuremberg Code in this respect.

As an ethical statement and historical document the Nuremberg Code is sullied by anti-vaccine disinformation. The claims are absurd, serving no purpose other than disruption of sound public health policy. The most recent incarnation targetting COVID-19 vaccines is rightly viewed as a conspiracy theory.


References

Nuremberg Code

Nuremberg Code – Experimentation not vaccines

AMA Code of ethics for doctors

Staff administering COVID vaccines are not war criminals

Do vaccinations violate human rights under the Nuremberg Code?

WMA Declaration of Helsinki

Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation & the CIA Torture Program

Last Update: 2 May 2021

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