Chiropractor Simon Floreani Suspended: Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other noteworthy points from submissions include [item 205]:

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

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

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

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

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

Floreani referee likens Hitler to free thinking scientists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the problem that must be managed.

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


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COVID-19 vaccination: an uninsurable experimental medical procedure?

The COVID-19 vaccine is in fact an experimental medical procedure and because of this insurance companies have made void any claims relating to this “vaccine”.

The experimental trial in Australia runs until 2023 and thus it is only available due to an emergency use clause. Insurance companies are linking adverse reactions and deaths to this trial. As companies won’t pay out for injury and death due to experimental treatment it follows that such events following COVID-19 vaccination are not covered by hospital or life insurance.

Not a word of the above is true. Yet this notion is circulating on social media in the usual and predictable places. Despite it being demonstrably false and something one can refute for themselves in a few minutes, it is a notion with active supporters. Many others go further and contend that consent has not been given to be part of this experiment. Thus a breach of the Nuremberg Code is happening right before us.

Ethically relevant but not legally enforceable the Nuremberg Code remains semantically powerful. As such it is regrettably abused by anti-vaccine activists who have for years peddled the false claim that vaccines are not tested for safety and efficacy. It just so happens that global scrutiny of the development of COVID-19 vaccines also provided firm evidence of Phase III trials. This again refutes the anti-vaccine position and I touched on this last September. Yet as antivaccinationists are apt to do the facts have been twisted into falsehoods to support ongoing attacks on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and to boost claims of further breaches of the Nuremberg Code.

Now, whilst this post isn’t focusing on Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, it just so happens that she can assist us. On March 13th during an error-packed Under The Wire, Dorey presented a detailed performance outlining the absurdities that constitute the Nuremberg Code fallacy specific to COVID-19 immunisation. You may download the MP3 here, or listen below.

All of the points above popped up today in a thread on a COVID freedom fighter’s Facebook page. Elle Salzone is a feverishly active defender of anti-science beliefs. Elle moves from business to business, scheme to scheme and presently pushes ClearPHONE. Salzone and buddies sell the phone, claiming it provides the privacy necessary for today’s freedom fighters. How reliable a service it provides is uncertain. Elle fights with and also films police over her refusal to wear masks or remain in quarantine when necessary. But that’s okay if you decide to be a Sovereign Citizen. Elle is anti-COVID related responsibility. You can peruse her page for details on these pursuits.

Today one of her posts [Update: quietly deleted on 8 April] was screenshot by a tireless defender of reason, and thus came to my attention. It turned out to be an obvious forgery from this Allianz Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and could be promptly demonstrated as such. The slideshow below is of the Allianz forgery and the two original parts of the document that were used in making it.

Salzone posts the forgery and states;

THIS IS EXTREMELY CONCERNING!!!! 😱

Imagine getting the experimental shot thinking you’re protecting your health, then getting seriously injured and having no private health cover to help you and not being to sue because all vaccine manufacturers have been indemnified…

All to maybe protect you for a virus with a 99% Survival rate..

You literally can’t make this shit up..

“You literally can’t make this shit up”. In fact you can and in this case someone literally did. A quick search yielded the document in question. Even before presenting the original, un-cropped and pre-defaced, pages the text itself was screaming forgery. Insurance companies do not tend to torment font in that fashion. Apart from the caps lock, no policy section is referenced. Then there is the sneer at “vaccine” and the impossible consent self-infliction. Ouch! Finally at risk of boring you there’s that nagging bit about posting this most important development in the glossary.

Suffice it to say the above points were mentioned and a discussion took place.

Verified by multiple sources eh? The original source was “easily found” (comment now deleted) but Elle couldn’t find it. So screenshots of the original source were provided along with a link.

This resulted in an admission that it was posted in the knowledge it was a fake. Apparently however the information it conveyed is not only true but would be confirmed by Allianz if I checked;

For the record this forgery consists of four different screenshots from the original document pasted in a sequence that creates a misleading ‘preamble’ aiming to justify the bogus claims made beneath in added red font. The added text further presents existing terms from the Allianz PDS to construct a fraudulent disclosure statement. A significant amount of time and forethought has gone into this. It is a calculated work of disinformation that has succeeded in misleading vulnerable recipients of its message. The preparation date of the current Allianz Life Plan PDS is 5 march 2021. The date in the forgery is 31 July 2020, suggesting it could have been in circulation for some time.

Perhaps the most important aspect to look at is the claim that COVID-19 vaccines are part of an experimental “medical procedure”. This is frequently peddled by anti-vaccine activists and was also pushed by Meryl Dorey in the audio above. It is linked to other claims that the vaccine is not actually a vaccine. One contention is that mRNA vaccines are DNA modifying agents. Another is that viral vector vaccines [CDC] are completely experimental and also alter DNA. Despite available data on the molecular action, development, safety and efficacy of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, antivaccinationists ignore this in favour of a conspiracy theory.

Viral vector vaccines are well understood due to decades of research and do not alter DNA. mRNA vaccines are also well understood and are incapable of altering DNA. The claim that COVID-19 vaccination is an experiment is often presented with the contention that the experiment will go on until 2023. Like all persistent falsehoods this has an element of fact to it. The reality is that in Australia both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have provisional approval from the TGA. The approval is valid for two years and the AstraZeneca vaccine will require review in February 2023. On 16 February 2021 the TGA stated;

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has granted provisional approval to AstraZeneca Pty Ltd for its COVID-19 vaccine, making it the second COVID-19 vaccine to receive regulatory approval in Australia.

COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is provisionally approved and included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) for the active immunisation of individuals 18 years and older for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2. […]

Provisional approval of this vaccine is valid for two years and means it can now be legally supplied in Australia. The approval is subject to certain strict conditions, such as the requirement for AstraZeneca to continue providing information to the TGA on longer term efficacy and safety from ongoing clinical trials and post-market assessment.

Reading the final paragraph above we can see also how the claim that data is still being collected for the experimental trial is peddled around with such confidence. Yet post-market assessment is a vital part to better understand all drugs and vaccines. There’s no trial, no experiment. It’s worth noting this fallacy is at times linked to another false claim. That of emergency use provision for the vaccine. This was a contention made by one Clive Palmer, deconstructed handsomely here by ABC corona check. Palmer has not alleged the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an experimental medical procedure. Although he has pushed fear over the absence of one, three and five year safety data.

When it comes to hospital cover, insurance companies will not cover treatments for which no Medicare Benefits are payable. This includes cosmetic surgery, experimental treatments or experimental pharmaceuticals. Medicare will cover certain clinical research studies. For insurers if the device, trial or treatment is not recognised by Medicare or the Medical Services Advisory Committee it will be excluded from standard hospital cover. Still, there is insurance and indemnity available for clinical trials. This helps us understand why the term being used to misrepresent the COVID-19 vaccine is “experimental”.

Allianz also have a strong supportive position on the COVID-19 vaccine and like Bupa offer a comprehensive series of answers to possible questions. In a May 2020 article Allianz cover in depth the importance of research in developing a COVID-19 vaccine and the role of insurance for subjects in clinical trials. This is not what we would expect from a company that would deny insurance cover for adverse reactions post COVID-19 vaccine. Thus the claim by Salzone that refusal to cover is “verified by multiple sources”, in conjunction with the initial and consequent screenshot, appears to be disinformation. Insurance companies across Australia cover illnesses requiring hospitalisation following vaccination.

This leaves the obsession with claiming a 99% recovery rate as some type of stamp of insignificance. It is a rather tired trope having emerged about a year ago. This may also be linked to the frankly appalling claim that people die “with COVID, not of COVID”. Thus fatalities are incorrectly labelled an overestimation. Given this is pushed often by those who falsely insist vaccines kill and injure on a large scale it reflects a rather bizarre lack of compassion. As pointed out by USA Today the COVID-19 fatality rate is ten times that of influenza. More so it may be a serious diagnosis depending on age and health. To this we must add the emerging problems of ‘long haul’ symptoms perhaps in as many as 32% of those who have recovered from COVID-19.

In an interesting twist it was another wannabe COVID conspiracy-freedom-fighter who provided confirmation from Bupa that adverse reactions requiring hospitalisation are covered if their policy covers the treatment provided. It’s a bit of a story so another slide show is needed.

In the first image we see Bupa’s reply to anti-vaccine activist and COVID conspiracy theorist Matt Lawson, on social media. It outlines quite clearly that treatment covered by policy is available for adverse reactions post COVID-19 vaccination. In the next we see Lawson has engaged in a chat with ‘Cheryl’ from Bupa and presented this to Bupa on Instagram to challenge the prior response. The last screenshot was uploaded by Elle Salzone in the thread we’re discussing as another example of an insurance company denying cover to injury or reaction after COVID-19 vaccination.

Yet viewed in context we can see that during the chat Lawson supplied his policy number (image 3). So ‘Cheryl’ was answering in a specific sense, relative to his policy. This is absolutely in line with the claim made by Bupa in image 1 and also with feedback I’ve received from Bupa Australia. Still, image 2 reveals Lawson’s ill-informed, provocative reaction. The theme of acting with aggressive predetermined agendas is ingrained in the new age COVID conspiracy theorists. Matt Lawson reveals his conspiracy theory thinking when he writes;

Do you cover injuries caused by the convid19 experimental biological injection or not?

This comprehensive article reveals Bupa’s support for the COVID-19 vaccine and is in line with the position of global health authorities. There is no suggestion Bupa view the vaccine as experimental. Quite the opposite.

The letter mentioned in Lawson’s Instagram chat with Bupa Australia is circulating in social media within Australia. Within the Elle Salzone’s Facebook thread the image was uploaded twice, in support of the Allianz forgery. One commenter stated, “Another example shared of a void policy”. The second observed, “I think Bupa were one of the first…”. The image is below.

The text is as follows;

23 March 2021

Dear [redacted]

Thank you for speaking to me.

I confirm that side effects arising from the COVID-19 vaccine are not covered under our exclusion for: Complications from excluded or restricted conditions/treatment and experimental treatment exclusion.

If you are injured whilst doing COVID-19 swab yourself, cover would be available towards the injury.

I hope this information is helpful. If there is anything else we can help you with, please call our team on the above helpline number.

Yours sincerely

[signature]

Even if genuine, this letter has no impact on Australians. Peering at the Bupa letterhead we can confirm it is from Bupa Place in Salford Quays, Manchester U.K. Anti-vaccination activists will contend that the first paragraph confirms that side effects and complications from the COVID-19 vaccine are excluded from cover because it is an experimental treatment. The second paragraph conveys that insurance cover is available if one is injured, “whilst doing COVID-19 swab yourself”. In the U.K. home test kits are available.

Australians can also dismiss this as here it is illegal to advertise testing kits for serious infectious diseases. The TGA have a very clear warning to consumers and advertisers on their website. Thus there is no reason for Bupa to even consider such cover in Australia and Bupa members can disregard the letter and its claims.

Still, anti-vaccine claims are global in their reach, as is social media. If we take a cautious and in depth look into the origins of this letter there are different possible conclusions. It is a poorly written fake or a badly written follow up with a customer. Neither confirm the claim of an uninsurable experimental vaccine.

Bupa U.K. explain excluded and restricted cover in this Bupa Membership Guide [Archived]. This document provides a likely source for the information that the author presents with notably poor grammar. The opening paragraph is difficult to grasp. It may be that English is not the author’s first language.

With respect to the terminology used in the letter, on page 35 of the U.K. Bupa Membership Guide we find;

Exclusion 7 Complications from excluded conditions, treatment and experimental treatment

We do not pay any treatment costs, including any increased treatment costs, you incur because of complications caused by a disease, illness, injury or treatment for which cover has been excluded or restricted from your membership. […]

We do not pay any treatment costs you incur because of any complications arising or resulting from experimental treatment that you receive or for any subsequent treatment you may need as a result of you undergoing any experimental treatment.

On page 38 we find under Exclusion 16 Experimental Drugs and Treatment, this paragraph;

Please also see ‘Complications from excluded conditions/treatment and experimental treatment’ […]

There we have it. The text could have been copied and pasted in an extremely poor customer follow up, and that’s it above. Or copied and cobbled together in a dodgy forgery. The antivaccinationist lie of an uninsurable experimental vaccine is quite vocal on social media in the U.K. Yet under the glare of fact it is a demonstrably pointless effort.

In the U.K. COVID-19 vaccine side effects are covered under the Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme, established in 1979. This provides no-fault compensation for Adverse Events Following Immunisation. It is possible that offering cover is not an option for insurance companies. Either way, side effects are not covered by Bupa U.K. So it may well be that treatment of complications is classified as restricted and/or excluded regarding hospital cover.

The most important point here is that the COVID-19 vaccine is not an experimental treatment. Yet this letter is being pushed in Australian anti-vaccine circles to contend insurance companies are of the view it is experimental. Whilst a bogus claim, the overall forgery scam is reinforcing that claim in COVID conspiracy circles.

Bupa Australia are aware of this letter and have taken the chance to assure those who ask (such as the argumentative Matt Lawson) that cover is certainly available. When I raised this specific issue I was informed by Bupa Australia;

Private health care in the UK and Australia can vary greatly. But rest assured that our members will be covered for any hospital admission following an adverse reaction to the COVID vaccine, as long as the service is included in their cover, and any waits have been served.

Ultimately all the anti-vaccine points put forward by Elle Salzone and others on her Facebook page are demonstrably false. A search for insurance cover and COVID-19 vaccine adverse events yields results from around the world, not just Australia. For example cover for AEFI after the COVID-19 vaccine is available in Singapore whilst there’s a WHO compensation fund for people in developing nations suffering side effects. In general, insurance companies are involved in many areas specific to the COVID-19 vaccines, including in China where they are looking to cover adverse reactions.

Sadly some Facebook visitors to Elle Salzone’s page, who take her word on trust, are absolutely convinced of the dark side as this reply to me, packed with five pieces of misinformation, confirms. [Note – this is not from Salzone but a vulnerable visitor].

Sigh. Still all hope is not lost. As the well-known phrase from the X Files reminds us:

The truth is out there.


Last update: 8 April 2021

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How the Oxford trial pause challenges anti-vaccine conspiracies

Recently the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial was paused due to a possible case of transverse myelitis in one of the subjects. Today (Saturday UK time) it was announced that the trial would resume following advice from from safety experts.

Confirmation Update: Transverse myelitis has not been diagnosed in the subject [1], [2], [3], [4].

The news of the pause had the anti-vaccine lobby reacting with as much composure as dozing picnickers who have awoken to find they are laying atop a large nest of very active fire ants.

There is the urge to proclaim we told you so. Yet this includes the realisation that forfeiture of key pegs in anti-vaccine conspiracy is required. What has followed as we see below appears to be confusion, the inability to comprehend events, fabrication of fallacy and bogus reinforcement of elements of the Big Pharma conspiracy.

It’s important not to underestimate how disturbing genuine challenges to an individuals world view can be. In the case of the Oxford trial announcement, the anti-vaccine conspiratorial view of the world is threatened by a distressing reality. For the dedicated anti-vaxxer this leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. In fact anti-vaccine conspiracies must exist in the first place to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises when scientific evidence and epidemiology overwhelmingly refute the myth of dangerous vaccines and manufactured claims of vaccine injury and death.

In this case there are three main challenges to current anti-vaccine beliefs.

  1. The MSM (mainstream media) presented a transparent account of the Oxford trial pause.
  2. The pause in the trial itself shows that the safety aspect of Phase III clinical trials is working well.
  3. Cursory reading of the situation confirms the efficacy component of Phase III clinical trials and the use of a placebo.

The anti-vaccine lobby contend that mainstream media are biased against the “truth” of vaccine horror because what is reported is not anti-vaccine. If the mistake of giving anti-vaccine identities air-time to push unsubstantiated disinformation is made, criticism swiftly follows. Yet primarily it is the industry requirement to fact check that keeps anti-vaccination views from being presented unchallenged.

It’s more likely that their antics make tabloid or news segments because they are dishonest and at times vindictive. This attracts regular criticism of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. A scheme by anti-vaxxer Kyia Clayton to interview AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister on ABC Hobart was met with outrage. It was justly criticised on Media Watch which yet again led to Meryl Dorey urging members to bombard the ABC and ACMA with complaints.

Rather than rise to the occasion and present evidence that meets the standard of scientific consensus the AVN has instead accused the media of being part of the larger conspiracy. Attacking mainstream media and articles that are based on vaccine fact is a substantial activity for Australian anti-vaxxers.

A constant claim of anti-vaxxers is that vaccines are never tested adequately for safety. This is partly due to the erroneous belief that vaccines are so full of dangerous chemicals and biological matter that they cannot possibly be safe. Ergo, any genuine monitoring for adverse reactions in large samples would reveal that a high percentage present with such reactions. As this is not the case their only conclusion is the biased testing conspiracy.

Another claim is that vaccines are never tested for efficacy. They don’t work and we have all been deceived. Herd immunity is a fake concept. Vaccines were introduced after improved sanitation and hygiene eliminated most disease and thus deserve no credit. This claim is made with the help of deceitfully crafted graphs plotting mortality, not morbidity, in such small numbers it appears that vaccines had no impact. The two claims specific to Phase III clinical trials are often made together.

This was clear when the AVN responded to an August 2019 SMH article by Liam Mannix, Anti-vaxxers live in an online bubble this scientist wants to burst. Their response is a strange collection of “propositions” the author angrily contends must exist, whilst citing pseudoscience and articles relating to medication, not vaccines.

The AVN piece included this under “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.

Oh my. This persists despite accessible evidence to the contrary and available WHO recommendations. More so, in line with all anti-vaxxers the AVN argue their definition of a placebo (such as saline) is what should be used in vaccine trials. In fact it is used in many trials but the AVN choose to ignore this. This may include shifting the goal posts. Virology Down Under discuss this no true Scotsman anti-vax fallacy related to placebos.

In some vaccine trials a saline placebo is not ethically suitable and the placebo used is not inert. With respect to the urgency COVID-19 presents this article argues that placebos aren’t needed for vaccine challenge trials. In the Oxford trial a non-saline placebo functions as a more effective control as Dr. Norman Swan explains below. The AVN have always objected to Gardasil studies which used AAHS (the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant) as a placebo.

Without citing any reference the AVN offer their definition of a vaccine trial placebo;

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

In a recent Coronacast episodeThe Oxford vaccine’s troubles. Why it’s not doomed (yet) Norman Swan talked about efficacy and safety in this vaccine trial. Whilst the USA are using a saline placebo, the other participant countries are not. Swan explains;

A few weeks ago, phase 2, phase 3 studies, that’s dose finding and whether or not the vaccine works in large numbers of people and whether it safe, started in Brazil, South Africa and the UK, and they were aiming to recruit 17,000 people. There was also a phase 3 study just beginning in the United States in about 80 sites, trying to recruit about 30,000-odd people. The aim is to have a trial of about 50,000 people.

And interestingly it’s a placebo-controlled trial but the placebo is not saline. It is in the United States, but in Brazil, South Africa and the UK it’s actually not a dummy drug, it’s not saline, it’s a meningococcal vaccine, and they are doing that so that people don’t recognise whether or not they’ve had a placebo. It’s very important in a placebo-controlled trial that you don’t know that you are in the placebo arm. And if you get a shot in your arm and nothing happens and it’s pretty mild you think, well, maybe I’m in the placebo group.

The presenters talk about the seriousness of transverse myelitis and Norman Swan offers this context;

However, there was a study not so long ago which looked at 64 million vaccine doses and really found very little evidence, if any, that transverse myelitis is caused by immunisation. Out of 64 million doses they found seven cases or eight cases that may be associated with it. And they look really widely. They didn’t just look at the week after you’ve had the immunisation or the month after, they looked at almost any time after you’ve had the immunisation, and they conclude that transverse myelitis, unless in very rare circumstances, is not caused by a vaccine. […]

So what they’ve got to find out with this person is are they in the placebo arm, are they in the active arm, is it really transverse myelitis, what are the antibodies that have actually been shown? Are there any other symptoms? And did the person actually get infected with real COVID-19 after the trial had started…

I recommend reading the transcript or listening to this episode of Coronacast. Tegan Taylor and Swan talk more on Phase III trials and discuss the specifics of the Oxford vaccine. It’s an adenovirus carrying genetic material into cells to instruct the cells to produce fragments of COVID-19 virus. It is these fragments that induce an immune response. With respect to the use of placebos in vaccine trials a July 27th episode examines the ethics associated with the fact that subjects in the placebo arm of Phase III trials are not receiving a vaccine.

By the time the Oxford podcast was published on Thursday the AVN was already suggesting on Facebook that there may be more adverse reactions hidden from the public.

AVN Facebook post

Dubious message on AVN Facebook

“It does raise questions”? The problem with the above post is the apparent interpretation by an AVN Facebook administrator that one of the “close friend daughters” who took part in the Oxford trial “is in the Royal” [London Hospital], “diagnosed with Transverse Mylytis” (sic). There is an unverified claim that, “they have asked to keep this quite (sic) as they don’t want the public to know”. The AVN admit the information may not be true.

Yet is this really evidence of a covert case of transverse myelitis? Perhaps Karen McNab is referring to a) her friend’s daughter and also b) the “volunteer” mentioned in the WhatsApp message. The trial subject who had the presumed adverse reaction is a woman who is in hospital.

Of course my interpretation could be wrong. There is however no clear statement that one of the friend’s daughters has transverse myelitis.

Some AVN members were justifiably suspicious.

AVN FB members question source

Rixta Francis, a long term AVN member prone to simply inventing disinformation published her predictably outrageous fallacy of the Oxford trial. This is an excellent example of an immediate, and  feverish attempt to slap at the fire ants of cognitive dissonance. Fellow members are supportive.

Facebook: Rixta Francis misleads over Oxford COVID vaccine trial
Self published author of The Fiction of Science Rixta is prone to reinterpret reality in the manner above. To appreciate this we need to explore her approach more fully. In an interesting example of how things come round in circles Francis is infamous for her abuse of the memory and parents of baby Riley Hughes, who featured in the SMH article I mentioned above.

Riley died from pertussis in March 2015 before he was old enough to be vaccinated. Feeling a need to educate parents about immunisation Catherine Hughes began the Light For Riley campaign. She now runs the Immunisation Foundation of Australia. Ten months after the death of Riley, Francis falsely claimed Catherine was a member of Stop the AVN, suggested Riley and his pertussis had never existed or that the parents killed infant Riley themselves.

The post below suggests the Oxford adverse reaction has been staged. It includes dismissal of genuine media intention, dismissal of safety and dismissal of efficacy helped by quoting Australia’s CSIRO. Again this is textbook management and minimisation of cognitive dissonance.

AVN Facebook post

Other comments in the thread follow a similar theme and manage to reveal quite ridiculous thought processes. The reason people placed themselves at such risk is because they were offered “a small fortune… it all comes down to money”. Vaccines always cause “horrific injuries”. We “can’t cure cancer but we can make a vaccine in six months for a disease we don’t understand?”.

It will be interesting, but not surprising, to see how this group reacts to the news that the trial has resumed.


Further reading:

Oxford Vaccine Group

Oxford vaccine trial – University of Oxford

How Vaccine hesitancy could undermine Australia’s COVID response – The Guardian, September 12th 2020

Fact Check: Mastercard partnership on vaccination records is unrelated to finances – USA Today, September 9th 2020

Halting the Oxford vaccine trial doesn’t mean it’s not safe – The Conversation, September 9th 2020

Vaccine testing and approval process – CDC

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Wearing masks does not cause staphylococcus infection or CO2 toxicity

On August 20th I was passing through AVN Facebook territory and noticed the image below had been posted in the comments section of a post citing a Daily Telegraph news article. The article was about the likelihood of a free COVID-19 vaccine in Australia.

It included this shin kick for anti-vaxxers;

Can there be anything more satisfying than the dangerous, hypocritical and unspeakably cruel anti-vaxxer mob in full self-combust mode at news that the rest of us — the sensible Australians — are delighted to hear?
The only national glimmer of hope in this coronavirus war on our bodies, livelihoods and mental health has been the promise of a free vaccine available eventually to all Australians, writes Louise Roberts

The post urged readers to include their thoughts. One of which was this image;

image falsely linking skin conditions to mask wearing

Fake “Mask Induced Staphylococcus” scam

Firstly the claim of lung infections and loss of consciousness due to restricted airflow from masks has been debunked. This claim as pushed on social media relies on the belief that masks cause CO2 toxicity, known as hypercapnia.

In very, very rare cases with an open wound and a dirty mask contaminated with staph bacteria one may develop a staphylococcus infection from masks. Nonetheless, what’s important is dealing with the claim in the context of the images above. Simply put the claim is that these are examples of “staphylococcus from masks”.

This claim of staphylococcus infection from masks is as offensive as it is bogus. It is a textbook example of what goes wrong when one trusts social media as a source of news or facts. Particularly social media outlets of groups that use the term “fake news” to describe genuine media presenting facts they disagree with. Yes indeed, verily this describes the Australian Vaccination-risks Network.

Staphylococcus infection is described by the Mayo Clinic in these opening paragraphs as follows;

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections.

The article continues to list symptoms, types of infections, causes, invasive devices and treatment.

Merck Manual also has an excellent article by Larry Bush M.D. which was updated just over a year ago. The important point here is that consulting articles on staph infection reveals facts specific to the diseases that result and the lack of any information confirming that the wearing of surgical masks is responsible. So this nonsense is predetermined disinformation designed to sabotage public health measures.

When it comes to challenging an image “collage” like the above taking a screenshot of each image and doing a reverse image search via Google or TinEye yields ample insight into the mind of COVID-19 conspiracy promoters. Taking the middle right image we find pages of results devoted to articles on exhausted doctors wearing PPE and working long hours during the height of Italy’s struggle with COVID-19. The initial post of Italian nurse Valeria Zedde was made by her on Instagram. Other photos capturing the impact of long term PPE use can be found online including these on Twitter.
italian doctor after long shift with covid patients

Italian nurse after hours wearing PPE

The face above the hard working nurse is from a Wikipedia post on Eczema herpeticum. This infection may be caused by a herpes simplex virus, coxsackievirus or vaccinia virus. The image file was uploaded on April 11th 2018 as is clear on this Wikimedia commons page. The image is cropped in the scam staphylococcus collage above to give the appearance of a mask infliction but more importantly to hide the eyes which help confirm this child is certainly under five years of age.

The WHO have published a Q&A on children and mask wearing due to COVID-19. They clearly state;

In general, children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks.

Ah well, nice try. Still, no amount of cropping can hide the fact this image was uploaded 18 months before the first case of COVID-19 in Wuhan in December 2019.

Eczema herpeticum on childs face

Eczema Herpeticum

On the subject of cropped images we can trace the image at bottom right to an article in Medical News Today describing Malar rash. In the case of this subject the rash is caused by a condition known as rosacea. More so the lady appears in a large number of Alamy stock photos with a caption plainly stating her condition is rosacea characterised by facial redness, small and superficial dilated blood vessels.

Whilst determining the exact origin of Malar rash is difficult due to a large number of candidate causes, turning into a strange looking case of staphylococcus due to wearing a surgical mask is not one.

case of malar rash

Malar Rash – Source Medical News Today

The condition in the image at bottom left may well have been determined by you as the case of varicella (chicken pox) that it is. The Getty images iStock photo also appears on Pinterest with no watermark where anyone with an account can take a screenshot of the image at not cost.

It’s interesting that with this image the cropped version used in the scam collage also removes any helpful identifying features to help one conclude this is a young child.

child with chicken pox pimples/varicella

Chicken Pox / Varicella pimples on female child

The final image is the one at top left. In fact this image is the only one that may have substance. The French teenager in the image claims to have had an allergic reaction to wearing a sheet mask for a prolonged period of time.

With help from Google Translate we see that Le Monde newspaper reported;

According to the mother, the 12-year-old wore a sheet mask for several hours on vacation: “This is the first time she has worn this mask provided by her college for so long. We went on a camping holiday for a week, and the mask was mandatory in closed areas, so she had to put it on every day”. […]

Beware of hasty conclusions, however. “There may be intolerance reactions to the mask that are not allergic reactions. The mere fact that it is red is not enough to say that a mask contains an allergenic substance”, tempers Brigitte Milpied, dermatologist at Bordeaux University Hospital and member of the French Dermatology Society (SFD). “Whenever something goes wrong, people tend to call it an allergy. However, the allergy remains exceptional. To be sure, you have to do a test” she adds.

Doctor Hervé Masson, allergist in Bordeaux, shares this opinion: “In the image, it looks more like a burn than an allergic reaction, but as long as the child has not been examined, we cannot tell”. […]

allergic reaction to wearing the same surgical mask for extended time

Claimed allergic reaction – prolonged mask wearing

The importance of wearing a proper, clean mask and discarding of disposable masks when they are moist or soiled can’t be understated. If a genuine allergic reaction, the image above raises questions about just how well informed this teenager and her parents were about hygienic mask wearing, maintenance and disposal.

It’s important to wash cotton masks before wearing them and to not exceed recommended duration of wear. Individuals prone to allergies may have to test materials and take extra precautions. Information as to how to avoid allergic reactions from wearing masks should be clearly conveyed by health authorities in all languages used in the release of other COVID-19 information.

The good news is that this particular effort to scare the unsuspecting into believing masks cause staph infections or CO2 toxicity has been thoroughly debunked. Either through sourcing the images or combining this with facts about CO2 toxicity and mask wearing. Please check the excellent sources below

No doubt COVID-19 related scams and disinformation will continue in the foreseen future.


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Government cuts to ABC harm quality journalism

Sky News Australia, owned by News Corp, has a well earned reputation for denying the evidence of climate change and the need for reducing carbon emissions, which host Chris Kenny recently referred to as “leftist climate policies”.

The occasion was indulgence in what has earned the outlet another, equally concerning reputation. Regular attacks directed at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation based on the contention that they promote biased leftist ideology. That the ABC leads unwarranted leftist media campaigns, the most significant recently being an apparent “attack” on Cardinal George Pell, although it was News Corp which first reported charges brought against Pell. Since Pell’s High court acquittal of historical child sexual abuse charges the tone and pace from Sky News seem to have increased.

More so a specific amount is levelled at ABC Media Watch and its host, Paul Barry. Yet they fail to mention it was Paul Barry on Media Watch who tackled the claims that Pell was not innocent because he had been found not guilty due to reasonable doubt. Barry insisted that Pell was innocent until proven guilty. As he was now not guilty, has was innocent.

The brazenness combined with the shoddiness of these attacks has been percolating for years. Accusations in the main are made with no real evidence, simply opinion. This is doubly true when it comes to attributing motivation to the ABC or its journalists. The present environment that allows the confidence for Sky to present what is often junk journalism often with the aim of smearing the ABC exists in very large part thanks to successive Coalition governments.

Australian Government criticism of the ABC has a long history and its tone reflects what party is in power at the time. Yet moves to manipulate the ABC through budget cuts and misleading verbal attacks about “ideological bias” have proven to be from the game book of the Coalition. Despite a pre-election promise to maintain budgets of both the SBS and the ABC, the Howard government targetted both. His governments 1996 budget included a 2% ($55 million) annual cut to ABC funding beginning in 1997-98. And an independent review of the ABC was commissioned to be led by Bob Manfield.

Howard continued to verbally attack the ABC over his four terms. His former Chief-of-Staff Graeme Morris described the ABC as “our enemies talking to our friends”. Dennis Muller (Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne) noted in The Conversation in February last year that Howard himself labelled the ABC nightly news as “Labors home video”.

And that;

Howard’s communications minister, Richard Alston, kept up an unremitting barrage of complaints that the ABC was biased. This culminated in 2003 with 68 complaints about the coverage of the second Gulf War. An independent review panel upheld 17 of these but found no systematic bias.

I could not agree more with Muller that;

This playbook – repeated funding cuts, relentless allegations of bias, and recurring inquiries into the ABC’s efficiency and scope – has been followed to the letter by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison administrations.

Interesting then that The Howard Years, in which he worked at shaping his legacy, was a successful ABC-TV event.

But I really wonder if Howard could have foreseen what he’d put in motion. Yes Howard was conservative. Morally, socially and politically. His fawning to the Australian Christian Lobby left behind inestimable damage in that it swung the gates wide for organised bigoted fundamentalism. His record of demonstrable apathy in response to climate change and his capitulation to the Greenhouse Mafia was inescapable. Less than eight months ago in a keynote speech to mining industry representatives he criticised “climate change zealots” and perhaps foolishly said he was “agnostic” when it came to climate change.

But John Winston Howard was not anti-science as were those around him. Of course, when we look at the evidence of climate change there is really no room for agnosticism. Yet Howard was defending his legacy and the contribution Australia’s mining industry had made to economic stability during the GFC of 2008. He didn’t deny the existence of climate change or label it a leftist conspiracy without foundation.

Certainly he was not an enemy of reason. Climate change aside he understood the importance of evidence and the risk of turning ones back on it. Perhaps he wondered at the wisdom of the Liberal Party Council. On June 16th 2018 they voted to privatise the ABC, despite this going against the very pursuit of journalistic independence that led to the founding of the ABC. The Institute of Public Affairs was delighted with the prospect of privatising the ABC. Two members of the IPA had published a book on “how to do it” just a month before.

This wasn’t a sudden decision in conservative politics. By then the Abbott-Turnbull administrations had already cut $338 million from ABC funding since 2014. The 2018 Budget handed down by then Treasurer Scott Morrison included a three year freeze on ABC funding beginning in June 2019. He said at the time, “everyone has to live within their means”. The tied funding of $43.7 million will cost the broadcaster $83.7 million in budget cuts over three years, on top of the cumulative $254 million in cuts since 2014. There was no better news in the 2019 budget.

It was reported in The Conversation in April last year;

This has resulted in an accumulated reduction in available funding of A$393 million over a five-year period, starting from May 2014. According to current budget forecasts, this also means the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.

Earlier this month Opposition leader Anthony Albanese asked the PM to reconsider the ABC budget freeze in respect of their essential role over the bushfire season and now the coronavirus pandemic. SBS reported;

“Will the Prime Minister restore funding so the ABC can keep doing its job so effectively?” [asked Albanese]

Mr Morrison responded: “The ABC is doing an excellent job and they’ll continue doing that job with the resources that have been provided to them.”

“Like all agencies, like all Australians, they will all do the best job they can with the resources they have available to them.”

The funding cuts are brutal and are a clear sign of the federal government’s aim to restrict the journalistic vision of the ABC. The ABC was clear in stressing that the most recent cuts threaten delivery of the ABC Charter requirements. More so 800 staff have lost their jobs. As I noted above, I wonder if Howard would be comfortable with this. Leading up to the last Federal election Labor promised to reverse the budget freeze and ensure the $83.7 million the ABC stood to lose. They also promised $60 million to the ABC and SBS.

Writing about the Young Liberals call in late June 2018 to sell the ABC, Vincent O’Donnell noted;

But most members of the conservative movement are hostile to the ABC because it is said to be biased. Accusations of bias are useful tools to undermine confidence and support for the ABC…

[…]

…there are folk whose political beliefs are so far to the right that just about all of Australia, and most of the world, is to the left. Any media that reflects this reality is necessarily left wing and biased.

Intermingling of the Coalition government and right wing conservative journalists criticising the ABC goes back some time. In August 2014 a parliamentary library research paper noted (part 4: Disbanding the network);

Following its victory in the 2013 election, the Abbott Government became increasingly critical of the Australian Network for what it argued [were] overly negative representations of Australia. In addition, Prime Minister Abbott was critical of the ABC’s overall reporting stances; the Prime Minister claiming the ABC took everyone’s side but Australia’s.

The same paper reported in Box 5: Spy scandal and the role of the media that the ABC had reported on Edward Snowden’s leaked information that Australian intelligence officials tried to tap the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. The ABC also reported on asylum seeker claims that they had been abused by members of the Australian Navy. In respect of the Indonesian phone tapping incident Chris Kenny, “accused the broadcaster of embarrassing Australia and Indonesia, undermining co-operative relations and diminishing national security”.

Andrew Bolt contended that the ABC, “was ‘not just biased. It is a massive organ of state media, strangling private voices and imposing a Leftist orthodoxy that thinks it fine to publish security secrets’.” The ABC apologised with respect to the asylum seeker claims, saying it was sorry if the report had led people to assume they believed the claims. Their intention was to present the material “as claims worthy of further investigation”.

The government continued to criticise the ABC, accusing it of “maligning Navy personnel”. Defence Minister at the time, David Johnston claimed the ABC had “maliciously maligned” the Navy and contended that their reporting justified an investigation. In March 2014 the ABC reported evidence supporting abuse of asylum seekers in Indonesian detention centres. The then Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, argued the claims had no credibility and that the ABC should “move on”.

The same research paper includes in Box 1 – One man’s satire another man’s distress, which covers a 2013 Chaser segment wherein a photoshopped image of News Corp journalist Chris Kenny having sex with a dog was shown. Initially the ABC refused to apologise arguing that viewers were, “adequately warned by an onscreen classification symbol and accompanying voice over of the likelihood of seeing potentially offensive content”.

The point I wish to make here is relevant to the opening paragraphs. Kenny did have a defender. On Media Watch Paul Barry firmly disagreed with the ABC and The Chaser view of satire, arguing it was neither satirical nor clever. The saga rolled on for a time with further developments, some serious, some frivolous. Ultimately the ABC did apologise to Kenny.

These examples deal almost exclusively with TV journalism. Of course Media Watch ranges across radio, internet, social media, printed news and TV. Ongoing criticism and bullying of the ABC by the Coalition government is quite telling. As Muller wrote in Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government;

The bipartisan political vision for the ABC was that it should not be vulnerable to sectional interests or commercial pressures, but should exist to serve the public interest in the widest sense

The ABC cannot do this without financial and factual support from governments. More so attacks on the ABC from unapologetic right wing ideological bastions such as Sky News are indicative of a wider social problem. A lack of critical thought and an inability to understand and respect the impact of evidence.

It may well be worth looking more closely at that soon.