A sickening book that celebrates the joy of measles – yes, the potentially fatal and brain damaging disease – was dumped by Australia’s biggest online bookstore last week.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that more parents are falling for the sort of twisted fearmongering that this dangerously ridiculous book uses.
The children’s picture book, Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, is just another tendril of the insidious anti-vaccination movement, a movement that should be crippled by removing parents’ ability to be ‘conscientious objectors’ to immunisation.
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Hey angry people, don’t lash out at the silly mum who thought that homeopathy would protect her child.
She obviously genuinely thought that living a “simple and healthy way of life”, avoiding ‘toxins’ and eating organic food was an actual alternative to scientifically proven vaccinations.
(The father of the girl is probably justified in a little righteous rage, though; it’s his child, after all. )
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A few years ago the second man to walk on the moon, octogenarian scientist and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was confronted by a man who believes the moon landing was a hoax.
Conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel called Aldrin a “coward and a liar” and demanded he explain why he was complicit in duping the planet about the apparent fiction of the Apollo 11 mission. Aldrin didn’t say anything. He just stood there and sized up Sibrel, some thirty years his junior, and punched him square in the face.
While I would not usually condone violence there was something delightful about seeing Aldrin, one of the few hard men of science, going in to bat so passionately for the forces of reason.
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The internet is a parallel dimension inhabited by deranged monsters and marvellous heroes, all scattered like stars across cyberspace with immense stretches of banal nothingness, dull worthiness and LOL cats in between.
Like in a bad horror film, sometimes the crazies – or their ideas - creep over into real life.
At The Punch, we often witness a fascinating phenomenon.
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The anti-vaccination lobby is wrong, dead wrong. The truth is that vaccines are undoubtedly history’s most cost-effective public health tool. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure and vaccination proves that in spades. In industrialised countries we have virtually vanquished most epidemic diseases and it’s largely due to vaccines.
What is particularly ironic is that resistance to childhood vaccination is largely a phenomenon of developed nations. Those who lobby against it are able to do so because of the very success of vaccination. Because we don’t have diphtheria epidemics, because whooping cough epidemics are rare, because we don’t see tetanus and smallpox any more Australians don’t have first hand experience of how devastating such diseases can be.
That means the alleged side effects of vaccines may seem more frightening than the diseases they prevent.
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If you want to know what health authorities are up against regarding misinformation about vaccinating children you just need to look at the Federal Health Department’s document entitled “Myths and concerns about immunisation.”
Someone in the Department has calmly addressed, with footnotes and everything, a range of theories about immunisation that is so long and so wild that if it wasn’t so serious it would be funny. I think the loopiest one is that vaccines “cause Mad Cow Disease”. Just to put your mind at ease: “Despite many millions of doses of vaccines being administered worldwide, there have been no reported cases of vCJD associated with vaccines.”
But the other indicator of just what rational, medically-trained, experts are up against, is that if you Google “vaccination”, the second highest link is to the Australian Vaccination Network, which is not as its name suggests a helpful organisation giving useful advice to parents. It is an extreme, non-scientifically-based, organisation that has dragged the vaccination debate in this country back into the dark ages. The Government’s own Immunise Australia website comes third on Google’s list.
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A frightened woman claims five babies have died in five days, all in Bunbury, WA. She wants to know if there’s a connection with immunisations. And the ever-zealous Australian Vaccination Network – which claims to be pro-choice, rather than anti-vaccination, but disproves that with everything they do – respond.
AVN head Meryl Dorey seems to suggest she knock on the recently bereaved parents’ door and ask if their dead baby had just been immunised. She dismisses SIDS as a “garbage can diagnosis”. She says maybe their baby “died for the greater good”, and says ambulance officers are forbidden to ask about vaccinations when they arrive at a home where a baby has died.
I asked Ms Dorey about what seemed to be a suggested death door knock. She says no, she just said “the only thing you can do is to try and contact the families involved to find out if the children were vaccinated before their death”, but points out that she wrote further down it would not be “an easy thing to do”. She asks me to do a “fair job” reporting.
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The Australian Vaccination Network stuck its head over the parapet again this week, and almost immediately copped one between the eyes. American Airlines pulled the group’s anti-vaccination ad from its flights before it even aired.
It’s the latest in a series of setbacks for the controversial organisation, which is increasingly struggling for air in the Australian media.
The media has been exemplary on this topic, refusing to indulge a group that is full of rhetoric but light on evidence. Most famously, Tracey Spicer demolished the AVN’s president, Meryl Dorey, on 2UE. The well-researched Spicer gave Dorey short shrift, eventually hanging up on her.
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Every 20 seconds, a baby or toddler will die from a disease that can be prevented by a simple vaccine. Most of these deaths happen in developing countries because children go without the immunisations and lack access to other health services that parents in wealthy nations take for granted.
As usual, it is the poorest children in the poorest countries who are least likely to be immunised, and it is those same children who are at the greatest risk of being exposed to life-threatening, preventable diseases like tetanus, polio and measles.
This week, April 21-28, is World Immunisation Week, and around the world we acknowledge that all children have the right to life and health, no matter where they live.
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There’s a steaming pile of rubbish out there about health. There’s plenty of money to be made from offering too-good-to-be-true remedies.
Yesterday I was writing a couple of news stories about ways in which people get bamboozled by health-related information and then I started firing up a Punch piece on them. Then I realised I’d written it all before. Bullshit is everywhere, and it’s a billion-dollar industry and people want magic pills.
So rather than repeat myself I thought I’d just list five of the stories that have crossed my desk recently and made me want to tear out my hair and run screaming into the street. And if you know of others, let me know. It’s not that we ever run short of subjects for The Punch’s regular I Call Bullshit column, but there’s a sadistic pleasure in seeing that particular cup runneth over.
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Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit, a regular column that looks at pseudoscience and magical thinking. Unsurprisingly, vaccination pops up quite a bit.
Fluvax also has a “modestly higher” risk of side effects in adults – it is more likely to cause headaches, fatigue, vomiting and injection site pain.
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The Government has hoisted up a large and slightly unwieldy carrot to boost immunisation rates. Families could miss out on around $2100 if the kids don’t get their jabs. The announcement comes in the midst of a whooping cough outbreak, and at a time when clusters of non-vaccinators are allowing preventable diseases to incubate.
The Government’s changes, which will mean those who don’t immunise will not be eligible for three payments of $729 under Family Tax Benefit A, is well intentioned, if clumsy. Under the current system families get an immunisation allowance – even if they are “conscientious objectors” – but this will now be scrapped, while more immunisations will be added to the schedule.
Here’s the likely outcome.
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It’s an anxious moment for many parents; rolling up the sleeve of your precious baby and presenting that perfect skin to the doctor’s needle.
And the sting is the least of your worries; we may be rational and sensible enough to know vaccinating our kids against potentially fatal diseases is right, for them and the community, but that cocktail of antigens going into their arm is a discomforting sight.
What if we’re the one in a million whose baby has an adverse reaction or gets the rarest side-effects?
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One day the Government may need to stage an intervention in Sydney’s plushest suburbs, Byron Bay’s glorious expanse, and the genteel landscape of the Adelaide Hills.
These are the places where some children’s lives are at risk because parents have entirely lost trust in governments, and are turning to some dodgy alternative sources of health information.
Studies by the Federal health department, CSIRO and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance have shown that while overall Australia’s uptake of vaccination is good – mostly around 90 per cent for children - in certain regions the levels of conscientious objectors have soared, resulting in clusters of deadly diseases.
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The final in a three-part series exposing the fraudulent link between autism and vaccination is out today.
The three authors of a British Medical Journal editorial accompanying the final part argue that science is “our best way of knowing”, despite the numerous people and systems at fault for perpetuating the myth that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination is linked to autism in children.
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The link between autism and vaccines is dead, and should be buried.
However, that destructive little idea received a couple of good, hard kicks last week - the violence of which may have given the illusion that some life was left in the debate.
Many have been blamed for keeping the myth going, and now an author and expert is also blaming the media, who he says perpetuated the myths through a mistaken sense that they were being balanced.
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The British Medical Journal has devoted an editorial to stating that an article published in popular medical journal The Lancet in 1998 linking childhood vaccination with autism “was in fact an elaborate fraud.”
The Lancet had already retracted the article by Andrew Wakefield early last year, but BMJ now sought to totally discredit the “study”, which led to a decline in the triple vaccination of measles, mumps and rubella in Britain as well as in the United States and Australia.
Sadly, despite the strength of the BMJ articles - brought on by the work of Sunday Times investigative journalist Brian Deer - there will still be people who will not only ignore it but view it as further evidence of the conspiracy.
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Not long ago Lateline did an excellent job of taking apart the Australian Vaccination Network, a group (group being a strong word) of anti-vaccination zealots posing as an information service. In the US the debate has a much more Hollywood vibe, with the most public faces of the don’t jab your kids movement being mega-star Jim Carey and his ex Jenny McCarthy.
McCarthy has made a career out of warning people vaccination is linked to Autism - a claim that’s been widely and profoundly discredited. But elsewhere in Hollywood someone is fighting back. Check out this video, which was posted on YouTube last month.
West Wing tragics will know the comedians Penn and Teller, who have a show in the US called “Bullshit!”. They’ve called Bullshit! on the anti-vaccination brigade in a short and powerful sketch. It’s worth a watch (*strong language warning).
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THE onset of the dreaded winter flu season is bringing with it a needling dilemma for many parents.
No one wants to see their child fighting off a soaring temperature accompanied by bouts of coughing and sneezing.
After last year’s pandemic, the offer of a combined vaccination against swine flu as well as influenza A and B seemed like an attractive option for many parents wanting to safeguard their little ones. That was until reports started trickling in of some children suffering adverse effects such as high fever and convulsions from the jab.
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One year ago this weekend, the World Health Organisation issued its first Disease Outbreak Notice on swine flu, confirming the infection of a number of people in Mexico and the US. A few weeks later the previously unknown virus had Australia holding its breath when the first cases hit our shores.
The World Health Organisation went on to declare their first pandemic in more than 40 years and the media went into overdrive. A year on you could argue the hype was all a bit excessive and that experts keen to get their names up in lights were crying wolf and playing into the hands of news editors who think the biggest numbers make the best headlines.
But ultimately if a new virus was to emerge again this flu season, should we react differently? Probably not. The reality is most viruses don’t mutate into deadly killers; but it has happened before and it will happen again.
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