“Sacrificial Virgins”: Misinforming viewers about the HPV vaccine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could the video be anti-vaccine?

The email included;

IS THIS DOCUMENTARY ANTI-VACCINATION?

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

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

Originally posed on the “conference” site they are;

Why can’t we talk about vaccines?

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

More importantly can mandatory vaccination policies actually protect our health?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the NCIRS HPV FAQ document;

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

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

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

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

  • How do we know HPV vaccines are safe?

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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Features of the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information, Communication & Society

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

It looked at 6 anti-vaccine Facebook pages.

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

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

Abstract;

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

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

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

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

♠ Commonly referred to as an “echo chamber’.

Final paragraph;

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

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

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

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

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