Something that has really gotten to me in the last few years is the rise and rise in volume of the anti-vaccination movement. Particularly in Australia this movement has started to enter the public consciousness and continue to spout their nonsense into the public arena. Worse than that the efforts of groups such as the Australian Vaccination network and Vaccine Information Serving Australia, two known and noted anti-vaccination groups, are increasingly being enabled by the media who approach them for comment on a range of topics resulting in the spread of unsubstantiated claims and miss-information. It is up to scientists and science communicators to then step-in and clean up the mess and the public are left with an argument that seemingly has two sides, yet only one is supported by fact.
In its pursuit of a budget surplus the current Australian government is tightening the belt in a number of areas one of these is in family tax breaks. The current vaccination incentive scheme is being abolished and instead that $258 is being rolled into a different scheme covering a bunch of other incentives that will result in three payments of $726. To be eligible for those payments the child must be fully vaccinated and so this measure ties full and complete vaccination in with other requirements of good child health as a condition for receiving the payments. As it turns out conscientious objectors can be eligible for the payments despite no or incomplete vaccinations by receiving an objection form from a doctor.
This story was covered by a number of reporters in a number of papers and online (ABC, Herald Sun, Nine MSN, Crikey, The Punch, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age) around the country and all presented the same message, the Government is changing up this measure to act as an incentive to drive up immunization rates. Some pointed out that this has worked before and been used by previous governments (Crikey) and is predicted to save the Government $209 million over four years.
This is good news. This along with heartening little nuggets like 92% and 93% of 12-15 month olds and 24-27 month olds were fully immunised in Australia as of September this year but that doesn’t mean things can’t be turning around, and it’s turning around on my front doorstep.
South Australia repeatedly falls to the bottom of national statistics in vaccination rates and it’s no wonder when the only news article I could find quoting anti-vaccination messages came from my own home state.
"But groups against vaccination have labeled the Federal Government's latest plan to encourage immunisation a form of bribery."
Leads the story on AdelaideNow on November 26th. Nobody else brings the anti-vaccination message in but there it is front and centre.
But that’s not the end of it. In an article about a change in science policy specifically about vaccination there were five quote sources; the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon who announced the changes, a doctor named Dr. Brendan Shaw who was attributed a generic statement about the virtues and success of vaccines since the 1920’s and three different but widely known anti-vaccination proponents Meryl Dorey, Kathy Scarbourough and Wayne Liebelt.
Before I mention their statements I want to point out that Nicola Roxon was quoted in all articles, as you would expect but she was the only quoted source with the exception of the Byron Shire News which quoted some local doctors for a more local feel. This means that AdelaideNow sought these quotes from the anti-vaccination movement making them all the more culpable.
Kathy Scarburough was paraphrased as saying,
"there had not been enough research into the effects of vaccines which had been shown to contain substances that could harm or kill children."
Statements like this have been repeatedly made and repeatedly rebuffed. In fact harmless little me wrote a post on this previously trotting out some of the rubbish that gets brought up. Kathy makes no effort to define the substances but does suggest they can kill children and also that,
"After a vaccination you can watch a thriving baby turn into one refusing to suckle and that is devastating."
These scare tactics would alert even the most casual reader and would be truly terrifying if they were at all based in fact.
I searched but could find no reliable source for this information. In fact the only thing I did find was an article that suggests the fever spike commonly associated with some vaccines can be prevented or lowered by breastfeeding. That’s as close as I could find to Kathy’s statement.
Next was the infamous Meryl Dorey, president of the AVN which has the dubious honour of a Health Care Complaints Commission order stating that, despite their non-compliance, they must place a disclaimer on their website identifying themselves as primarily anti-vaccination – irrespective of there reasons for being so and that nothing on their website should be construed as medical advice.
Ms. Dorey was quoted as saying,
"It's one more attempt by the Government to bribe parents to do something that they may not think is in their best interests"
This is a mild comment for her to say the least for Ms. Dorey who appears to have no faith in science and thinks her experiences trump that of an established medical fact that has existed for 200 years. This measure is not about tricking parents into doing things they do not want to do, its about maintaining a high level of vaccination to protect the community through ‘herd immunity’ against diseases like whooping cough which kill and have killed recently and will continue to do so as long as people act on her ridiculous anti-science arguments.
Finally naturopath and anti-vaccination advocate Wayne Liebelt adds,
"I chose not to vaccinate and I chose to use nature to treat my children's and my own illnesses because I strongly believe in the healing power of nature."
Such a profoundly bland and senseless statement that indicates an ignorance of medical science, infectious disease, vaccination, immunology and nature itself.
VISA and the AVN will continue to push their own agendas forward, selling books, magazines and woo, and scientists and doctors will continue to do life saving research in infectious disease prevention. All I can hope is that ‘news’papers like the Adelaide Advertiser step up and do their jobs, report the facts not fiction, tell the story not the sensation and be truth-tellers and not platforms for unsubstantiated, poisonous and dangerous peddlers of misinformation, especially when people's, children’s, lives are at stake.