A month ago, shortly before the president of the deceptively named anti-vaccination group the Australian Vaccination Network Meryl Dorey and author of anti-vaccination books Greg Beattie were to commence a tour of country New South Wales to hold a series of seminars, I wrote the following letter to the venues these seminars were to be held at (predominantly service and RSL clubs) to alert them to the AVN’s behaviour and my concerns as to the consequences of anti-vaccination misinformation being taken as fact.
I am writing to ask whether yourself and those in your organisation are aware of the nature of the Australian Vaccination Network, who are conducting one of their ‘Vaccination and Health – Your Right to Choose’ seminars at your establishment on the evening of August the XXXXXX.
The AVN promote themselves as being pro-choice on the issue of vaccination, yet all of the information they present is strongly against vaccination and is supported by discredited and/or unscientific studies, anecdotal evidence, out of context quotations and cherry-picked data.
We are currently seeing surges of vaccine preventable diseases throughout the country due to lowered herd immunity and I am greatly concerned that parents misled by the seminar to be held at your premises will endanger the health, and indeed lives, of their children and others in the wider community (in particular, those who cannot be immunised due to illness) by choosing not to have their children immunised.
July 29 2012
I am publishing this here because I stand by my message and my conviction that I was reasonable, fair and not infringing on the rights, safety or civil liberties of anybody in saying it.
In the past few days, the AVN have set up a new section on their website, entitled ‘Dossier of Attacks on the AVN‘, in which they feature myriad claims of attacks, abuse and harassment of the AVN and its members by a ‘mob of abusers’ guilty of ‘cyberbullying’ (the dossier likens their critics’ actions to the recent attacks on Charlotte Dawson). One section is entitled ‘Censorship and Suppression‘ and features two letters, much like my own, to venues that have hosted AVN events in the past.
I disagree that such letters constitute harassment or abuse and reject them being framed as such. Certainly they are critical of the AVN and challenge both the misinformation that the AVN spreads and the lack of integrity shown by the AVN in rejecting the notion that they’re anti-vaccination, but criticism and challenges do not constitute abuse or harassment. Particularly when the AVN operates in the public arena and particularly when their claims left unchallenged can have a detrimental and tragic effect on public health.
Regarding my repeated claim that the AVN are anti-vaccination rather than pro-choice, I would like to draw your attention to a T-Shirt that the AVN has designed and sells which reads, “Love Them, Protect Them, Never Inject Them“. How much more blatantly anti-vaccination can you get? Well, this much more – here’s a substantial list of examples of the AVN’s anti-vaccination stance.
While I am writing, I would also like to address a straw man which I see the AVN using often when making claims that they are being victimised, that their critics are ‘attacking parents who do not vaccinate’.
Parents who do not vaccinate who make their decision based on the misinformation and scaremongering perpetrated by anti-vaccination groups such as the AVN are one of the main reasons that I feel it is important to challenge, criticise and publicly discredit the anti-vaccination movement. I feel that it is a wretched shame that they have been scared and misled into endangering their children and compromising others in the process. The culprits in this situation are not these parents, but those who spread the misinformation that persuaded them not to vaccinate. Harry Phillips on Stop the Australian (anti)Vaccination Network’s Facebook page says it wonderfully here (or he did, before the screenshot was removed by Facebook following a complaint that it ‘violated community standards’. It can now be viewed here. Harry has also been banned from Facebook for 24 hours as a result of this complaint of rather questionable legitimacy. [10:40am 02/09/2012]).
Unchallenged, the AVN is more likely to seem credible to those it is trying to persuade (which, I assume, is why they have banned over two hundred people from their Facebook page, many of whom criticised them, questioned them or presented information that the AVN did not agree with – how’s that for ‘censorship’?). So I will criticise and I will challenge, in public, as will so many others. This is not abuse or bullying, this is an attempt to protect the public against dangerous lies which threaten our health.
Perhaps the AVN would do well to consider why their claims come under so much scrutiny, why so many are passionate about discrediting them. It isn’t because we’re paid by ‘big pharma’, brainwashed by the media or government, naive, corrupt, bullies or on a bandwagon. It is because, simply, vaccination is the safest and most effective method by which we can protect ourselves and our children from infectious disease. Every parent who is convinced by the AVN not to vaccinate is putting their child at risk of vaccine preventable disease and endangering those most vulnerable in our society who cannot be vaccinated due to age or illness. When enough people are convinced not to vaccinate, herd immunity drops and epidemics occur. No conspiracy, naivety or spitefulness is inherent in criticising the AVN, just the above facts.
NB: Any actual threats or abuse should be referred to the police for investigation. I do not condone such behaviour.