I do a roughly monthly segment with astronomer Seth Shostak on Big Picture Science, a radio show/podcast done by The SETI Institute. This month, Seth and I talked about the American Airlines dustup when they were planning to run an interview with reality-impaired antivaxxer Meryl Dorey. This story is a great victory for reality, and I’ve already written about the back story.
Never forget: this antivax issue is more than important: it is literally life and death. Because of lowering vaccine rates, pertussis outbreaks are so prevalent health officials in the state of Washington have declared it to be an epidemic. The governor has had to dip into emergency funds to the tune of $90,000 to finance an information campaign to get the word out.
But the money is secondary to the idea that babies and people with immune deficiencies are at risk of dying from a disease that is essentially totally preventable if everyone got their vaccinations and boosters.
I cannot state that any more simply. The antivax crowd says vaccines cause autism, vaccines cause neurological problems, vaccines hurt your immune system. None of that is true. The real danger is when people believe the antivax propaganda. Infants too young to be vaccinated themselves rely on herd immunity — if enough people are vaccinated the disease has no place to live. And when we as a community don’t vaccinate, people get sick, and some people — including those infants, usually just a few weeks old — die.
Talk to your board-certified doctor, and if they say it’s OK, get vaccinated. You may save more than one life doing so.
Reality recently scored a major win when American Airlines agreed not to run an interview with notorious antivaxxer Meryl Dorey. An American living in Australia, Dorey runs the Orwellian-named Australian Vaccine Network, where she dispenses horrifically bad and outright false information about vaccines. Read the link above to see details about her shenanigans.
After AA decided not to run the interview, Dorey pulled a lot of tired and clearly silly claims out of her playbook, saying it’s denying her free speech — which it obviously isn’t, since this isn’t a free speech issue! — and that we’re all part of a global cabal funded by Big Pharma blah blah blah. I’ve yet to see a check from Big Pharma, so her making this claim is at best paranoid and at worst a lie. You can read more about her nonsensical claims in an ABC article about this.
As usual, I have a very, very hard time feeling any sympathy for Dorey, especially when measles is roaring back into the population. Measles is easy to prevent with a simple vaccination, but due in large part to the antivax effort (and I include religious exemptions in that group) it’s still out there and infecting more and more people.
Some folks are fighting back, though. While I was in Utah last weekend I saw some great billboards promoting vaccines. Shane Larson, an astronomer at Utah State University where I spoke, grabbed a great photo of one:
That shot shows the billboard in context and might be hard to see with everything else in the picture. Here’s a zoom on the billboard itself:
It says, “Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away" and shows a child standing next to an open suitcase. The line refers to the fact that Europe and other countries are seeing a resurgence in measles and other diseases due in part to the antivax movement, and if you’re not vaccinated, you can bring those diseases back to the US. Measles was stopped natively in this country in 2000 due to high vaccination rates, but international travel has brought it back. That’s not speculation; we know this has happened.
The billboard links to the wonderful website Vaccinate Your Baby, which has great advice — science-based, reality-based, fact-based, and truthful — about vaccinations.
You can help save lives.
Tip o’ the needle to Liz Ditz for several of the links in this article.
Good news: I just received a tweet from the American Airlines Twitter feed:
Yay! They have decided to not air the audio version of the antivax interview. That’s excellent, and I thank American Airlines for that.
However, as far as I can tell, the interview is still slated to run in their in-flight magazine. I will hopefully have more news about that soon as well.
Update: When I asked about the printed version, I got this reply back very quickly:
Again, I thank American Airlines for considering this issue and making the right decision. I also want to sincerely thank everyone who wrote and tweeted about this.
Remember: we have the power to make sure good, accurate science gets told, and bad, inaccurate misinformation does not spread. Never rest, never tire, and never forget that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
[UPDATE: American Airlines has agreed not to run the interview! That includes both the audio and print versions.]
[Note: This post contains numerous links to articles showing antivax claims are misleading at best, and pose a huge health risk. I strongly urge you to read those links before leaving a comment.]
In May 2011, an
unvaccinated infant infected with measles was brought on board American Airlines flight 3965. Measles is a highly contagious, dangerous, and potentially fatal disease, and because of this public health emergency officials had to track down 100 passengers and quarantine quite a few of them.
This event was not American Airlines’ fault. However, it’s hard to see what they learned from it, since they plan on printing and airing an interview with a notorious antivaxxer who makes provably false and incredibly dangerous claims about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.
The antivaxxer in question is Meryl Dorey, an American living in Australia who has made it her life’s work to spread misinformation about vaccines. Her ability to distort the truth — to phrase it kindly — is nothing short of herculean. As I wrote about her in 2010:
She has said no one dies from pertussis anymore… when little four-week-old Dana McCaffery died of that very disease, because herd immunity in her area of Australia was so low. Dorey is an HIV denier. She thinks doctors lie and poison babies. [...] It goes on and on.
So why on Earth would American Airlines choose to run an interview with her in their in-flight magazine and air that interview on the in-flight TVs?
The interview is her usual passel of untruths about vaccinations: she tries to tie them to worsening diseases and autism — neither of which is remotely true — and then relies on the discredited research of a man the British Medical Journal outright called a "fraud".
Bizarrely, the interviewer for the American Airlines piece apparently didn’t even contact an actual doctor to get professional information on this topic. At the very least (the very least) the ability to show Meryl Dorey’s claims to be completely wrong is a Google search away, a trivial amount of work for an interviewer to do. Her horrid behavior towards Toni and David McCaffery — little Dana’s parents, who had to suffer through Dorey’s attacks while still grieving over their daughter — is also out there for all to see.
I don’t think they should. That’s why I signed a petition asking American Airlines to not run the interview. I added a note to it, saying in part:
"I will not fly AA ever again if they run this interview, and I will make very sure the thousands of people who read my blog know about my decision."
And I have one more thing to note. Read More