And yet, antivaccination groups exist.
Let me be very, very clear: they are wrong. Vaccines save lives. Vaccines save millions of lives. And not just directly, like they did by wiping out smallpox, a scourge that killed hundreds of millions of people. But also, through herd immunity, vaccines save infants too young to be vaccinated, the elderly with weak immune systems, and people whose immune systems are compromised due to chemotherapy, genetic issues, or because they are taking immunosuppressants for other illnesses (like arthritis).
Vaccines don’t cause autism. Vaccines don’t contain dangerous levels of mercury. Vaccines don’t contain fetal tissue. Each of these – and many, many more — is misinformation spread by antivaxxers, statements that are easily proven wrong (like, in order, here, here, and here). But many antivaxxers continue to use them.
What does that say about their willingness to tell the truth?
Yesterday, in Australia, one of the most vocal antivaxxers alive, Meryl Dorey of the grossly misnamed Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), spoke at the Woodford Folk Festival about her beliefs. However, she didn’t get quite the chance she had hoped for. Once the news got out that she was invited to the festival, the group Stop AVN went into action. A protest cry went up, and the venue was changed from her speaking solo, to her participating in a panel with a series of experts — actual, real experts — on vaccines. As I write this, I have a window open on Twitter, and I’m watching the tweets using the hashtag #StopAVN flow by. It’s a thing of beauty. Dorey’s arguments are being destroyed, 140 characters at a time.
The bottom line, repeated over and over again: Vaccinations save lives. That statement of fact is so simple, so powerful, that Stop AVN put it on a banner and had it flown behind a plane at the festival.
Wonderful! My congratulations to my friends Down Under for this impressive campaign.
But we here in America cannot rest easy. We have antivaxxers here; loud, wealthy, ones, who won’t hesitate to spread the same kind of misinformation; dangerous misinformation that poses a serious health threat.
The National Vaccine Information Center is one such group. They have a long history of antivax rhetoric, remarkable only in its breathtaking inaccuracy, and their ability to get it into the mainstream. And they’re at it again: they’ve put an ad on ABC’s digital 5000 square foot screen in Times Square in New York City, a place that will be packed with people celebrating the new year. To top it all off, Jenny McCarthy — who dispenses incredibly dangerous and incredibly wrong advice about vaccinations and other health safety issues — is slated to be a guest on ABC’s New Year’s Rocking Eve with Dick Clark… and she has stated she plans to promote her dangerous nonsense on the show.
Skepchick has an excellent post about this. My friend Jamie Bernstein has started a petition on change.org to get the ad taken down. I signed it.
Again, let me be clear: these antivax groups pose a public health threat. If you don’t believe me, then read this account by someone who knows.
And if you wonder why I feel so strongly about this, then I suggest you steel yourself — seriously — and read this account written by the parents of Dana McCaffery, who lost her life to pertussis when she was four weeks old. She was too young to be vaccinated. Because vaccine rates were so low in her area, pertussis had a place to grow. She was infected, and she died.
You want to know why I feel so strongly? This is why. She is why.
Talk to your board-certified doctor about vaccines. Find out what you might need — being an adult doesn’t mean you’re exempt from childhood vaccines; you may need a booster — and if your doctor approves, then do what needs to be done.
The solution against the antivaxxers is to make sure their misinformation is countered by facts. It’s one of life’s great ironies that vaccines have helped these people live as long as they have to spread their nonsense about vaccines. We can speak up to stop them… and at the same time get vaccinated to make sure that they — that everyone — gets a chance to be wrong for a long, long time.
How? Through vaccination.
Yup. The first reports of polio were confirmed in April — 413 of them. However, that ended in late June, when no new cases were reported. That is credited to the thousands of doctors and nurses who not only vaccinated at least 97% of the children in each region of the mountainous country, but also flooded the area with multi-lingual informational leaflets, posters, and banners.
And they succeeded! With no new reports, it appears this outbreak was stopped cold.
And with the AVN in Australia getting hammered repeatedly in the press, I can now have some hope that the movement here in the United States, spearheaded by Jenny McCarthy, will die off as well. Vaccinations work, and they save a lot of lives.
Meryl Dorey, head of the flailing Australian Vaccination Network — an organization dedicated to twisting the truth about vaccines and saying anything at all to scare people into an antivax stance — has once again put fingers to keyboard, and as usual the truth eludes her.
She wrote a lengthy essay about her dealings with Toni and David McCaffery, who lost their four week old infant Dana to pertussis two years ago.
I hardly need to point out that her interpretation of reality doesn’t come within a glancing blow of it; you can read what Dorey wrote, and then compare it to Toni McCaffery’s response detailing what really happened, and why Dorey is so wrong.
The Australian Vaccination Network, an antivax organization fronted by Meryl Dorey, has long been an antiscience group devoted to spreading any kind of nonsensical rhetoric they can. The good news? Now they’re being called out on it.
As The Sceptic’s Book of Poo-Poo extensively documents, the media used to be pretty easy on the AVN, but now are routinely pointing out that they are antivax, and one has even highlighted some of Dorey’s outrageous and fallacious claims. This all comes on the heels of the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission concluding that the AVN is in fact and in deed antivax, and needs to have disclaimers on their site — a finding Dorey has ignored.
The AVN has been the loudest of the antivaxxers in Australia, a country that has seen a rise in many preventable diseases, including pertussis, which has claimed the lives of several infants.
The antivax group Australian Vaccination Network has been found to give "misleading and inaccurate information" to its followers, according to an Australian government investigation. The investigation also concluded that despite their many denials, the AVN is in fact an antivaccination group and must make that clear when disseminating information.
The entire report can be downloaded here from the Antivaxxers.com website.
Here’s the background: Meryl Dorey is the head of the AVN. She travels across Australia talking about the dangers of vaccination, and by "talking about" I really mean spewing misinformation. She says things that are not correct, cherry picks data, misrepresents scientific studies, and basically distorts reality in order to push her propaganda about vaccines.
I am not all that big on celebrity endorsements, but I do understand that they can be very beneficial in getting the word out on important topics ot people who might not otherwise hear it.
So I’m pleased to see that Jennifer Lopez did a short video about the benefits of vaccination against pertussis for a website called Sounds of Pertussis (created by the vaccine division of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis). The video calmly and rationally explains why it’s important to vaccinate for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
Regular readers know my stance on this: pertussis can kill, as parents David and Toni McCaffery found out when their four-week-old daughter Dana died from it in 2009 — she was infected because not enough people had vaccinated their children, and the herd immunity in that area of Australia was too low. It’s important to talk to your physician about this and find out if you should vaccinate yourself and your loved ones.
The antivaxxers are loud about this issue, of course. Meryl Dorey and her Australian Vaccination Network have spread misinformation far and wide on this issue, even saying that pertussis doesn’t kill anyone… a statement that is so clearly false that it’s difficult to believe someone could honestly utter it. No doubt the antivaxxers will ooze out of the woodwork in the comments below — they always do — and make all sorts of similar false claims. And also no doubt we’ll see the attempts to poison the well by saying the JLo video was produced by a — gasp — pharmaceutical company!
Like Ben Goldacre, I am not a huge fan of a lot of the tactics used by those companies to sell drugs. But that doesn’t mean everything they do is wrong. Vaccinations, as I feel I must point out over and again, have saved hundreds of millions of lives, a number so huge it’s awe-inspiring. But so many antivaxxers seem to want to see us return to the days when children died of measles, when kids were confined to iron lungs when they couldn’t breathe due to polio, and people died by the millions from smallpox and other preventable diseases.
Oh, just a few quickies.
1) I will never get tired of hearing that the truly awful
Australian Anti-Vaccination Network is getting what they deserve.
3) The CDC has released their numbers about the rates of autism. Cue the hysterical antivax lies about it in 3… 2… 1…
4) And ending on a bright note: the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition had a wonderful campaign, asking parents what they gave thanks for. After reading so much bad news about antiscience nutbags, this’ll put a smile on your face.
Fighter for truth and science Ben Goldacre tweeted a link to a nifty blog post showing just how safe the Gardasil HPV vaccine is. Using easy-to-understand graphics, the post (on the very nice Information is Beautiful blog) makes it very clear that comparing the good it does to the very tiny risk, Gardasil is a monumental achievement. Actually, just all on its own it’s a big advancement in the fight against cancer. The post also puts it in place among other low-risk dangers like getting hit by lightning or being killed in an earthquake. I like that; I myself have compared it with dying from falling off a chair.
Also, there is a website called the Vaccine Information and Awareness Service (gotta love that URL) which provides a great repository of info about the truly awful shenanigans of Meryl Dorey and the (ironically-named) Australian Vaccination Network, the loudest and — amazingly, given how reality-free these people tend to be — perhaps least-accurate antivax group in Australia. It’s a good place to go when you hear the latest health scare nonsense from the AVN. I’m glad so many people are rising up against the voices of scare-mongering and antiscience. They pose a real health threat, as far too many people have learned.
While I’m at it, my friend and pediatrician Joe Albietz has another slam-dunk article about the awful antivax nonsense being spread about the H1N1 vaccine.