Thursday, 06 August 2009 18:28

Vaccinations - no, they don't cause autism

Today, a Dick Smith funded advertisement appeared in The Australian warning parents that the Australian Vaccination Network is wrong in its claims of various toxins in vaccines.  A formal complaint regarding the behaviour of the AVN has also been lodged with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.

In a press release from the Australian Skeptics announcing the advertisement , Dick was quoted as saying "Dick Smith Foods has funded this advertisement in the public interest, to ensure parents access unbiased, accurate advice from reputable medical sources. The Australian Vaccination Network is no such source."

The advertisement "warns parents that the AVN is spreading false claims including that vaccines contain toxic quantities of mercury, aluminium, and formaldehyde; that vaccines cause conditions such as autism, and that the AVN is providing incorrect information about the risks of childhood illnesses."  

The parents of four-week-old Dana McCaffery, who died from Whooping Cough in March, have welcomed the Skeptics' actions.

"We implore parents to access reputable sources for information about vaccination. We thank the Australian Skeptics for presenting this information, which informs parents about the risks of preventable illnesses, addresses fears of vaccines with proven evidence, and debunks common myths. It is vital all Australian governments act now and implement comprehensive education campaigns to fully inform parents about the importance of vaccination," said Toni and David McCaffery.

Obviously, a four-week-old will not have had an opportunity to receive the injection, but the disease would have been passed to the child by someone else already infected, someone much more mobile – someone who SHOULD have been immunised.

Australian Skeptics has also published a fact sheet offering a summary of the available scientific information on the matter.

In parallel news, a formal complaint against the Australian Vaccination Network has been lodged with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.

In this carefully constructed 23-page submission, the author, Ken McLeod, makes two very strong points.

Firstly that the AVN offers advice that is both biased (against immunisation / vaccination) and untrue.

Secondly, that under the definitions included in the NSW Health care Complaints Act 1993, the AVN and its Public Officer, Meryl Dorey are clearly within the jurisdiction of the Health Care Complaints Commission.

McLeod's submission commences with a short profile of the work of Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty (Australian of the Year 2007) who said that Childhood Vaccination Denial is a "Crime against humanity."  Doherty was further quoted with respect to the increase in cases of whooping cough due to the decline in immunisation (which, as was mentioned earlier, caused the death of Dana McCaffrey) as "a tragedy and a completely preventable tragedy."

McLeod outlines numerous examples of the AVN selectively quoting scientific research or of promoting a specific scientific finding, only to totally ignore the overwhelming weight of contrary findings which followed.  He also offers many examples of outright lies by Dorey on behalf of the AVN.

It seems that for people such as Dorey, personal events (such as a child contracting autism within some short period of receiving a vaccine) far outweigh the huge volume of rigorous scientific evidence.  Unfortunately, the old proverb holds so very true: "one swallow, a summer doth not make."

Allow me a moment to personalise this story: my wife's cousin (many years ago now) appeared to suffer a severe reaction to a polio vaccine which left him significantly mentally retarded and under permanent care.  This did not cause us to change our decision to ensure our own children received all recommended vaccines.

Earlier this week, in a posting the Australian Skeptics display an excerpt from the most recent AVN newsletter, noting that the AVN has indeed received a copy of the complaint.

Read on for their reaction.

In the response, Dorey disavows any label of "health practitioners as the term is generally understood colloquially nor have we ever claimed to be."

She continues, "We do not dispense either treatment or advice, we just try to disseminate information about health issues and to inject [sic] some balance into the debate so that people can make informed choices that best suit their particular needs."  Elsewhere in the newsletter, Dorey comments that AVN is seeking legal advice and has committed a response to the HCCC by the end of this month.

I'm sure it will make fascinating reading.

Just a final point.  One cannot write an article on vaccination and the work of the deniers without drawing attention to the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website.  Encouraged by Oprah Winfrey on her eponymous TV show, Jenny McCarthy (famous for posing nude in Playboy and being Jim Carrey's girlfriend) is a vehement anti-vaccination campaigner.

To quote from the body count website, "In June 2007 Jenny McCarthy began promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric.  Because of her celebrity status she has appeared on several television shows and has published multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children.  This has led to an increase in the number of vaccine preventable illnesses as well as an increase in the number of vaccine preventable deaths.

"Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name.  This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines.

"Is Jenny McCarthy directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here?  No.  However, as the unofficial spokesperson for the United States anti-vaccination movement she may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many."

I strongly suggest you read all of the linked web pages – they contain far more information than can be addressed in this short article.  I'd also like to suggest you contact Meryl Dorey and the AVN and explain exactly what you think of their ideas.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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