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Queensland to Provide Whooping Cough Vaccines for Pregnant Women – Campaign for all Australian States To Follow

On July the 9th, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg made a long hoped for announcement – Queensland will be providing free Whooping Cough (Pertussis) vaccinations for women in their third trimester of pregnancy, following dedicated campaigning by doctors, parent groups and concerned citizens.

Read more: Free whooping cough vaccine for all pregnant women in Queensland Courier Mail, 10th July 2014.

Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announce free whooping cough vaccinations for pregnant women in Queensland.

Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announce free whooping cough vaccinations for pregnant women in Queensland.

 

This is wonderful news for newborns and their families in Queensland. Maternal immunisation during the third trimester of pregnancy and the resulting passive antibody transfer to the infant has been shown to provide substantial protection to newborns during the first two months of life, before they are able to begin receiving whooping cough vaccinations (a three dose schedule, which is completed at six months). Maternal immunisation can also prevent the mother from contracting whooping cough herself, risking passing it on to her vulnerable infant.

Hopefully Queensland’s new policy will pave the way for other Australian states and territories to institute similar schemes, allowing families better access to a measure which can protect newborns from illness, disability and death.

If you are so inclined, please consider writing to and/or tweeting your state or territory leaders, health ministers and shadow health ministers to let them know that there is high community support for the provision of free whooping cough vaccines for pregnant women. I have listed contact details and Twitter accounts for them at the end of this post, and have been tweeting myself, using the hashtag #freewhoopingcoughvax.

 

 

I would like to share with you this letter written to the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, and the New South Wales Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner. It was composed by Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard on behalf of the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, a community group of concerned citizens who support vaccination and live in an area of New South Wales with alarmingly low vaccination rates.

 

Wednesday, 9th July, 2014

Dear Premier Baird and Ms. Skinner,

We write with regards the initiative announced by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman this morning (9th July 2014). Premier Newman revealed that Queensland Health will be funding a free Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine for women in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

We sincerely hope that NSW will follow suit with this initiative. It is of course based on the latest research and evidence which states that the Pertussis vaccine given in the third trimester is very effective at protecting the newborn baby during those crucial first two months before they can receive their first Pertussis vaccine. Mothers-to-be are also protected from Pertussis with this initiative which of course reduces the chances of transmission to the baby. Mothers, often being the primary caregiver of the baby, are in close physical proximity on a 24- hour basis and are often inadvertently responsible for passing this potentially deadly infection on to their babies.

Losing a baby to Pertussis, a Vaccine Preventable Disease, is of course devastating; the economic cost to government will also be greatly reduced if less infants need to be hospitalised in Paediatric Intensive Care Units (over 9 out of 10 babies under three months of age need to be hospitalised as a result of contracting pertussis).

Please consider following Queensland in this important endeavour.

Regards,

Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard – acting on behalf of Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters.

 

Again, if this issue is important to you, please consider writing or tweeting to your state or territory health MPs. Thank you.

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World Homeopathy Awareness Week – Raising Awareness that Homeopathy is Bulldust!

Well, this week is rather special – it’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week!

First, a very brief primer on homeopathy. Homeopathy was founded in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his postulation that “like cures like” – for example, a small amount of a stimulant, such as caffeine, is purported to help with sleep troubles. Homeopathic preparations are produced by “dynamisation” or “potentisation”, in which active ingredients are diluted with alcohol or distilled water, then “succussed” (a form of ritualistic vigorous shaking). The dilution process is repeated until the likelihood of a single molecule of the original ingredient being present in a bottle of homeopathic “remedy” is as close as can be to zero.

Homeopathic remedies are sold as liquids or sugar pills and can be found in health food stores, online shops and to my great disappointment, in pharmacies in Australia. Homeopathy is at times confused with herbalism, as it is included within the scope of “natural medicine”, thus it is worth noting that while herbal remedies contain active ingredients, homeopathic remedies contain no detectable trace of such. For more information, visit the 10:23 Campaign’s page, “What is Homeopathy?” 

 

Beginning on the 10th of April each year,coinciding with the birthday of Hahnemann, World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) has been established by the World Homeopathy Awareness Organization to coordinate global promotion of homeopathy by those who practice and advocate it. Simultaneously, WHAW has been embraced by critics of homeopathy as a fine time to raise awareness of the lack of plausibility behind the mechanisms used to create homeopathic “remedies”, and the lack of evidence that homeopathy has any physiological effect beyond that of a placebo.

This year, WHAW related discussion kicked off a couple of days early, as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council released a draft of their information paper, “Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions“. The NHMRC is accepting feedback on this paper until May 26th, so if you wish to provide them with any feedback for consideration, details on doing so are available via the above link.

Admittedly, when I first heard that the NHMRC were conducting a review on homeopathy studies, I was flummoxed – I was familiar with the findings on homeopathy already, and it seemed akin to reviewing findings on whether the sky was blue, or whether water was… wet. However, more public awareness on homeopathy – and the findings that no credible evidence supports its efficacy – has been a great prompt for the media to get on board and for public discussion of homeopathy to increase.

In short, people are still investing their money and hope in products and treatments which have no plausible mechanism of action beyond a placebo. Pharmacies are still selling homeopathic products, in what I consider to be a terribly unethical case of lending false credibility. A small but important minority of general practitioners are referring their patients to homeopaths and naturopaths (some of whom include homeopathy in their practice). There are people who, heart-breakingly, eschew evidence based medicine in favour of homeopathy – as was seen in the tragic case of Penelope Dingle. As such, I believe that it is worth getting the word out, loud and clear, that homeopathy is a sham.

 

I’ve spotted a few fantastic reads during WHAW this year. First up, Ken Harvey has written a piece on The Drum titled “Homeopathy – We Can’t Have it Both Ways“, in which he discusses the fact that, while the NHMRC paper condemns homeopathy, other authorities still give it legitimacy, by accrediting the study of homeopathy, including it in health insurance plans and allowing it to be sold in pharmacies.

From the Good Thinking Society, here is a wonderful page on Homeopathy Awareness Week, with a list of twelve quick facts on homeopathy. The project director, Michael Marshall, explains the importance of the site and of awareness of homeopathy in his Guardian piece, “Homeopathy Awareness Can Make The World A Happier and Healthier Place“.

This week’s episode of The Skeptic Zone Podcast (permalink) has more information on homeopathy than molecules of active ingredients in a homeopathic dilution, and includes my first attempt at a podcast report (replete with awful jokes, such as the one I’ve just made), in which I cover a minor skeptical activism success on the Better Health Channel’s promotion of WHAW. After an impromptu letter writing and social media campaign last week, and in light of the NHMRC draft report on homeopathy, the Better Health Channel made the commendable decision to remove WHAW from their events calendar. If you’re not already a regular Skeptic Zone listener, I encourage you to give it a go this week – despite my cheesy lines, the show is great.

Speaking of humour, I’d like to provide two more links on which to end this post. They’re not to be taken seriously, but sometimes laughter is… the best medicine. (Sorry – I’ll see myself out).

How Does Homeopathy Work? (from the 10:23 Campaign)

List of scientifically controlled double blind studies which have conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of homeopathy (from RationalWiki)

10:23 Campaign Against Homeopathy – Antarctic 2011 (a short video via The Skeptic Zone, in which Dr Paul Willis puts himself on the line and takes a homeopathic overdose!)

2009-11-02-homeoComic by Luke Surl, shared under Creative Commons Licence

Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013 Blogroll

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Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2013 Australian Skeptics National Convention, held at the CSIRO Discovery Center in Canberra. After two days of entertaining and enlightening talks (plus several fringe events), and some time spent with wonderful friends new and old, I have come away feeling very much recharged and inspired to involve myself further in grassroots skeptical activism.

The last talk of the conference on Sunday afternoon was “Looking to the future: where to now for skeptical thought”, by the illustrious Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox) of the Royal Institution of Australia (link to a recording of the talk here, thank you Ed Brown!). One of the topics he addressed was the importance of skeptical outreach via online media, noting that creation of online content is an accessible and cost-effective way in which to engage audiences. During his speech, he requested a quick show of hands to ask who in the audience had a blog – and on a whim, I quickly tweeted the suggestion of creating a blogroll for convention attendees.

Here is the beginning, a list of convention attendees who replied to my initial tweet. I would love to keep adding to this, so that we can keep in touch, keep up to date with one another’s writing and help share posts that we feel would be valuable to give more exposure to. If you would like to be added to the blogroll, please leave a comment here or get in touch via Twitter (@joalabaster) and I’ll put you on the list.

Brisbane SITP by Brisbane Skeptics in the Pub (@BrisbaneSitp)

Dan’s Journal of Skepticism by Dan Buzzard (@DanBuzzard)

Etwas Luft by Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0)

Evidence, Please by Jo Alabaster (@joalabaster)

Luke Freeman’s posts on Young Australian Skeptics by Luke Freeman (@lukefreeman)

Medicandus on The Conversation by Mick Vagg (@mickvagg)

Peter Bowditch’s Blog and The Millenium Project by Peter Bowditch (@RatbagsDotCom)

rbutr Blog and Shane’s Soapbox by Shane Greenup (@Aegist)

Really, Ed Brown by Ed Brown (@reallyedbrown)

RiAus Blog by Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox)

Skeptimanda by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus)

Skeptimite by Phil Kent (@skeptimite)

The Logical Place by Tim Harding (@mordiskeptic)

The Lone Deranger by Linley (@Lone_Deranger_)

The Sceptic’s Book of Pooh Pooh by Rachael Dunlop (@DrRachie)

There should be a sign by Shelley Stocken (@shellity)

Victorian Skeptics by… the Victorian Skeptics

I’d also like to link to some wonderful online tools mentioned by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus) in her talk “Guerrilla Skepticism: No more preaching to the choir”.

Skeptools – Tim Farley (@krelnik)’s vast compendium of skeptical software tools.

rButr – a browser plugin that tells you when the webpage you are viewing has been disputed, rebutted or contradicted elsewhere on the internet, founded by @Aegist.

Web of Trust – a browser plugin with a rating system and link notifications which aims to offer protection against online threats that only real life experience can detect, such as scams, untrustworthy links, and rogue web stores.

Skeptic Action – Simple and useful online daily tasks for skeptics!

Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia – Improving the skeptical content of Wikipedia entries.

I’d also like to include here the Eventifier summary of #auskepcon, which includes Tweets, photos and links posted over the weekend.

Finally, I’d like to note my personal thanks to Canberra Skeptics for all of their hard work in organising and running the convention, the speakers for presenting some excellent information for us all to ruminate upon and to everybody that I spoke with who was friendly and welcoming (being everyone that I interacted with). This was my first Big Skeptic Event(tm) and socially awkward and introverted as I am, I felt comfortable and valued – which I feel is testament to the wonderful sorts of people who have helped create the culture of Australian skepticism.

The AVN’s Hypocritical Culture of Censorship

Last weekend I was reading through some comments on the Australian Vaccination Network’s blog (here), when I noticed the following comment from Meryl Dorey in response to somebody expressing frustration with the difficulty they’ve experienced when trying to engage in a discussion on the AVN’s blog.

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“Comments are only withheld if they are abusive, harassing or for reasons such as those.”

This has not been my experience when I have tried to enter into discourse with others commenting on the AVN’s blog.

Initially, I thought that perhaps Meryl had a policy of not allowing me to comment because she finds what I say here, on Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network’s Facebook page and on Twitter objectionable.

A few weeks ago, Meryl posted a blog entry titled “Hate, Threats and Cowardice”, in which she attempted to link anonymous abusive emails she had received to SAVN. Despite my expectation that it would be removed, I decided to have a go at posting a short comment questioning whether Meryl’s assertion that you can judge somebody by the company they keep could also be applied to the AVN (who keep some rather dubious company – AIDS deniers, hateful homophobes who attempt to incite violence, those who harass grieving families [1, 2] and the reprehensible Erwin Alber to name but a few).

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To my surprise, not only did Meryl let my comment past moderation, she replied! Frankly, I was pleased – I spend a lot of time reading what the AVN have to say without any means by which to engage, question or ask for clarification. I’m also quite keen on understanding what makes Meryl and her supporters tick and engaging in discussion with them gives me a greater opportunity to do so than just watching from the sidelines.

Encouraged, I replied to another commenter:

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And also to Meryl:

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Alas, neither of these comments were approved for publication.

I have been trying to work out why these two comments were deemed unacceptable. This is why I was most interested when Meryl posted her statement last weekend on her moderation policy. I asked her if she could further clarify her terms, to give me the best possible chance of respectfully engaging with her and her supporters:

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I understand that Meryl was away on a seminar in Canberra last weekend, so I have waited patiently for her return to see whether she would reply to me. It has been almost a week now and I know that she has been online attending to AVN business, as she has posted on the AVN’s Facebook wall. I sent her a polite message on Twitter earlier today letting her know that I was hoping to hear from her and asking whether I should expect a response:

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So far, nothing. I will update this post if my comment is removed from limbo and either published and responded to or deleted.

Update: My comment was approved and replied to just before 9am the morning after I published this blog post (17/11/2012). Meryl’s reply can be found here, my reply to her will either be found in the same comment section or over here when Meryl decides whether to approve it or not.

I think that it is quite reasonable to wonder why I’ve bothered to demonstrate that the AVN censor comments on their blog to the degree that they do. Taking a look at their Facebook page, it is apparent that the admins are frequent users of the ban hammer – most long comment threads have at least a few comments missing, the awkward and confusing one-sided conversations and the comment totals that don’t match the number of comments visible are a giveaway. Unofficial figures suggest that people banned from the AVN’s Facebook page are upward of 300 (I suspect that this is a conservative estimate, given the number of people likely banned who either do not know of the Facebook group or are not interested in joining). Even some of the AVN’s supporters are cautiously speaking up:

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And you know, I don’t think that it does matter in and of itself. The AVN have every right to ban and censor whoever they like, be it because they feel threatened or abused, because they simply don’t like what somebody is saying or because they object to someone’s fashion sense (I jest). Likewise, there is no onus on them to be consistent with either the content or individuals that they’re happy to let through moderation on any given day. The AVN’s blog and Facebook page are to do with as they wish.

What does matter to me though, is that the AVN continually represent themselves as champions of free speech, as the underdogs who others (being SAVN and The Australian Skeptics) are trying to censor and suppress. It strikes me as incredibly hypocritical to espouse free speech, transparency and open debate while not allowing it (or admitting to the fact that they don’t) on their own turf, nor giving others the opportunity to participate by stating some house rules and sticking to them.

The AVN do not deserve the anti-censorship mantle they attempt to assume.

If their influence wasn’t so dangerous, I would care a lot less. However, the AVN spread harmful misinformation which can endanger the lives of children. As such, I wish for anybody who is considering what the AVN has to say to take a close look at their conduct.

As is it concealed by it’s very nature, the degree to which the AVN moderates blog comments is an unknown. It is not apparent how often comments are suppressed or whether unpublished comments are genuinely abusive or merely not to the moderator’s taste at any given moment.

In the spirit of shining some light on suppressed comments, I have started up a Facebook group, Denied! Rejected Comments from the AVN’s Blog.

As is probably apparent upon reading the title, Denied! Rejected Comments from the AVN’s Blog is a place for commenters on the AVN’s blog to post screenshots of comments that did not make it past moderation. The AVN’s supporters (and even Meryl herself) are most welcome to participate. I hope for some hearty discussion and also for the public to have the opportunity to see the range of information and points of view that the AVN does not wish to have aired on their blog.

The Dreaded Lurgi

No post of great substance this week, as I have been sidelined by a viral lurgi. I do have quite a few ideas floating about which I am looking forward to writing about when I’m able to think clearly again.

In the meantime, it seems appropriate to post a link to NPS Medicinewise’s campaign to fight antibiotic resistance. It’s an awareness campaign to promote the proper use of antibiotics and I feel that it’s worth a little linkspamming to get the message out to those who might not be familiar with what antibiotics are, do, don’t do and the potential consequences of their inappropriate or incorrect use.

Among OECD countries, Australia is well above the average prescription rate for antibiotics with twenty two million scripts written per year. NPS estimates that if at least 35000 Australians take the Resistance Fighter Pledge, we could get our antibiotic use back in line with other OECD countries. It’s a simple little meme that has the potential to do some good.

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1. I will not expect antibiotics for colds and flu as they have no effect on viruses.
2. I will take antibiotics as directed if I am prescribed them.
3. I will practice good hygiene to help stop the spread of germs.

This post brought to you by ‘Big Rest’, ‘Big Fluids’ and ‘Big Home Made Chicken Soup’. Written whilst under the influence of dihydrogen monoxide vapour.

Further reading:
NPS Medicinewise
Treating the Common Cold – Science-Based Medicine