This page presents the strategies that are being used by lobby groups, many of whom are fronts for industry, that are promoting vaccines to the public and hindering public debate on vaccines. They are doing this by using ridicule, abuse and misinformation to prevent individuals from expressing their concerns about the medical literature that questions the government’s claims about vaccination policies.
One of the leading industry associated lobby groups is the Australian Skeptics Inc (a non-scientific association) and its offshoot the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN). Dr. John Cunningham is a leader of this facebook lobby group and he has a powerful influence in the media. He has used inappropriate strategies to promote false and misleading information about university research on vaccines to the public. This is documented here – Dr. John Cunninhgam’s inappropriate strategies in promoting vaccines to the public.
Strategies used by Pro-vaccination Lobby Groups to hinder public debate
There are pro-vaccination lobby groups in Australia who are promoting the government’s immunisation policy with false and misleading information on their blogs and websites. My PhD supervisor at Wollongong University, Professor Brian Martin has written several articles on the strategies being used by lobby groups to prevent open debate on this issue and one of these is – On the Suppression of Vaccination Dissent. The action of these lobby groups is resulting in a misinformed public because the pro-vaccine lobby groups are providing selective information (and misinformation) about vaccines and discrediting individuals who present valid science against vaccines.These lobby groups are using websites/blogs/media to attack individuals who present the science that questions the use of multiple vaccines.
Many lobby groups are operating as ‘front’ organisations for corporations and are fighting environmental and public health regulations on behalf of these corporations (Michaels 2008: Angells 2005). These groups ridicule academics, use abusive language and provide misinformation to promote vaccination. The tactics these groups are using are part of a ‘disinformation campaign’ that is being presented to the public to confuse the science. Here is an article that describes the tactics these lobby groups are using titled ‘The Deliberate Intent To Deceive People Is At an all Time High’.
One lobby group with many subscribers who are using these tactics is the deceptively named Australian Skeptics organisation. The tactics described above can be observed on their blogs and websites which are criticising individuals and misrepresenting their comments. This does not mean that all subscribers of the Skeptics behave in this way. The Skeptics is an organisation that claims to encourage the investigation of paranormal and fringe-science activities yet many of their subscribers are not scientists or health professionals. They use untruthful information as opposed to scientific arguments to criticise researchers and academics on their blogs and websites.
The organisation currently consists of about 4,000 subscribers in Australia (from a variety of professions) and they publish the non-peer reviewed magazine The Skeptic. Their primary aim is to influence public opinion on scientific issues through the media and websites. Further information about the influence of the Skeptics on the vaccination debate can be found on their website and here. Another related lobby group that has many Skeptic subscribers is the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN). A description of how this group was set up is described below.
In 2009, a subscriber of the Canberra Skeptics, Ken McLeod, made a complaint to the NSW government HealthCare Complaints Commission (HCCC) about an unfunded consumer lobby group, the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), who are asking the government to investigate their concerns about vaccines. Ken McLeod is a retired air traffic controller and he does not have a background in health, vaccination science or medicine yet he made a complaint about parents/consumers to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) – an organisation set up to investigate consumer concerns on all health issues.
The AVN is a group of concerned parents and professionals yet instead of answering consumer concerns about vaccines, the HCCC targeted the AVN with the information provided by Ken McLeod. The complaint by Ken McLeod was later dismissed in the NSW Supreme Court when the judge ruled that the complaint to the HCCC was invalid however the incident allowed the mainstream media to use the incident to misinform the public about the AVN. The Australian Skeptics provided Ken McLeod and Wendy Wilkinson with the Thornett Award in 2010 for their efforts in exposing what they claimed was ‘pseudoscience’ presented by the AVN. They received $1,000 each from the Australian Skeptics (a non-scientific organisation) for their efforts in criticising the AVN. Ken McLeod has also made false claims about my research and has misinformed the public about this research on social media websites. The Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) was also established in 2010 and they won the Skeptics of the Year Award for lobbying the government against the AVN. In 2009 the Thornett award with $1,000 was given to Toni and David McCaffery (parents) for informing the public about the need for whooping cough vaccine based on their personal experience. The Friends of Science was established in 2011 and won the Skeptic of the Year Award in 2012. Other recipients of Skeptic of the Year from 1996-2010 and speakers at the Australian Skeptics National Convention in 2014 (List 1 and 2).
Scientific articles and TV programs obfuscating the evidence
My article titled ‘HPV vaccines have not been shown to be cost-effective in countries with comprehensive Pap screening and surgery’ was published in the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer (June 12 2013 Vol 8: 21). This article provides evidence that the benefits of this vaccine are only speculative and that inadequate safety data has been collected. A summary of this article is presented on the Hormones Matters website titled Marketing the HPV Vaccines to Prevent Cervical Cancer. This research was also presented at the 3rd world congress on Cancer Science and Therapy in San Francisco on the 21st October 2013 but the Australian media and the Conversation website would not present this research for public debate.
In June 2013 at the same time as my own paper was published, the journal Infectious Agents and Cancer published another article titled ‘Answering human papillomavirus concerns; a matter of time and science’ (Hawkes, Lea and Berryman, 2013). Two of the authors of this paper (Hawkes and Lea) are administrators of the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) lobby group. The third author Berryman, whose expertise is in infrastructure modelling, is a subscriber of the Australian Skeptics lobby group. This paper makes claims about the HPV vaccines that are not supported with evidence. It also admits that the benefits of this vaccine against cervical cancer are only speculative. The claims of safety and efficacy of this vaccine have been based on assumptions and the safety of HPV vaccines has not been studied using an inert placebo or in long-term health studies. I have provided an analysis of the Hawkes et al paper that demonstrates that the conclusions made by these authors have not been supported with evidence in their paper.
TV Program: “Jabbed – Love, Fear and Vaccines”
On 26th May 2013 Australia presented the program “Jabbed – Love, Fear and Vaccines” on SBS TV. This program was notable due to the lack of scientific evidence that was presented to support the claims that were made. I have published my review of this program here. Professor Robert Booy, the co-director of the Australian government’s National Surveillance unit (NCIRS), assisted with the making of this film and I have presented here the declared Conflicts of Interest that he has with industry. Paul Offit was presented in this film as an expert on vaccines from the Philadelphia Hospital in the USA. He holds a patent for a rotovirus (gastroenteritis) vaccine and he is a Merck (vaccine manufacturer) consultant. I have published his conflicts of interest with examples of the types of COI that are also held by other members of the US FDA and CDC government advisory boards. These are the people who are making decisions on vaccination policy. [/pane]
Media Reporting of Vaccination Science
In Australia many journalists are refusing to present the scientific evidence that has been published in peer-reviewed journals and at academic conferences, that is questioning the use of many vaccines. Jane Hansen, a journalist for News Ltd, refused to report on the science that I presented at the 3rd World Congress on Cancer Science and Therapy in San Francisco (October 2013) on the grounds that it was a ‘conspiracy theory’. This journalist made this comment even though the information had been published in the Infectious Agents and Cancer Journal (June 2013), the British Society for Ecological Medicine (2011) and the ABC Health on-line Report (2011).
Other journalists who have refused to present my published research in the mainstream media by stating that it represents a ‘conspiracy theory’ include Janet Albrechtson (News Ltd), Sarrah Le Maurquand (News Ltd), Caroline Marcus (News Ltd), and Jonathon Holmes (ABC’s Media Watch). In January 2013 I made a complaint to the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) about the lack of balance in the media regarding the debate on vaccination. A more detailed account of my complaint can be found in Attachment B of the ACMA report. The ACMA investigated my complaint and supported the right of journalists to not present the scientific evidence that provides evidence of the dangers of vaccines. There can be no public debate if the science is not presented accurately and this puts public health at risk. Here is a link to the ACMA Report upholding the unbalanced reporting of the vaccination debate in the media. [/pane]
Examples of Lobby Group Subscribers Influencing Mainstream Debate on Vaccination Science
The media is presenting Rachael Dunlop as a ‘pro-vaccine advocate’ without informing the public of her position as vice-president of the Australian Skeptics. Rachael Dunlop has presented ridicule and misinformation on her blog about vaccination and many other subscribers of this group are using similar strategies (see Lobby-Group Strategies). Therefore it is important that her position in this lobby group is openly revealed to the public when she presents information. She has been presented on Channel 10’s The Project several times without informing the public that she is not a medical doctor and that she is the vice-president of the Australian Skeptics.
There are also websites appearing that state they are ‘independent and not affiliated with any group, organisation, or individual’ and they are claiming that the science against using multiple vaccines in developing infants is ‘pseudoscientific’. One such website is “Diluted Thinking in Australian Healthcare” which is maintained and operated by Christine Bayne. This website criticises academics who are presenting peer-reviewed science in universities – without providing evidence for the criticisms that are made. Whose interests are being pursued by ignoring or removing scientific arguments? Certainly not the general public’s.
This issue is about policy-decision makers using unbiased science in policy-development yet Christine Bayne’s website, like the Skeptics, prefers to talk about ‘conspiracy theorists’. This is not helpful to holding a proper academic debate on the topic of vaccination which involves decisions about death and illness that are dependent upon the use of unbiased science. For more evidence of the influence of Skeptic Group Subscribers on the mainstream debate of vaccination science see Subscribers of the Australian Skeptics Groups in the sub-menu of this website.
The public needs to be aware that universities and research institutions are no longer independent because they are in partnership with industry. Industry is funding most of the research that is now occurring in universities. This presents a conflict in their role to protect the public interest and funding can be directed out of chosen areas to protect industry interests. University departments and professors involved in research now have equity in the research they are performing. Murdoch University is currently collaborating with many corporate partners including pharmaceutical companies – Merck, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Roche, other pharmaceutical companies and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation – to establish the Institute for Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Murdoch University. This was described on the Murdoch University website in 2011 and 2012 in the Genesiis Program. In 2013 Murdoch University removed this information and it now states that many sponsors have chosen to remain anonymous. University departments and professors now have a financial interest in the research they perform at many universities.
The Mia Freedman ‘Mamamia’ Website
The Mia Freedman website ‘Mamamia’ regularly presents articles on vaccination written by subscribers of the Australian Skeptics groups. Many of the individuals who comment on vaccination on this website do not have qualifications in science, public health, vaccination science or policy development. Authors who have written articles on vaccination on this website include Peter Bowditch, Mia Freedman, Chrys Stevenson and Rick Morton and Rachael Dunlop. Misinformation is being provided by these authors and the public is not informed about their affiliation with the Australian Skeptics.
In 2013, Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek signed a vaccination pledge (to increase community vaccination rates) on Mia Freedman’s Mamamia website: a website that is associated with the Australian Skeptics lobby group. This is not how public policy should be developed. Public concerns about the number of vaccines on the childhood schedule are not being acknowledged by journalists or the Australian Government, and Tanya Plibersek, “rubbished fear campaigns about the risk of immunisation” in media articles instead of providing evidence for their safety and efficacy. By ignoring the public’s concerns and the scientific arguments that we are presenting, the government is selecting the science that is being used in government policy.
This doesn’t make the schedule of vaccines ‘safe and effective.’ A consensus in science is not obtained by removing scientific evidence from the risk/benefit equation, it is obtained by ensuring that the science has been scrutinised and accepted by the entire community of scientists, academics and health professionals that are qualified to make this assessment.