The Chiropractors’ Association of Australia: the compulsion of anti-vaccinationism

Over the last couple of months attention has been brought upon chiropractors and their tendency towards anti-vaccination misinformation. In March, Amy Corderoy wrote this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, showing that chiropractors were receiving this (on CAA letterhead) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training from US-based anti-vaccine activist and chiropractor, Tim O’Shea. The story also made it into Antonio Bradley’s articles in 6 Minutes, and The Conversation with this wonderful article by Dr Mick Vagg (this covers the major points). The startling news that the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia would even contemplate providing CPD on immunisation, let alone from someone of the calibre of O’Shea, reverberated pretty quickly amongst the more evidence-based sections of the chiropractic community. The Chiropractic Board of Australia (CBA), which outsourced the CPD approvals to the CAA, immediately stated there would be an investigation into the courses. The CBA also published a Position Statement in response to the affair:

Patients have the right to make their own health decisions, but they need to be appropriately informed about the benefits and the risks to both the individual and the broader community associated with their health decisions.

Practitioners may often be asked to provide information not directly relevant to their competency or the scope of their practice; in such cases patients should be referred to someone with sufficient expertise in that field to have their questions or concerns addressed.

Advice about vaccination is not typically within the usual area of practice for a chiropractor. Current evidence indicates that preventative measures such as vaccination are a cost and clinically effective public health procedure for certain viral and microbial diseases.

When Amy Corderoy’s story broke there was a few days of silence. When the silence broke, Tony Croke – a national director of the CAA – accused her of misquoting him in her article (where Croke said “he did not meet chiropractors who were anti-vaccination”). Amy Corderoy steadfastly stated that her quotes were accurate, and that she had already confirmed that this was the case. So, I asked Croke, on Twitter, whether he did meet any anti-vaccine chiropractors. In fact, I had to ask him several times. He didn’t answer it. Instead, I got obfuscation, then, ridicule in response; Croke linking to a website inferring I was insane for asking him the same question over and over again. It is hard to get a straight answer from these guys.

The CAA doesn't even have a policy on immunisation. It's more of a fingers-in-ears document which is as elusive as a subluxation.

The CAA doesn’t even have a policy on immunisation. It’s more of a fingers-in-ears document which is as elusive as a subluxation.

So, I thought I’d ask Croke about his membership of the Australian Vaccination Network. He argued that he joined to get the “contrarian view”. He admitted being a member, but, that he had left (he left in 2011). I asked him how long he was a member. Let’s just say, I know how long he was a member. But, he wanted to be coy:

How long does one need a contrarian view?

How long does one need a contrarian view?

He wouldn’t answer this question, either:

Well, he wasn't an AVN member for one year. Nor was he a member for five years.

Well, he wasn’t an AVN member for one year. Nor was he a member for five years.

Another of the CAA’s best and brightest is Rob Hutchings, based in Adelaide. He started commenting on the AVN Facebook page in 2010, using what he deemed was his prowess in all matters immunological to support the anti-vaccine organisation. At one point he mentioned anti-freeze (oh, yes he did). Also in 2010 Hutchings thought he would jump into the comments section of a Courier Mail article, to warn people of the dangers of vaccines. Take particular note of this remark by Hutchings:

I am a doctor and I wrote a thesis on vaccination

Chirpractor deliberately pretending to be a doctor so as to provide anti-vaccine misinformation. Nice.

Chiropractor deliberately pretending to be a doctor so as to provide anti-vaccine misinformation. Nice.

Joe Ierano is the President of the CAA (NSW). He also likes to support and protect the AVN. From “dark powers”, apparently. Here he is in February 2010, on the AVN Facebook page:

I know. Just send light to this situation.

I know. Just send light to this situation.

One of my favourite CAA members is NSW North Coast chiropractor, Jason Parkes. He has previously referred to the HPV vaccine as “the skank vaccine”, and here gives what I think is a powerful argument advocating that vaccines do in fact cause autism, and not a rare (in this instance) mitochondrial disorder:

Look. Mitochondrial bullshit may in fact be a smokescreen. Who am I to argue?

Look. Mitochondrial bullshit may in fact be a smokescreen. Who am I to argue?

And here is the CAA’s Parkes again, on the AVN Facebook page. Defending chiropractic, he states:

Of course we don’t support vaccination, it’s the biggest medical sham since blood letting!

Oh, Hi Joe! You must admit, Jason Parkes' honesty is refreshing.

Oh, Hi Joe! You must admit, Jason Parkes’ honesty is refreshing.

There is a kind of favourite chiropractor, bordering on a soft spot for many of us. CAA NSW Board Member Nimrod Weiner has seen his fair share of heartache. However, with Weiner still busy filling his Facebook page with information advocating chiropractic on babies, the soft spot dulls somewhat.

In 2011 Weiner ventured into immunisation information provision with a series of seminars. Adam Cresswell wrote in The Australian:

In a public talk, the Sydney chiropractor linked vaccines to asbestos, thalidomide and cigarettes, and said they contained bits of aborted fetus. The chiropractor backed the debunked research of deregistered British doctor Andrew Wakefield – which suggested the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine might cause autism – as “scientifically good”…

Mr Weiner declined to comment, referring questions from The Australian to a PR company, which said the Chiropractors Association of Australia (NSW) had no position on vaccination and “any comments that Nimrod Weiner may have made would be his private opinions, not those of the association”.

Weiner faced no sanction for his misinformation sessions, later retracting the slides from his website. Dr Rachael Dunlop has also written a comprehensive account of the events surrounding Weiner’s disastrous anti-vaccination seminars.

Why that long preamble, you ask? Well, I found out, yesterday, that another CAA member, Todd Gignac, of Adelaide Family Chiropractic, is planning his own vaccination seminar, to be held on Thursday May 2 2013. Gignac is describing this event as a “complimentary public service”:

The Greater Good. Public service. Well done, champ.

The Greater Good. Public service. Well done, champ.

I want to give the benefit of the doubt. I really do. But, when someone is advocating doing a “public service” using the sentence, “be informed, not by propaganda or junk science, but the actual facts… then you can make the best decisions”, whilst citing The Greater Good, an anti-vaccine propaganda piece par excellence – shredded here by Dr David Gorski – then my skeptical antennae start spinning out of control.

And when one of the first things you see on the Adelaide Family Chiropractic Facebook page is a multi-coloured graph by none other than Raymond Obomsawin – also shredded here by Orac – using the term “blind faith” to describe influenza immunisation, then, my skeptical antennae tie themselves up in a knot:

The world's only graphs which look exactly like red flags of quackery, eliciting an immediate response.

The world’s only graphs which look exactly like red flags of quackery, eliciting an immediate response.

But, when the Adelaide Family Chiropractic’s chiropractic assistant sends an email to the wrong website, thinking it is the website of Kathy Scarborough (South Australia’s version of Meryl Dorey and her anti-vaccine AVN), seeking out the advice of that anti-vaccination campaigner; then, you know this seminar is going to be about anything but facts and public health benefits. Here is an email mistakenly sent to my friend, under the inept presumption that the email was going to Kathy Scarborough (re-produced in the public interest, and in the interests of public health):

Hi Kathy,

Im emailing you on behalf of Dr Todd Gignac, who is a
Chiropractor in morphett vale. We are doing a seminar on the 2nd of May and Dr Todd was wondering if there is a time he could have a chat to you?
Our office number is 08 8322 8399



So, even after all of the turmoil members of the CAA have gotten themselves into, we still have CAA members all too happy to present anti-vaccination seminars to members of our community, under the guise of providing information. It is obvious that Gignac does not have the competence to be discussing immunisation, given his judgement on what constitutes reliable information (on his Facebook page), or to whom he goes for such information (Scarborough). I would strongly urge anyone who can get along to this seminar to do so, so as to take notes and report on the information given. People who deliberately misinform the community about health matters need to be held to account. In South Australia, chiropractors come under the auspices of AHPRA.

It is unfortunate that a whole profession gets tainted by the actions of some members of the CAA. What really makes me think this is a larger problem is that many of the self-promoting, high-flying, boys club of chiro-stars are not amenable to accountability, evidence, or self-reflection. There are many more examples than those I have cited above, but, there appears to be a pattern of hubris, ineptitude, and a mixture of both, which is bringing the whole profession down. These people have a natural tendency towards anti-vaccinationism, and only rarely do they admit their true views. For those who declare their anti-vaccine views, I thank you. For the others, why don’t you just come clean, so the community knows what is at the heart of your views on immunisation?

It is coincidental, but, hopefully not without a provocation for action, that I blogged a Parliamentary Speech by South Australian MLC Kyam Maher, in which Mr Maher called for more to be done about the proliferation of pseudoscience and those who promote it. Let’s hope the time for action is now.


Here is a list of Professional Members of the anti-vaccine Australian Vaccination Network. I don’t know how many of these chiropractic members are also CAA members. We’ll get around to counting, one day. This image, courtesy of Liam Skoda, represents AVN professional membership:


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