Why AVN supposedly quit Facebook

goodbye-facebook

On a rather recent January 13th the Australian Vaccination-risks Network announced its partial departure from Facebook. Only weekly videos of Meryl Dorey’s Under The Wire show and Facebook-live videos will continue.

By member email, and more fittingly by Facebook post, distraught followers and amused critics were confronted with this graphic and informed;

The AVN Committee has made the decision not to remain on Facebook where we are already shadow-banned and suppressed for sharing factual, referenced information on the harms and ineffectiveness inherent in our one-size-fits-all vaccination program. We cannot support a platform that is so blatant about silencing us and so many others.

Yes. There is a lot of wrong packed into that short paragraph. Perhaps the mid-section is the most compelling. This blog is one of many that counter so-called “factual, referenced information” from the AVN and the contention that vaccination programmes are harmful and ineffective. The “one-size-fits-all” anti-vaccine mantra has become standard in recent years, finding a place amongst CBS News’ 10 deadly myths about childhood vaccines. The US site Vaxopedia comprehensively addresses this claim.

This was pushed by Judy Wilyman in her 2015 PhD thesis. The term features on four pages and receives much attention as supposed support for her claim that genetic diversity renders immunisation programmes ineffective and dangerous. It also features on her website. This towering failure to grasp immunology rests upon her exploitation of a 70 year old quote from Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet. I touched on this in 2012 and in the previous post referred to Wilyman’s most recent publication which again presents this contention. Australia’s National Immunisation Programme is not “one size fits all”. It is a diverse programme targetting specific needs.

Back to the paragraph of wrong. It finishes by stating the AVN can’t “support” Facebook because it is so blatant about “silencing” them and others. This is all very dramatic and as I will explore part of an attempt by the AVN to big-note themselves as a radical right wing threat to social media. One must remember that at no time in their history of “supporting” Facebook has the AVN page been temporarily suspended. It’s fascinating timing that whilst writing today I scrolled to a video announcing that Dorey has been suspended from the AVN Facebook page for 30 days. I’m unaware as to why and her most recent Under The Wire (UTW) videos remain on the page.

♦︎ Update 4 Feb. 2021 – see below.

AVN founder Meryl Dorey and president Aneeta Hafemeister have constantly peddled the line that they may be deplatformed at any time due to warnings from Facebook. In fact in a 31 May 2020 Facebook live video Hafemeister observed that Facebook got “snarky” because they had “shared about the [anti 5G] picnics”. So radical was this that she didn’t know if they’d get any more warnings. You may grab the MP3 here [300KB] or listen below.

Aneeta Hafemeister tells listeners AVN could be banned from Facebook, 7 1/2 months before they voluntarily leave… somewhat.

So this leaves us with the claim they were already “shadow banned and suppressed”. We can dispense with the claim of suppression immediately. The AVN has had nothing more than fact-checked posts to deal with. These are greyed out and state False Information: checked by independent fact-checkers, giving the reader pause before proceeding. The AVN once observed that such censoring revealed the importance of the information. Shadow banning involves quietly blocking posts or comments such that members aren’t aware of the ban. This hasn’t happened either. Although the claim being made seemed to be about notifications of posts. They claimed followers could not find them or see notifications.

I’m not sure how this was determined as some commenters confirmed they had the page marked and missed nothing. None agreed they were suddenly not being notified. The lie, as it turned out to be, was revealed the following Saturday when Dorey’s show attracted a larger than normal audience. To date there have been over 800 shares and over 500 comments. The next show managed 470 comments. A recent video by Hafemeister managed 300 shares and 424 comments. To top it off she talked about the spike in numbers visiting the AVN page. Topping that off is that live videos will include interviews from the Vaxxed II bus which can number several per day.

So. Why the pretence? Both Dorey and Hafemeister are unashamed conspiracy theorists and seemingly seek the attention presently given to right wing extremists. Having retained US citizenship, Dorey is a Trump devotee and proudly voted for him. I will stress they are not active extremists but do crave an anti-authoritarian image. In today’s social media environment that means wandering into areas of the far right. They are anti-government mainly in thought, sticking to large, safe gatherings and protesting against soft, even meaningless and imagined “suppression”. Like all anti-vaxxers COVID-19, 5G, lockdowns and then the COVID vaccines gave them the chance to play rebel and increase their following without facing up to the reality that they in turn were a means for others and not a solution.

They have both revelled in the thrill of being taken seriously whilst ignoring the inescapable adage that nothing is forever. From Hafemeister gushing about “We are not government property” painted on the Vaxxed II bus to Dorey’s frenetic rants about fascist dictators that I posted in The Hill We Die On, they have laid a rebellious veneer over the anti-vaccine reality. The opening slug of that post quoted Dorey as follows;

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

The audio of Dorey in the post contains far more intense pseudo-revolutionary, anti-government ranting than the above. Hafemeister’s live videos are filled with “we the people” rhetoric mocking government health policy. A rhetoric that consistently pushes the fallacy of a vaccine injury epidemic that the AVN works against “the system” to solve. In truth both these women are secure white upper middle class individuals with very comfortable, entitled, privileged lives. It’s this very privilege and comfort that allows them to invent and internalise huge problems that don’t exist. Their present lives are spent in elaborate role play.

This was confirmed a number of times during last year’s Vaxxed II bus tour. Despite promises to metaphorically storm the Bastille, and literally die or be free Dorey and Hafemeister meekly complied with requests to move their elaborate show elsewhere. Without exception. Without as much as a shaken fist. The promised revolution shrivelled to behind keyboard attacks on Lord Mayors, councillors and business owners who had dared “suppress” them. AVN members were and are constantly exploited in these endeavours. They are fed contact details of targets and often provided with a template response. Abusive tweets and sabotage of Facebook pages is the norm. Accepting that these responses are excessive is not something the AVN does.

All of this rhetoric, posturing and role playing helps us grasp why the AVN announced its departure from Facebook at the time they did and in the way they did. It was just over a week since the riot and breach of the US Capitol [Wikipedia]. Significant changes had occurred on Twitter and Facebook with Trump’s accounts being permanently suspended and his violent followers being banned. The right wing extremist and fascist hosting platform Parler had been dumped from app stores and deleted from Amazon. It has not yet returned. Much to their frustration the AVN was left happily unmolested. Even Dorey’s very pro Trump “they-stole-the-election” Twitter feed was untouched. When it comes to anti-authoritarianism they just ‘aint bad enough to be Zucked permanently. If they weren’t going to be pushed they could always jump. So they did.

It was the ideal time to leave. They could seize upon the energy following the banning of dangerous accounts and important identities. For bad ass anti-vax revolutionaries it isn’t just what you leave but where you go that matters. The AVN announcement offered a list of alternatives where they would set up shop. These were Telegram, Parler, Gab, MeWe, Brighteon Social and Twitter with videos being posted at YouTube, Brighteon, Bitchute and Rumble. Most of these groups will permit unchallenged falsehoods to be published as “news” and “fact” under the guise of “freedom of speech”. Compare this rubbish from AVN’s Gab page (vaccine kills 24) with the actual reports (COVID kills 24). One can plainly see why fact checking and mainstream media don’t fit their plans.

The AVN also mentioned in their email that Telegram was under threat of being deplatformed, but omitted the reason. Following Parler’s ban the encrypted messaging app had become the default platform for radical nationalists. Telegram channels had long been used by potentially violent elements. Telegram was under pressure to act and finally removed Neo-Nazi and extremist channels. The move was a no-brainer for Telegram which was gaining tens of millions of new users thanks to the confusion over WhatsApp’s upcoming changes to its privacy policy.

One wonders at the wisdom of six different social media platforms and four video sites. It’s excessive but these platforms offer the AVN more exposure, potentially more recruits and thus more members. They seem to be settling in to Telegram and Gab (using their past name Australian Vaccination Network), the latter accomodating large numbers of Trump supporters. Gab is similar to Parler in that it is a haven for right wing extremism and hate speech. It was dumped by GoDaddy in late October 2018 after a member was involved in a synagogue shooting. The domain was then registered by Epik. It has been reported that Gab now rents server hardware.

The AVN’s Twitter and Parler accounts are unique to the group whilst Meryl Dorey also has Parler, Twitter and Facebook accounts. These accounts provide insight into how genuine the move from Facebook may be. On 25 September 2020 on what is the AVN Twitter account they announced;

The AVN has just set up a page on [Brighteon]. If you can join us there, it means that we can actually leave Facebook and its censorship, far, far behind! Please share this link as widely as you can too. Show Zuckerberg hs is very replaceable! [Screenshot]

Dorey leaving Facebook for Parler

Then on 5 December 2020 Dorey announced (left) she was leaving her personal Facebook account for Parler. She was tired of “the censorship, the abuse from FaceBook itself and the constant fact-less checks”.

Meryl would no longer be posting or responding to anything on Facebook. However she was back in four weeks by 1 January 2021 – before Parler was deplatformed. Indeed a quick check confirms she was “responding” to another commenter on her page earlier today. The post to the left has been deleted.

Meryl Dorey is still the face of AVN and wears whatever colours seem to get the attention she desires. COVID-19 is a hoax, a ‘scamdemic’ perpetrated by governments to enable control of the population. Yet she is an adamant supporter of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 and those right wing commentators who claim it is being suppressed. Her Twitter profile (@nocompulsoryvac) features a photo of Donald Trump and she tweets and retweets in support of the notion the US election was stolen. She supports COVID conspiracist, Dr. Simone Gold and posts common themes of COVID misinformation. Some of her tweets are in the slide show below. The same themes featured in Parler in December 2020 and continue on the AVN’s current Twitter account and Dorey’s personal Facebook page. The image from Gab would have been promptly fact-checked on Facebook.

  • covid misinformation
  • avn tweet brighteon
  • avn post on gab

By quitting Facebook with as much fanfare as possible the AVN can associate itself with genuine anti-government forces on social media. Aneeta Hafemeister and particularly Meryl Dorey can envelope themselves in a controversy that is not of their making and has zero to do with them. In time their narrative can bend to accomodate claims that they, and many others, were forced to leave Facebook at the time of the US Capitol riots. In the case of the AVN they will now claim they were forced to make the choice.

The reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic drew unforeseen attention and numbers to the anti-vax cause. Anti-vaccine media coverage increased by 900% from March to May 2020. It is highly unlikely anything like this will be repeated although it is also a wave with ongoing energy. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the Trump election fiasco and the US Capitol riot have continued to motivate a disparate conspiracy-loving demographic. Nonetheless the AVN had begun to witness a decrease in Facebook attendance which they blamed on supposed censorship.

Both Hafemeister and Dorey have easily embraced unrelated dynamics to fit their role play. The impetus for the changes in social media were unmistakably due to events that occurred in Washington D.C. and had the specific aim of restricting organised and potentially violent episodes on behalf of Donald Trump and his claim of election fraud. For Meryl Dorey however the issue was the need to be a source of vaccine and medical information. For both, it’s an opportunity to exploit AVN members and perhaps turn the events to their own profit.

In the audio outtakes below from UTW 16 January 2021 we hear Dorey open by telling viewers that;

Here in our bunker we are on a war footing and that is only a slight overstatement because actually the entire world of social media, most governments and certainly the medical community and the media are at war with the truth. So we are your home at the present time, while we’re allowed to be, for the truth about vaccines and medical practices that you need to be aware of.

Yes, indeed.

Nonetheless, it’s now time to say goodbye from the bunker. You can download the MP3 here [1.5MB] or listen below to farewell AVN’s Facebook days… sort of.

An unedited 5 1/2 min from the opening is available here [4.6MB] for those interested in the unblemished truth from which the outtakes above are taken. It does offer insight into how Meryl tries to convince members to cancel any Amazon subscriptions, as she did, because she can’t abide censorship. She’s not going to tell them what to do but if they’re Amazon subscribers they might want to consider doing the same sort of thing. Subtle.

One awaits further AVN social media developments with interest.

♦︎ 8:00 PM 4 February 2021: AVN publish newsletter stating the 30 day ban was due to the most recent UTW episode of 30 January 2021 which is still available on the Facebook page.


Latest update: 9 Feb. 2021

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Losers, loss and denying evidence in 2020

Losers. 2020 has seen a lot of them.

Whether genuine loss, disadvantage through the actions of others or continuing a failing streak, this year has served up a global platter. The COVID-19 pandemic has dictated that when it comes to denial of evidence SARS-CoV-2, its spread and how we managed the fallout were topics of choice. Conspiracies ran wild and we were even confronted with an infodemic. As usual so many who gain entry to these troubled pages are full throttle in a failing streak but convinced they have a winning strategy.

Denial of evidence may effect one in a small way. Such as rejecting the scientific consensus on the necessity of multi-vitamins and continuing to pay for expensive urine. Using vitamins or herbs to manage or “cure” an illness or injury can carry more serious implications. Not least being the shift in critical thinking that permits one to embrace an anti-science ideology, perhaps without initially realising this. Continuing to reject the scientific consensus on alternatives to medicine, one may ultimately delay seeking genuine medicine for a serious and ultimately terminal condition. Or refuse vaccination to prevent a nasty, harmful and potentially lethal condition.

Losers who believe they are on a winning streak inevitably ensure loss and disadvantage for the gullible who believe what they say or sadly for the innocents who rely on their judgement for health and wellbeing. The anti-vaccination movement continued unabated this year and swelled into a truly awful beast once it fed on COVID-19 disinformation. Necessary restrictions on crowd size and movement provided the ideal template for those already peddling terms like “health fascism” to insist the entire pandemic was a plot to control the population.

Of course this was a first world trend. Thanks to the positive impact of effective public health policies, education, medicine, law, public order and available media, quality of life is high. So high in fact we can invent faux abuses of our rights. Long before Karen from Brighton ignored travel restrictions because she had “walked all the streets” of that upper class suburb the notion of enduring lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19 was too much for self appointed freedom warriors. Social media losers vented their manufactured angst. Yet with our quality of life so good, a government that failed most frequently in climate policy and a P.M. who crept off to Hawaii during Australia’s bushfire crisis, it took months before ‘freedom day’ protestors gained attention. Even then it was for being deceptive in the making of their crisis.

Speaking of pretending life is tough, one term that kept popping up in anti-vaccine member emails was a favourite from AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister. “Show up. Speak up. Be brave.” The email linked to above was sent to members in mid January and peddled disinformation that the WHO had questioned vaccine safety. This calculated move involved the use of the WHO logo in the AVN press release. In fact Prof. Heidi Larson, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project had spoken at the global vaccine summit in December 2019. The AVN selectively misrepresented what she said to convey a false impression.

On February 3rd the WHO legal counsel wrote to the AVN warning them to stop using the logo and to make it clear the press release was not approved by the WHO. In what would become a signature move for the AVN over 2020 they cowered into submission removing the press release and posting the WHO letter on their site. This was accompanied by standard antivax rhetoric and the claim that they had “responded” to the WHO. Members would be kept informed of “all correspondence”. But of course the WHO would never reply to their delirious mandates. Nor, later in the year, did any of the councils, parks or a business that banned their bus.

Hafemeister’s quote on being brave hadn’t really hit home at AVN Central it seems although it continued in member emails. Hafemeister would take her quotes to bizarre levels. In a May Facebook video promoting the AVN Vaxxed bus she went so far as to voice the worn out anti-vaxxer quote from Margaret Mead. Hit the audio button below or delight in the MP3 file.

“So never doubt that a small group of people can change the world because indeed it is the only thing that ever has”. AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister May 31st 2020.

There’s little point restating the AVN’s exploitation of those who have lost a loved one to death or injury and are vulnerable to the ‘vaccine injury’ profit machine. You can delve into the reality behind the scheme here and marvel at the scope of the delusion on sale here. Meryl Dorey scored extra points for claiming in April that her personal opinion was that viruses could only be transmitted by injection, then deleting the comment once it was made public.

The politicisation of hydroxychloroquine began on the back of Donald Trump’s endorsement of the drug. Despite a number of studies demonstrating cardiac problems linked to the drug shortly after and ultimately refuting its worth [2] the “triumph of hope over facts” continues on Twitter and elsewhere. It seems to be linked to denial of evidence supporting lockdowns and the use of PCR. A strong supporter of Trump and hydroxychloroquine is Chris Kenny of Sky News. Kenny is a stand out loser in our apparently lucky country. He has spent an inordinate amount of time this year launching attack after attack on Paul Barry, Media Watch and the ABC.

I covered this back in May and had a good look at Kenny’s flawed defence of hydroxychloroquine. His argument was simple. There are studies not yet finished. Thus Paul Barry who, Kenny repeats ad nauseam, hosts the most expensive 15 minutes of TV in Australia should apologise to his audience who, he also repeats ad nauseam, pay for the show. Kenny wrongly kept referring to a QLD study. The study however is looking into a very specific application of hydroxychloroquine for healthy young health professionals as a preventive measure. It is not studying the impact of treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine. Kenny should be the one apologising.

In May he claimed “Barry and Media Watch preach global warming alarmism, promote leftist climate policies [and] defend the ABC”. Well. That does sound a lot like presenting the evidence News Corp tends to suppress. All this was part of an attempt to accuse Paul Barry of holding a biased opinion against George Pell despite his successful appeal. At the time I pointed out that Barry was the only journalist to argue that claiming Pell had simply been found “not guilty” was flawed. Barry argued that as one is innocent until proven guilty Pell was in fact innocent. Kenny however had taken a statement of Barry’s out of context and informed Sky viewers, “How about that for fairness and courage? What a whimp“.

It was a low point for Kenny who promotes himself as an arbiter of the ABC and Media Watch. As I covered back in May, Paul Barry had not only defended Pell but had soundly criticised the ABC for biased reporting on the topic in certain areas on certain shows. Well surprise! On 18 December Kenny presented his latest episode attacking the ABC. It included unsubstantiated comments about ABC bias toward Pell. One of the clips Kenny used to support this was the part of the Media Watch segment I’d cited in which Barry highlights the failure of Louise Milligan and Four Corners to report on Pell’s defence. This again shows Kenny to be biased in selection of material and deceptive in its omission.

Episodes of The Kenny Report (2020) devoted to attacking the ABC and Paul Barry have reached twenty that I know of since April. One included citing Alan Jones’ praise for hydroxychloroquine. That’s a handy introduction as Jones deserves a mention for appearing on Pete Evans’ podcast for a lengthy interview. You may subject yourself to the podcast here. It perhaps goes without saying that there’s enough on Pete Evans being an enemy of reason this year to satisfy the greatest of curiosities. There’s nothing I can add to it.

Judy Wilyman however. Well that’s a different story. She featured quite a lot supporting pretty much every COVID conspiracy going. Hosting service of her newsletters, Mailchimp, had clearly had enough. They closed her account and deleted all of her archived newsletters. Judy was not happy. Many others were delighted schadenfreude style. Wilyman claims COVID is a hoax and for years knew such a scam was coming. Perhaps most bizarre was the Natural and Common Law Tribunal for Public Health and Justice on which she sat as a judge. Using the International Criminal Code this group indicted most world leaders, international banks and entertainment companies, developers, inventors, etc, etc.

The 108 page indictment is too long for this post but some observations on Wilyman are crucial. On page 100 we learn that Prince Charles, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Google and Ray Kurzweil are involved in creating a;

5G/AI artificial intelligence Coronavirus as a nanoparticle energy weapon [delivering] remote energy virus, virus, bacteria or other form of artificial intelligence induced remote directed energy weapon as part of a 5G/AI Coronavirus Genocide….

And that they;

…are entrained by and in criminal co-conspiracy with PPAI, a sentient Off-planet, predatory, pathogenic, invading Inorganic AI Artificial Intelligence, and are “entrained AI proxies, AI hosts, and AI sponsors” in creating and maintaining the 5G/AI Coronavirus Genocide that is causing imminent and irreparable harm to all human beings similarly situated.

Also these villains;

…appear to be among the key PPAI-entrained AI proxies, AI hosts, and AI sponsors for the sentient Off- planet, predatory, pathogenic, invading Inorganic AI Artificial Intelligence.

And I thought Musk’s greatest crime was naming his child.

Prince Charles also apparently covered up the invading alien intelligence and had the British Royal Society investigate potential problems with nanotechnology. This led to some media chatter about gray goo. The British Royal Society concluded in 2004 that such technology was too far in the future to be a problem worthy of present concern. Ergo, we were duped and horror awaits us.

Wilyman actually published this article about the tribunal on her site at the time. It was later deleted. It’s worth speculating as to why. Perhaps Brian Martin who has published two papers defending her from accusations of conspiracy theory thinking advised her to think it over. Also one James Lyons-Weiler who publishes antivax articles is keen to promote a scholarly face with antivax ’studies’. He endorsed Wilyman’s work in December last year and was the praise-singing, reviewing editor of her most recent publication, ‘Misapplication of the Precautionary Principle has Misplaced the Burden of Proof of Vaccine Safety’.

US resident Lyons-Weiler deserves a mention for his November 2020 paper contending that vaccinated children are less healthy than unvaccinated. Manifest flaws with key methodology are presented here. The AVN donated US $5,000 to this project. The money had come from donations for previous projects such as a promised High Court challenge to the No Jab No Pay legislation. The remaining float was just under AU $80,000. In a February 2019 email they urged members to donate to a GoFundMe page to help fund the study. It’s worth noting that funds raised for a purported challenge to Australian legislation were ultimately given to a US anti-vaxxer to help fund his US based project.

Brian Martin must surely be mentioned for evidence denial in 2020 thanks to publication of his paper Dealing with Conspiracy Theory Attributions in April this year. It focuses on defending both Judy Wilyman and the AVN from having conspiracy theories “attributed” to them. Granted these are very specific conspiracy theories and his publication is, shall we say, unique. However Brian still fails to grasp the larger issues of academic veracity and intellectual honesty involved here. Issues of public health sabotage aren’t quite ready for semi-philosophical musing.

Judy Mikovits and her appalling Plandemic scam must of course be mentioned. Not least because despite heroic efforts to convince critics of the validity of her claims so many were able to be deemed fake as soon as she spoke. For example her reliance on the study of Greg Wolfe was tacky. Claiming his research supported her contention was demonstrably fallacious. His research sample was during the 2017-2018 winter. Long before COVID-19 was detected. He later wrote a Letter to the Editor stressing the error of anti-vaccine claims. Of her claims.

A special mention must go to all those who have misrepresented the risk of COVID-19 vaccines before distribution but particularly after. Cases of anaphylaxis were rare given the total number of vaccinations. One wonders how the anti-vaccine lobby would react if peanut butter sandwiches were rolled out to the same population. The mysterious-cannot-be-found Khalilah Mitchell, RN with Bell’s Palsy was so clearly suspicious I wondered at why it was picked up so quickly.

There are so many I would like to mention but time does not permit. Do visit the many fact checking publications and sites that are available.

Of course, there’s always next year.

  • Video: A Song for Anti-vaxxers by Flo & Joan

Last update: 1 Jan. 2021

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AstraZeneca problems don’t confirm anti-vax theories

Last week AstraZeneca announced demonstrated varying efficacy in two different dosing regimens of its candidate COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222 (ChAdOx1 nCOV-19).

In a November 23rd press release [PDF] the company announced efficacy of 90% when AZD1222 was given as a half dose and followed by a full dose at least one month later. This sample group had 2,741 subjects. Vaccine efficacy of 62% was evident when two full doses of AZD1222 were given at least one month apart. This was observed in a sample group of 8,895. They also announced a “combined efficacy” averaging 70% in a sample of 11,636.

Problems emerge

Whilst this sounded like a positive outcome it soon became apparent that the Oxford-AstraZeneca team still had hurdles to clear. It emerged later that the dose regimen yielding efficacy of 90% was given by mistake. This wasn’t made clear in the press release. The first dose should have been a full dose but due to a “manufacturing issue” only half of the expected dose was given. Regulators were told at the time and agreed the trial could continue with the immunisation of more volunteers. It is problematic that the trial wasn’t designed to test this regimen and less than 3,000 subjects aged 55 or less were involved. In order to validate the results another study examining the efficacy of the regimen will take place.

The other problem was the notion of “combined efficacy”. These data come from two different trials with different dosing regimens. One trial arm in the UK began in May. The Brazilian trial arm began in late June. So this information has not come from a single large Phase III trial as was the case with Pfizer and Moderna. Averaging efficacy from two different trials to yield “combined efficacy” of 70% is not acceptable. This doesn’t provide a sound assessment of what level of efficacy, or regimen, the public can expect. So again, further trials are needed. Also press release is not the vehicle to present scientific information and the AstraZeneca issue is an example of how problematic this can be. Study specifics that have been peer reviewed carry far more weight.

Media coverage

Which raises a point made by Norman Swan on today’s Coronacast that rumours are circulating, apparently with very little confirmation, that suggest Oxford-AstraZeneca are rushing to publish. He referred to a Financial times article which reported on Saturday;

Regulators and the rest of the world will soon have the full data. The Oxford academics who developed the vaccine have submitted a paper setting out their full Phase 3 results to The Lancet medical journal. They will be working over the weekend to answer questions from the journal and its referees and the article could be published as early as Thursday [UK time].

Concern and criticism about transparency and trust has been raised, particularly in the USA. Natalie E. Dean, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida posted a series of tweets on November 25th. Apart from transparency, concern about scientific rigour was raised. Her tweets included;

AstraZeneca/Oxford get a poor grade for transparency and rigor when it comes to the vaccine trial results they have reported. This is not like Pfizer or Moderna where we had the protocols in advance and a pre-specified primary analysis was reported.

The point about protocols in advance, along with the fact that AstraZeneca was one of nine vaccine makers to sign a scientific rigour pledge in September was raised in a highly critical article by Hilda Bastian writing in Wired. The article goes into the Phase III trial arms in depth and the manner in which Oxford-AstraZeneca has deviated from their trial protocol. Comparisons are made to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine at 90% efficacy and the Moderna vaccine at almost 95% efficacy. Bastian certainly casts them in a positive light. These two companies use messenger-RNA as the vector in their COVID-19 vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca use an adenovirus vector in their vaccine. How variously each approach effects COVID-19 vaccine efficacy is presently unknown. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine results were also made public by press release. 

It’s important to note that the FDA has argued a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to be useful in combating the pandemic. Whilst concern has been raised about the AstraZeneca situation it is over efficacy and not safety. The fact that regulators will accept an efficacy of at least 50% was noted by Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president for research, who dismissed concerns. AstraZeneca also want to alter the specifics of the US trial under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed. The aim is to change the two full dose regimen to a half dose, full dose regimen.

Certainly further successful trials are well within AstraZenecas grasp. The BMJ recently published COVID-19 vaccines: where are the data? The article examines the position of the three recent candidate vaccines and what is expected through peer-reviewed publication. The UK government has asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to evaluate authorising supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The cold chain needs of each vaccine vary. The Pfizer candidate requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius. This alone provides a challenge difficult to meet in developed nations and impossible in nations without significant infrastructure. Moderna’s candidate vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius meeting most pharmacy and hospital freezer temperatures but providing transport challenges for developing nations.  Moderna claims that after thawing the vaccine will remain stable for up to 30 days at 2 – 8 degrees Celsius. AstraZenecas candidate can be stored in a normal refrigerator at 2 – 8 degrees Celsius and thus meets conditions in present healthcare settings and realistic options in developing nations. A successful outcome for Oxford-AstraZeneca is significant for the management of a global pandemic.

Back to Norman Swan of Coronacast;

And remember, this is a vaccine that they promised not to make profits out of, that is cheap and they are committed to giving very large doses, I think something enormous like a third of the world’s doses of vaccines are relying on AstraZeneca. So there’s a lot riding on this vaccine.

Anti-vaccination lobby

The anti-vaccination community have taken the challenges faced by AstraZeneca as more evidence Big Pharma is always up to no good. A recent AVN Facebook post observed that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let drug companies release their own study information without independent oversight.

AVN on AstraZeneca

So again we might consult the press release. It includes (para 3);

An independent Data Safety Monitoring Board determined that the analysis met its primary endpoint showing protection from COVID-19 occurring 14 days or more after receiving two doses of the vaccine. No serious safety events related to the vaccine have been confirmed. AZD1222 was well tolerated across both dosing regimens.

Reading information on the AstraZeneca board we see;

Our Directors are collectively responsible for the success of AstraZeneca. In addition, the Non-Executive Directors are responsible for exercising independent and objective judgement and for scrutinising and challenging management.

Quickly scattering the seeds of disinformation in this manner is what the AVN always do. One expects this manipulation of their members. What I’m more interested in is the inability of the group to acknowledge that the focus on COVID-19 vaccine development has revealed a number of long standing claims to be false. In September I posted on how the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial pause alone refuted long standing anti-vaccine claims. Namely transparent mainstream media coverage and the documented process of Phase III trials. Despite the ample criticism of AstraZeneca’s handling of data the AVN are even further from defending their claims than they were in September.

As a quick reminder it is the claim that vaccine manufacturers do not assess the safety or efficacy of vaccines. Ever. Added to this is the strange insistence that a placebo must always be inert. Let’s revisit quotes promoting these errors. Given that the COVID-19 candidates are new vaccines the following quote published in a response to a journalist is particularly relevant. See Proposition 4;

…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced. 

This piece on HPV is highly misleading. Yet it’s the claim in the second paragraph under Safety In Question I find compelling;

By definition, a placebo must be a totally inert substance which will never provoke a response.

That definition might be fine for the “sugar pill” placebo. As in when we think of the “placebo effect”. Yet in vaccine trials it is more important to sustain the double blind nature of the trial. Simply put a subject must not know what group they are in. The AVN are anti-HPV vaccination. Gardasil trials have used the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant, or AAHS as placebo. This, unlike saline, produces an injection site effect like a genuine vaccine. Thus members of the placebo group and those administering the dose are unaware they have received or given the placebo. The randomised double blind nature of the trial is preserved.

Double blind randomised control trials are what Meryl Dorey, founder of the AVN calls “the gold standard” insisting they are ignored in vaccine research. The claim is part of the AVN Did You Know? leaflet. In this case demanding only inert placebos be used helps to both refute the value of trials and contend a heavy metal neurological injury is potentially caused by adjuvant placebos. The impact of this rhetoric can be seen below in an image of an interviewee on the Vaxxed II bus (27 Nov. 2020). Her T-Shirt has the words “gold standard science” and “inert saline placebos” amongst others written on it in Texta.

Finally as discussed in this article, by contending that no vaccine trials using saline placebos have ever been conducted the insistence that vaccines are primed to harm persists. It’s a simple no true Scotsman anti-vaccine fallacy. Also when saline is used as the placebo in an HPV vaccine trial, there really is nowhere to hide. Vaccine studies using saline placebos abound. Period.

t-shirt with anti-vax wording

AVN devotee wearing T-shirt demanding ‘inert saline placebo’ trials

As it happens saline has been used in the USA arm of the AstraZeneca Phase III trials. In other groups a meningococcal vaccine is given as placebo. This won’t only create an injection site effect but a general feeling in line with being vaccinated. Not being aware they are receiving a placebo ensures subjects don’t introduce an unexpected variable to the trial. This fact, and the ethical nature of the approach is discussed in a well written article here. Finally in establishing the safety of vaccines a more convincing and in depth picture is gained through the application of more than just placebo controlled studies.

Conclusion

The more we see of Phase III trials for COVID-19 candidates, whether they be immediately accepted or controversial, the greater the refutation of the above anti-vaccine tropes. Senior members of the AVN are reading material that describes Phase III trials and their testing of both safety and efficacy. The above claim that double blind, placebo controlled trials don’t exist, “even when a new vaccine is introduced” still exists on the AVN website and in discussion. In the bright light of facts this is a true measure of the group.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca AZD1222 results have been met, understandably, with specific criticism. This relates to efficacy only. Safety is not being questioned. Some media reports have hinted that AstraZeneca will have difficulty getting the vaccine regulated for emergency use in the USA based on present data. Further, larger studies are needed to establish the veracity of the 90% efficacy finding in the smaller sample given a half dose followed by a full dose. This is entirely within reach of AstraZeneca.

Given the unscientific notion of a “combined efficacy” of 70% it is within AstraZeneca’s interests to pursue further research. Indeed everything being equal one may hope that the “combined efficacy” rate is not reinforced with further research. As STAT reported;

If it’s 70%, then we’ve got a dilemma,” said Fauci. “Because what are you going to do with the 70% when you’ve got two [vaccines] that are 95%? Who are you going to give a vaccine like that to?

AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 vaccine has enormous potential. The low cost, cold chain specifics and the company’s offer to not profit from the vaccine meets a global imperative for pandemic recovery. What the scientific community and the public need to see is a large robust Phase III trial that reproduces efficacy in the region of 90%. 

 


References:

COVID-19 vaccines: where are the data? – BMJ

After admitting mistake AstraZeneca faces difficult questions about its vaccine – NYT

Oxford COVID vaccine: regulator asked to assess jab – BBC

Australia’s Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine choice questioned as experts highlight ‘shaky’ science – ABC

Pfizer vaccine: what an efficacy rate above 90% really means – The Conversation

Moderna’s trial data shows its COVID-19 vaccine nears 95% efficacy – ABC

Placebo use in vaccine trials: Recommendations of a WHO expert panel – NCBI

There are no vaccines with saline placebo? – Vaccines Work blog

Last Update: 1 Dec. 2020

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Coronavirus pandemic prompts increased transparency of drug companies

The unprecedented nature of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic has begun to influence the transparency of drug company trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

On September 17th The New York Times reported that Moderna and Pfizer were releasing the protocols that describe the trial process to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. On September 19th they reported that AstraZeneca had done the same. This heralds a significant change on the part of drug companies. Although in practice complex vaccine trial protocols would need to be interpreted by say, science journalists, in order to be understood by the wider public particularly given the multicultural nature of today’s communities in developed nations.  [See references below for protocols]

As trials have progressed to Phase III in which data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines are collated, the interest of the public has grown significantly. Intense media attention surrounded the recent pause of the Phase III trial of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with scientists from Oxford University. Not surprisingly public interest has turned to pressure for more transparency as to how trials are conducted.

From July 24th to August 7th Ipsos surveyed respondents from 27 countries [PDF] on attitudes toward a COVID-19 vaccine. 74% of respondents said they would have a vaccine if it was available. The most common reason for rejecting the vaccine was concern over side effects (56%). This was followed by doubt of its effectiveness (29%). The importance of transparency surrounding Phase III trials is confirmed by the weight of these two reasons for rejecting the vaccine.

These vaccines are being developed rapidly under the gaze of a public that expects at some time to be given such a vaccine. It’s understandable that anxiety surrounding both efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines existed long before the specifics of Phase III trials became public. That those specifics have become better understood due to an issue with safety does raise matters of trust within the public.

Of course the increased attention over safety and efficacy would never have arisen during development of the many so-called “alternatives” to regulated vaccines. Alternative products are not subject to reliable scrutiny and as such the acute and chronic effects are in fact undocumented or unknown. The safety and efficacy of such listed (as opposed to regulated) therapeutic products is almost always merely assumed.

Establishing trust between the public and the government and health authorities is important. Increased transparency of vaccine trials will help promote trust. Sustaining trust is significantly reliant on clear information and explanation of complicated issues that raise public concern. This is particularly true in the present environment where changing evidence may come across as inconsistency and if left unacknowledged may lead to suspicion. The proper interpretation and presentation of available information is essential.

Normally data gathered during a trial are published after the trial. However the dynamic nature of COVID-19 vaccine development and the global impact of this pandemic have already changed what may be considered normal. Added to this is information that is leaking out. The Oxford trial has recommenced on the advice of an independent safety committee. AstraZeneca announced that they “had not confirmed a diagnosis” of transverse myelitis in the study volunteer.

What has also recently become apparent is that the study was paused in July after a male volunteer who had received one dose of the vaccine developed transverse myelitis. See page 10 of this participant information sheet. There was a review by independent experts. The trial resumed after it was determined that the individual had a previously undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis unrelated to the vaccine. Still, there was a persistent concern that AstraZeneca had not revealed in detail what had happened to the woman whose significant neurological symptoms led to the most recent trial pause.

On the September 14th edition of The Health Report Dr. Norman Swan interviewed Professor Bruce Neal, Executive Director of the George Institute Australia. The occasion was to discuss the launch of a project called Join Us. A challenging issue about Phase III trials is that drug or vaccine development may stall or fail due to lack of suitable participants. This isn’t due to drop out or resistance. Rather the cost and administrative difficulty of finding suitable participants is significant. Join Us aims to secure pre-consent to trials of a certain nature.

Whilst that’s interesting information about trials, Swan also asked Professor Neal about his thoughts on the reluctance of AstraZeneca to reveal details about the woman responsible for the second pause of the Phase III trial. Neal considered reasons to release more information. It would give a heads up to other researchers around the globe allowing them to “provide input and information into it”. However he also noted that releasing such information midway through a trial may have negative consequences.

There may be confidentiality issues as such a “severe unusual event” might lead to patient identity being leaked. Perhaps most interestingly was the observation that the trial may well end with a conclusion that the event was not an issue related to the vaccine. By then the damage is done. The public have already internalised the notion of a negative side effect. The media effort to reverse that belief is not likely to be successful.

Professor Neal stated;

And so the media surrounding the announcement of something like that is going to retain much more prominence probably than the media that tries to reel that back in and say, look, actually it wasn’t an issue. And that could have ramifications down the track when you try to get people to take the vaccine.

It’s important to note that the FDA has not allowed the AstraZeneca trial to resume in the US. The National Institutes of Health stated that it remains to be seen if the illnesses are coincidental and that, “pausing to allow for further evaluation is consistent with standard practice”.

Understandably some health professionals in the US remain concerned. Whilst investors were told of the second problem it has become clear that the company did not immediately alert the F.D.A. and advise them of the independent safety board’s recommendation to pause the trial. Virologist Dr. Peter Jay Hotez based at Houston’s Baylor college of Medicine has not been impressed. He claimed communication has been “horrible and unacceptable” citing the failure of UK regulators to provide rationale for resumption of the trial.

The New York Times also reported;

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the F.D.A.’s advisory committee on vaccines, said that it’s unclear how the company — or the U.K. government — determined that the second case was not related to the vaccine.

Offit has also noted that the rarity of transverse myelitis in the general public has not been reflected in the UK trial population. The extra caution we are seeing in the US is reason for the public to have increased confidence in the influence regulators have over the safety of vaccine trials. Consequently there is reason for the public to be less anxious about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines that are eventually marketed. Given that independent safety experts in the UK have advised it is safe for the Oxford trial to resume it will be very interesting to see what further evaluation by US authorities concludes.

There has been research into immunisation and the likelihood of subsequent development of transverse myelitis (TM) and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Key points from the 2016 paper Acute Demyelinating Events Following Vaccines: A Case-Centered Analysis are as follows;

Results: Following nearly 64 million vaccine doses, only 7 cases of TM and 8 cases of ADEM were vaccinated during the primary exposure window 5-28 days prior to onset. For TM, there was no statistically significant increased risk of immunization. For ADEM, there was no statistically significant increased risk following any vaccine except for Tdap (adolescent and adult tetanus, reduced diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine. […]

Conclusions: We found no association between TM and prior immunization. There was a possible association of ADEM with Tdap vaccine, but the excess risk is not likely to be more than 1.16 cases of ADEM per million vaccines administered.

Acknowledging vaccine safety concerns as a cause of vaccine hesitancy, in July this year Nicola Principi and Susanna Esposito published a narrative review, Do Vaccines Have a Role as a Cause Of Autoimmune Neurological Syndromes?

The authors wrote in part in their abstract;

Only well-conducted epidemiological studies with adequate evaluation of results can clarify whether a true association between vaccines and adverse event development truly exists. Autoimmune neurological syndromes that follow vaccine use are among these. […]

Literature analysis showed that most of the associations between vaccines and nervous system autoimmune syndromes that have been reported as severe adverse events following immunization are no longer evidenced when well-conducted epidemiological studies are carried out. Although the rarity of autoimmune diseases makes it difficult to strictly exclude that, albeit exceptionally, some vaccines may induce an autoimmune neurological disease, no definitive demonstration of a potential role of vaccines in causing autoimmune neurological syndromes is presently available. Consequently, the fear of neurological autoimmune disease cannot limit the use of the most important preventive measure presently available against infectious diseases.

The Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University logically argues that a number of vaccines “may prevent transverse myelitis”. The institute published Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? Last updated September 18th 2020 the article opens with the conclusion;

Natural viral infections with influenza, hepatitis A, measles, mumps and rubella and varicella have all been associated with myelitis, albeit rarely. Thus, these viral vaccines may prevent transverse myelitis by protecting against natural infection. Vaccines currently routinely recommended to the general population in the U.S. have not been shown to cause transverse myelitis.

Ultimately this research in conjunction with the cautious US approach at present does not support a contention of general recklessness in the production of this vaccine or of other potential COVID-19 vaccines.

This dynamic provides yet another blow to anti-vaccination conspiracies. Namely the contention that there is collusion between drug companies and health regulators to suppress the supposedly inherent dangers of vaccines that anti-vaxxers wrongly insist lead to an abundance of vaccine injuries. More so Dr. Paul Offit has been derided, verbally attacked and threatened by the global anti-vaccine lobby for many years as a callous profiteer of vaccines. Yet he has constantly raised a voice of caution to ensure safe COVID-19 vaccine development.

It is certain that placing the AstraZeneca trial on hold following advice from the F.D.A. is not a unique event. Rather the fact that measures employed to control the current pandemic are being played out before the public in real time has provided insight into events that are usually ignored. In the previous post I listed some other aspects of anti-vaccine conspiracy that simply cannot be sustained following media reports of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Phase III trial pause. Even cursory attention to the details of this trial has exposed the dishonesty of anti-vaxxer claims.

Well before the trial pause led to media attention, public anxiety and now transparency of drug companies, the importance of trust in accepting a COVID-19 vaccine had been raised in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a significant mistake with respect to public confidence in vaccine development and uptake. In August he announced that Australia had signed a deal to produce the vaccine being developed at Oxford University if Phase III trials were successful.

His mistake was to add that it would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it”. Morrison realised the mistake and in under a day had produced the anticipated walk back. Nonetheless the many anti-science and anti-reason groups that are feverishly misrepresenting the motives of governments and health authorities during this pandemic were delighted. Within hours of Morrison’s announcement the AVN published a video mocking the notion of “safe and effective” vaccines whilst contending they “had always known this was coming”.

There were of course no “walk backs” from the AVN when Morrison corrected his position. Pushing fear of mandatory vaccination has always translated to profit for this group and Scott Morrison had done them a favour. Say no to mandatory vaccination read the back of a T-Shirt weeks later in Perth during Australia-wide “solidarity” rallies. Messages on social media continue in the same vein. Still, the reality is that messages and memes on mandatory vaccination would be common had Scott Morrison made no such statement.

Any harm done to the uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia is likely negligible. A survey conducted in April found that just under 86% of Australians aged over 18 would get a COVID-19 vaccine. 4.9% would not whilst 9.4% were indifferent. These figures are promising but were collated before the widely publicised pause in the AstraZeneca trial and increased public reflection on the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine. Survey responses were to the statement, If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, I will get it.

Ipsos published their global attitudes results on September 1st, indicating an 88% uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia. 59% strongly agree and 28% somewhat agree with the statement, If a vaccine for COVID-19 were available, I would get it. Only China and Brazil were more likely to accept a vaccine. These figures were also collated before the pause in the AstraZeneca trial. Follow this link to read Key Findings for Australia.

Another area that’s causing anxiety is the posturing of Donald Trump toward authorising a COVID-19 vaccine before the upcoming election. Consider the measure of Trump for a moment. He will tempt the voters with the promise of a vaccine in weeks. However it is more realistic to expect a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in months. These promises demand a disregard for vaccine safety. Yet in March 2014 Trump was tweeting in support of the mythical vaccine/autism link, a bogus view that bemoans a lack of vaccine safety. After the last election, research fraud and vaccine/autism profiteer Andrew Wakefield attended an inaugural ball from which he posted a social media video calling for an overhaul of the CDC.

Others have long ago considered the measure of Trump in regard to the election and a COVID-19 vaccine promise. In early June University of Pennsylvania professors Dr. Paul Offit and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled Could Trump turn a vaccine into a campaign stunt?

It included;

In a desperate search for a boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine that has not been shown to be safe and effective as an October surprise. […]

Given how this president has behaved, this incredibly dangerous scenario is not far-fetched. In a desperate search for a political boost, he could release a coronavirus vaccine before it had been thoroughly tested and shown to be safe and effective. […]

Thousands of Americans have already died as Donald Trump has perpetually postponed effective public health interventions and made poor therapeutic recommendations. We must be on alert to prevent him from corrupting the rigorous assessment of safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in order to pull an October vaccine surprise to try to win re-election.

At the beginning of the second week of September the CEOs of nine drug companies, arguably competing in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, signed a pledge to stand with science and not launch such a vaccine until it met “high ethical standards and sound scientific principles”. The pledge statement as it appears on Pfizers website is in references below. It came at a time when public health specialists and scientists expressed concern that the Trump administration was pressuring regulators to authorise a vaccine before the November 3rd election.

The New York Times reported;

The joint statement by competitors was seen as an effort to restore public trust as President Trump has pushed for a vaccine before the presidential election.

An out-take from the pledge from Pfizer’s website is as follows;

Following guidance from expert regulatory authorities such as FDA regarding the development of COVID-19 vaccines, consistent with existing standards and practices, and in the interest of public health, we pledge to:

  • Always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.
  • Continue to adhere to high scientific and ethical standards regarding the conduct of clinical trials and the rigor of manufacturing processes.
  • Only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.
  • Work to ensure a sufficient supply and range of vaccine options, including those suitable for global access.

We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which COVID-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved.

Yes to the cynical eye this may seem to present the pharmaceutical CEOs as really great guys. However I recommend reading the entire Biopharma Leaders Unite pledge. More to the point with increased transparency the public and the media have an invested interest to see a suitable outcome here. This pledge is certainly a step up from Fauci saying he has “confidence and some faith” that the COVID-19 vaccine approval won’t be political.

Earlier in the year it was reported that a significant number of Americans are likely to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. A robust anti-vaccination lobby and rising numbers of the vaccine hesitant mean that the number of Americans who accept the vaccine may be insufficient to sustain herd immunity, which may require between 50 – 70% of the population to be immune. The more recent Ipsos survey found 67% of US citizens would have the vaccine.

Exactly how many must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity is still uncertain. The WHO suggest 95%. Mathematical modelling reflecting age and social activity level produces a herd immunity “illustration” as low as 43%. Other reports suggest a vaccine uptake of over 70% is needed. The Mayo clinic point out that reaching this level of immunity through infection and not vaccination would overwhelm the health system and cause millions of deaths.

Thus there is ample reason to hope greater transparency of vaccine trials leads to justified improved confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and increased uptake. Of course given the speed of current COVID-19 vaccine trials let us also hope that the vaccines that make it to market are extremely safe and splendidly effective. The fewer challenges that accompany immunisation on a global scale the better.

Another area that is getting more scrutiny if not exactly transparency is that of vaccine nationalism. This term refers to agreements between governments and vaccine manufacturers that ensure developed nations have secure access to vaccines for their entire population before they are available for other nations. With COVID-19 this may result in a delay in vaccinating health workers in developing nations, individuals at high risk of severe disease or death and those living in a region of a sudden dangerous cluster.

COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Yet we are faced with a situation where wealthy nations will be able to vaccinate their populations whilst countries that rely on aid organisations will be unable to vaccinate health workers and at-risk populations without organised help. A recent Science Friction podcast looks at the ways in which this problem can be combated. Australia’s Friends of Science in Medicine actively support equitable access to “COVID-19 vaccines and related health technologies”.

No doubt the anti-vaccine lobby will use information in the trial protocols in the same way they use vaccine package inserts. Thanks to exceptional cognitive dissonance they will list reasons as to why information from vaccine manufacturers can’t be trusted whilst using that same information to defend these reasons. The good news is that as we’ve seen, increased transparency and media attention has exposed tenets of anti-vaccine conspiracy and beliefs as vacuous and fallacious. On these points it’s a case of watch this space.

In conclusion it can be seen that the increase in transparency of COVID-19 vaccine development should indeed serve to increase public trust and confidence in the quality of eligible vaccines. I cannot finish without stressing again that the safety and efficacy elements of Phase III trials do not apply to the raft of concoctions marketed as alternatives to medicine. All consumers should seek reputable sources of information and beware of the many hoax “cures” of COVID-19. Discuss any novel plans to manage or prevent COVID-19 with a registered medical practitioner.

Finally whilst the importance of transparency with respect to vaccine trials has become clear, it was also confirmed by the Ipsos global survey on attitudes to a COVID-19 vaccine. The most common reasons for intending to refuse a vaccine are safety followed by efficacy. The establishment of which is the very aim of Phase III trials.


REFERENCES

Phase 3 clinical trial of investigational vaccine for COVID-19 begins

Moderna Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

Pfizer Clinical Trial Protocol – SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccine

AstraZeneca Clinical Trial Protocol – COVID-19 vaccine

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (July 2020)

Oxford Vaccine Trials – Participant Information Sheet: COV002 (Sept. 2020)

Willingness to vaccinate against COVID-19 in Australia

9 in 10 Australians say they would get vaccinated for COVID-19 – Ipsos

Global attitudes on a COVID-19 vaccine – Ipsos [PDF]

A future vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at risk of vaccine hesitancy and politicisation

Biopharma Leaders Unite To Stand With Science – Pfizer

Moderna and Pfizer reveal secret blueprints for coronavirus vaccine trials – NYT

AstraZeneca under fire for vaccine safety releases trial blueprints – NYT

Do Vaccines Cause Transverse Myelitis? – Institute for Vaccine Safety, John Hopkins University Dept. of International Health

Acute demyelinating events following vaccines: a case-centered analysis
– DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciw607

Do vaccines have a role as a cause of autoimmune neurological syndromes?
– DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00361

FSM supports equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccine nationalism threatens global plan to distribute COVID-19 shots fairly

The rise of vaccine nationalism – should we be worried? – ABC Podcast

Herd Immunity: Understanding COVID-19 – DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2020.04.012

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Call to action on anti-vaccination bus tour

© Australian Skeptics Inc.

By Tim Mendham

July 19th 2020

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

VAXXED Bus
Delivers COVID-19 Conspiracies and Bad Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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