“No balance possible between facts and non-science”

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

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

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

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

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

 

In his statement Norman Swan observed;

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

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

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

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

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

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

… that’s just an overstated and misrepresented argument …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Scott Morrison and Greta Thunberg’s climate action speech

One week ago today Greta Thunburg spoke to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit. The video and full text are below.

Australian P.M. Scott Morrison, was re-elected as Prime Minister on May 18th this year. At the time he announced, “I have always believed in miracles”. This claim was no throw away semantic. Morrison is a hand waving, loud singing Pentecostal who believes in the saved and the damned. Miracles – a divine power interceding directly in our physical world in a manner consistent with gospel and divine will – are genuine events according to our PM. What I remember with a heavy stomach is his reference to Romans 12:11 (Never let the fire in your heart go out), as he pointed into the crowd proclaiming, “I’ll burn for you and you and you…”.

Aussies have heard Morrison talk about his view of an Australia in which “if you have a go, you get a go”. Very few Aussies realise this is Morrison shoving one of the key beliefs of Pentecostal theology down our throats. That belief is prosperity theology. Quite simply, belief in god leads to material wealth.

Along with other key Pentecostal beliefs, exclusivism and divine providence we can begin to understand why Morrison has physically and verbally distanced himself from manning up to the more than justified scalding Thunberg delivered to world leaders. Instead, during a recent press conference at the UN Morrison insisted Australia’s climate stance was being misrepresented.

In fact reports were “completely false and misleading” he said, and “prejudiced” views were being expressed. He stressed that there would be no increase in Australia’s 2030 target emission reductions as per the Paris agreement. And why?

We are keeping to the commitments we have set and do you know why? That’s what I put to the Australian people.

During a speech to world leaders at the UN he rolled out the creaky cart of how small Australia’s contribution to global emission was;

Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution. Australia is responsible for just 1.3% of global emissions. Australia is doing our bit on climate change and we reject any suggestion to the contrary.

Morrison also told reporters last week;

I do understand that people feel strongly about this, but I think we also have to take stock, we have to ensure we get a proper context and perspective.

I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well.

I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.

So, anxiety be gone! And what better way to ensure that for “our children” than to take his own young daughters, 10 and 12 along to weekly hand waving, sing song, worshiping of the almighty who, thanks to divine providence, has the past, present and future unfolding to his specific plan.

But, what of the millions of climate refugees predicted to suffer an intolerable existence in the decades to come? Of economies to struggle and crumble? Climate driven destruction of ecosystems? Why, thanks to Pentecostal exclusivism the haves and have-nots are just where they should be. The saved and the damned, the godly and the evil are simply part of god’s divine providence plan.

Morrison as good as admitted that he encouraged his daughters to form a view void of evidence based climate science. After all, to the practicing Pentecostal the bible – god’s word – is absolute. Science and ethics must conform to this book.

We don’t have deep conversations about emissions reduction targets and what’s happening with the Kyoto protocol and Paris, but we talk about fossil fuels and we talk about what they learn at school, and I encourage them to have a passionate independent view about how they see the world, but I also give them a lot of context.

I don’t allow them to be basically contorted into one particular view. I like them to make up their own mind but I also like to give them reassurance because the worst thing I would impose on any child is needless anxiety. They’ve got enough things to be anxious about.

We’ve got to let kids be kids. We can’t have them growing up as mushrooms, but we’ve got to get a bit of context into this.

Progressive policy based on a greater scientific understanding of our universe and of our species such as gender diversity, abortion, women’s rights, LGBTQI rights and the dire need to care for our environment are just not the Pentecostal way. For Scott Morrison being born again and accepting the damnation of those who are not is absolute.

Salvation is what matters to Scott Morrison the pentecostal. Combined with his belief that his creator has an all-powerful, perfect blueprint for our planet, it is unlikely we will see any promising change in climate policy under his direction.

Yes indeed. Greta has many, many reasons to be furious with certain world leaders.

Greta Thunberg speaks to the UN Climate Action Summit


Full Text

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you!

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than 8.5 years.

You say you “hear” us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 per cent chance of staying below 1.5C degrees, and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.

Maybe 50 per cent is acceptable to you. But those numbers don’t include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of justice and equity.

They also rely on my and my children’s generation sucking hundreds of billions of tonnes of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50 per cent risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67 per cent chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes.

How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures today. Because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.

We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up.

And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Fake news and the spreading of measles

“Fake news” isn’t my favourite term for the disinformation spread by antivaccinationists. However it conveys a meaning that is usefully accurate when it comes to labelling deception spread with the aim of misrepresenting the facts about vaccines.

The narrator in the US video below asks the question, “Is fake news making people sick?”. He notes that the country has broken a 25 year old record for measles cases this year. At the time of making the video there were over 700 cases across 22 states since the beginning of 2019. In states where population density is high we can expect to see the impact of vaccine induced immunity and herd immunity (or the lack thereof) in their unmistakably predictable manner.

New York city has had over 400 cases since October 2018. Some – not all – members of the orthodox Hasidic Jewish community have been avoiding vaccines. The narrator tells us this is due to “rampant misinformation around vaccines”, even though the orthodox community “overwhelmingly” believes in vaccines. One woman seems to doubt vaccine safety and efficacy. She argues that “some people question why would I subject my three year old to toxins when it’s not going to protect him or her”.

There is an increase in insular socialising habits in close orthodox communities. This ensures the successful spread of misinformation by The Vaccine Safety Handbook. Packed with the most well constructed vaccine myths, it targets these communities with well debunked anti-vaccine conspiracies, codswallop and even commentary from rabbis, specific to Jewish religious law.

WhatsApp groups have been set up to push anti-vaccine disinformation further, with some orthodox members reporting that their only source of news is via WhatsApp.

If this reminds you of the Somali community in Minnesota in 2017 and 2011, you’re not alone. 80% of reported measles cases in 2017 were of Somali children whose parents had been convinced of the risk between autism and MMR. It was the largest measles outbreak for 30 years.

What’s this got to do with orthodox Jews in New York? Well I mentioned the insular nature of close communities. In an article headed Minnesota’s measles outbreak is what happens when anti-vaxxers target immigrants, it is noted some of these Somali Americans had concerns about higher than average rates of autism amongst their children. This entire episode is indicative of the impact that calculated disinformation can have. Particularly when provided in an area of uncertainty and despite the effort and funding from health experts and government authorities.

In 2008 Somali parents stressed that there appeared to be more 3-4 year old Minnesota Somali children enrolled in the public preschool special education program for Autism Spectrum Disorder, compared to the overall percentage of Somali children enrolled in public schools [page 4].

Also a couple of years before this time MMR vaccine coverage had started to decrease in Minnesota-born Somali children from 2006 at which time rates had been above 90% [Figure 2].

Cultural differences meant that the most genuine efforts to assist the Somali-American community with this issue proved difficult. There is no word in Somali for “autism”. Indeed there is no grey area as one Somali parent put it. Mental health is seen as either “crazy” or “sane”, and this leads to the fear that a child may be called an unhelpful name within the community. A name used behind the parents’ back [page 4].

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) worked to re-examine enrollment data for pre-school aged children in the special education program. The results were published in a report which tended to focus on participation rates only. The report [pp 4-5];

…did not attempt to measure the true occurrence of ASD in all children, and it did not attempt to identify possible causes or risk factors for ASD. Instead, the focus was on developing a better understanding of reported differences in program participation rates among preschool-aged children enrolled in this MPS program.

The three main findings in the report confirmed parent’s observations and also raised questions as to better outreach services to Somali children vs genuinely higher levels of ASD, compared to non-Somali children accessing ASD services outside of the MPS. The proportion of Asian and Native American children participating in ASD programs was significantly lower. The cause for this remained elusive. Participation rate differences between Somali pre-school children and pre-school children from other ethnic backgrounds decreased “substantially” over the three years studied. The basis for this final point remained unclear.

Following the 2009 MDH report advocates for the Somali community called for further research. The CDC, NIH and Autism Speaks provided technical assistance and funding to the University of Minnesota. The aim was to focus on ASD in Minnesota and within Somali vs non-Somali communities. The MDH and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration added in-kind staff and funding.

Still, we need to remember that it was 2008 when Somali parents first raised their concerns about ASD with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Enter disgraced fraud, data falsifier and ex-gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, who was struck off the U.K.’s General Medical Council 21 years ago and the many-faced Organic Consumers Association. Wakefield targetted and set about convincing Minnesota’s Somali Community that MMR could not be trusted as health authorities claimed. It caused autism he lied. The rumour spread through the community. During the 2017 measles outbreak Wakefield insisted he didn’t feel responsible at all.

In short Wakefield and fellow antivaccinationists spread his anti-vaccine lies with the result that MMR vaccination fell in the Somali community for a number of years. Immigration status can be a risk factor with respect to immunisation status and this fact played very well into the hands of antivaccinationists.

Nonetheless, no vaccines cause autism.

It’s important to remember, and realise, how much damage antivaccinationists can do to public health. Yes, “fake news” is making people sick. Cities with high density and insular communities that are convinced to skip vaccination will constantly face the possibility of outbreaks. The anti-vaccine lobby and their minions will continue to spread misinformation and where possible it must be refuted.

I read a comment recently dismissing the need for any vaccine and contending that only three people had died since 2000. Forgetting that this US citizen is ignoring the rest of the world, it is just such complacency that helps drive the luxurious nonsense that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent.

Because after all, in the developed world vaccines are a victim of their own success.

 

 

Measles outbreaks are due to low vaccination rates and antivaccinationists

The video below is from the USA. The reasons it lists for the increase in measles cases there however, apply directly to Australia.

First however I want to draw attention to the screenshot from the video. Note the high number of fatalities. In the USA measles killed around 500 children per year during the 1950’s. Also pay attention to the drop in measles cases after the 1963 introduction of the measles vaccine.

In Australia a live attenuated measles vaccine was first licenced in 1968. Since then according to the Department of Health, “the burden of measles has substantially fallen in Australia”.

Measles cases USA – Source: CDC

You may be thinking, “But… I’ve seen graphs showing a huge decline in vaccine preventable diseases before vaccines were even introduced”. Yes, yes you have… kind of. What the anti-vaccine lobbyists did to create those misleading graphs is to firstly plot mortality rate (fatalities), and not morbidity (cases). Their argument is that diet, personal and public sanitation alone controlled vaccine-preventable disease and that vaccination had no effect.

Health professionals agree that sanitation and nutrition is vital to health. Cleaner cities, homes, personal hygeine and a varied diet play a large role in keeping us healthy, aiding in recovery and in fighting off the effects of disease. Including mortality caused by disease. But the incidence, or morbidity of disease is not reduced anywhere near as dramatically. So to discredit vaccines antivaccinationists would plot mortality and not morbidity of disease.

More so, they crammed many years horizontally and a comparatively small number of fatalities vertically. This had the effect of squeezing data in so tightly that individual bars vanished and were replaced with a single contoured shape that seemed to hit zero well before vaccines were introduced. With an accompanying narrative or explanatory text the listener or reader was easily fooled into “seeing” diseases dwindle away long before vaccines were introduced.

And the best trick was to emphasize, in the true Viera Scheibner and Judy Wilyman fashion, that it’s all government data to begin with. So it must be true. But it never was. It was and is a lie. A dangerous lie that hides the truth of how dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases are and how permanent are the injuries and disabilities for many of those who contract them.

The rumour that Donald Trump would be supporting the anti-vaccine lobby and financing vaccine conspiracy theorist, Robert F. Kennedy, is all but dust. Just three days ago when asked about the measles outbreak he replied, “They have to get the shot. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now, they have to get their shot”.

The Australian Department of Health has a page dedicated to the current measles outbreak, Measles Outbreak 2019. It was updated two weeks ago and includes;

Anyone who is not fully vaccinated against measles is at risk of becoming infected when traveling overseas. You may also risk exposing others to this highly infectious, serious illness either while travelling, or when you return to Australia.

Measles is a very contagious viral illness that causes a skin rash and fever in some cases. Measles can cause serious, sometimes fatal, complications including pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Measles spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes in the droplets from the air, or touches the droplets and then touches their nose or mouth.

Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world, including areas of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa, with outbreaks often occurring.

In Australia, the majority of measles cases are due to unvaccinated individuals becoming infected while travelling to countries in which measles is either common or there are outbreaks occurring. As measles is highly contagious, these people can then spread the disease to others, causing outbreaks, often before they are aware that they have the virus.

Why Measles Is Back In The US

Don’t be fooled by claims that antivaccinationists are not to blame. That we must accept socioeconomic and language hurdles are placing a considerable downward pressure on vaccination numbers. The increased use of social media has been a boon to antivaccinationists. From spreading misinformation, to organising events to raising money and making their entire gig easier we must accept they continue to ruin lives and public health strategy.

No doubt there are socioeconomic problems that play a role. But not the role. That argument is partial evidence denial at best. In fact social media should be used more skillfully to address problems faced by members of our community who are struggling to meet vaccination schedule requirements due to genuine hurdles.

Social scientists interested in vaccination and/or resistance to vaccination may have much to offer in addressing socioeconomic hurdles to vaccination via social media.

Busting Vaccine Myths

Over on Stories from the trauma bay DocBastard has collated and canned seventy three falsehoods used by the anti-vaccination movement to aid their spread of vaccine misinformation.

Whether it’s vaccinated vs unvaccinated, too many too soon, deceptive reliance on VAERS data, toxins, herd immunity, aborted fetal cells, package inserts, Bill Gates, the renaming of Polio, Mr. Wakefield, heavy metals and/or many, many other anti-vax lies you’re interested in it may well be there.

He has included a frightfully helpful table of topics anchor linked to the relative paragraph. You can also follow @DocBastard on twitter.

Ooooooh boy. I have no idea what kind of rabbit hole I’m entering here, and this may end up being the 1) longest, 2) least read, and 3) most unworthwhile (yes, it’s a word) post in the history of blogs. But fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.

If you’ve landed on this page, one of three things has happened:

  1. You’ve been a loyal reader, got an email notification about this post, and you clicked it. 
  2. You searched the internet for “docbastard vaccines” for some stupid reason, or 
  3. I or (hopefully) someone else referred you here from Twitter because you made some bullshit argument about vaccines. 

If it’s #3, there is at least a 99.21% chance (I calculated it) that you haven’t even read this far. But in case you have, please immediately refer to the number I listed so you can quickly find out why you’re wrong here wrong.

If that last sentence doesn’t make sense, just read on. Everyone else knows it will all come together by the end. 

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