This post was originally published on April 12 2015; then republished on the Mamamia sister-site Debrief Daily, on April 24 2015:
The despicable cruelty of the anti-vaccination movement
Post substantially updated on November 6 2015
There is a reason I and others refer to the anti-vaccination movement as fundamentalists and extremists. Put simply, they do go to what we would perceive as extreme lengths to further the reach and the defense of their beliefs.
One thing I found out immediately when I discovered the Australian Vaccination Network, six years ago, was that they subsist on cruelty and hate. And the hatred appears to stem from the fact that they are in some perverse sense jealous of families who have had babies and children die from a vaccine preventable disease. These families have real stories to tell their communities, and they almost always do tell their painful story so others may be spared the same fate. These stories are not just mere anecdotes, or reckons; these children have died from real, diagnosed illnesses, from real pathogens which kill. Anti-vaccinationists hate this. Anti-vaccinationists don’t have real stories to tell. They rely on fallacious reasoning and lies about imagined vaccine victims to bolster their beliefs. Anti-vaccinationists hate this, and they take it out on these families.
There are many ways in which the anti-vaccination movement vilifies grieving parents. They attempt to diminish the seriousness of the particular pathogen; they deny the diagnosis which caused the death; they blame vaccination given at birth (Hepatitis B); they claim the baby wasn’t breastfed; they blame vaccines the mother received during pregnancy; they blame other medication the mother may have taken; they claim the baby’s death was a mere anecdote from which no conclusions can be drawn; they privately message the parents under the guise of altruism which turns venomous; they ring the grieving parents directly and tell them their vaccine advocacy will kill children; they troll the internet where they know their comments will be seen so as to inflict hurt; and they jump onto memorial pages to abuse the parents directly. This list is not exhaustive.
I want to include a list of just some examples of the above. This list of screenshots is literally a fraction of what I have. Many of the screenshots are from 2009-12 unless otherwise noted. Many URLs from the original posts are gone as the comments were made by the Australian Vaccination Network troll known as Johanna Holland/Nicole Johnson. The Holland and Johnson accounts have all been disabled. New Holland/Johnson accounts are very active on Facebook and on Twitter. This troll has been protected on AVN fora for many years by Meryl Dorey and her admins. So, I’m not going to link to sources of the comments. They aren’t there any more.
This first example is from a now defunct troll account on Twitter; this is the same person who is now freely posting on all AVN fora, and interacting with Meryl Dorey, AVN fans and supporters. The troll referred to the McCafferys as “media whores” and “hateful people”. From November 2014:
In 2012, on the AVN Facebook page, the troll called the McCafferys “hateful parents” who are “avenging the death” of their daughter:
In 2010, on the AVN page, the Holland/Johnson troll accused the McCafferys of being members of a “cult” – Stop the AVN – who have set up their daughter’s memorial page to “avenge” her death. The troll also accused the McCafferys of being “nasty people”:
In 2011 the anonymous troll called the McCafferys “liars”:
In 2011, the Holland/Johnson troll vilified the McCafferys over having appeared on television, whilst accusing them of being members of a “vigilante hate group”:
On January 7 2012 the Holland/Johnson troll made the same accusations against Toni and David McCaffery; that they are “hateful parents” who act out of vengeance, and vilifying the McCafferys because they have appeared on television:
And again, in 2011, the troll accused the McCafferys of being liars:
In 2011 it had some choice things to say about Dana, and me:
Posted on the AVN page on April 27 2010, the Holland/Johnson troll accused Toni McCaffery of speaking “with a forked tongue” who is:
…inciting hatred against those who do not vaccinate. Anyone who accuses me of being a murderer gets no sympathy from me
On August 15 2015, on the No Vaccines Australia* Facebook page, the Holland/Johnson troll argued that the Hughes family “don’t really give a shit about other people’s children”, and that the Hughes are carrying out a campaign of self-absorbed “attention-seeking”:
On August 22 2015 the Holland/Johnson troll, using yet another fake account on the Things pro-vaxers say* Facebook page, vilified the Hughes family; anti-vaccine AVN member Tristan Wells supported the troll account by arguing that the Hughes family are “evil fascists”:
The awful Canberra resident, Tristan Wells, who thinks diseases “cannot be spread from person to person”, and that diarrheoa is “the resolution of ‘not being able to digest’ trauma”:
Publicly available image of Wells courtesy Facebook.
*No Vaccines Australia and Things pro-vaxers say Facebook pages have been strident in their vilification of the Hughes family. Both pages are administered by long-time, misogynistic, anonymous coward, Ian Hastings (AKA Ian Smith). Hastings also owns the execrable page, No Fluoride Australia, which has been vilifying female journalists and politicians for years, including celebrating physical violence against them. Ian Hastings is also one of the Sydney anti-vaccine protest leaders:
The courageous Ian Hastings (Ian Smith) and his partner, Belle Angel
Lovelight, who runs Conscious Hands Massage in Lilyfield NSW,
and who stands by all of Hastings’ attacks on bereaved
parents, journalists, and politicians with
whom he disagrees.
Ian Hastings vilified the Hughes family on Riley’s memorial page, on April 6 2015:
I’m so sick of hearing about this ridiculous story. yes it’s sad that your son died but unvaccinated children had nothing to do with it. why don’t you just admit the truth that you are a shill working for big pharma and leave the rest of us the fuck alone
On October 22 2015 the Holland/Johnson troll again made the “vengeance” accusation against the Hughes family, from it’s new Twitter account:
This is yet another Twitter account set up by the Holland/Johnson troll, attacking the Hughes family, in June 2015:
On October 16 2015 these shocking private messages were sent to the Hughes family, by yet another fake account – Robyn Jameson – created by the Holland/Johnson troll:
When it was starved for attention the Holland/Johnson troll took to sending private messages to others; this has been frequent behaviour of the troll in its manic phase:
Another private message from another of its many incarnations, from September 23 2015:
So as to further expose this behaviour, this is a private message the Holland/Johnson troll sent to a medical doctor in July 2014:
This is included to show how utterly awful this person is; and, by default, so is Meryl Dorey and her cult. This is the standard they accept. This is what they condone:
The following are from YouTube comments sections. They are all now defunct. This is the same troll as all of the above. Here it claimed that the McCafferys incite hatred:
It claimed that the McCafferys are liars who blame the unvaccinated for Dana’s death. They have never done this:
The anonymous troll claimed that the McCafferys have sought retribution in Dana’s name:
This is one of the troll’s most insidiously despicable acts. It commented on Meryl Dorey’s blog using Dana’s name, and my surname. Who impersonates a deceased infant? Meryl Dorey steadfastly refused to remove the comment from her blog for months. It eventually disappeared:
Kerry Baker was a registered nurse who emailed the McCafferys via Dana’s website. As they do, Baker the anti-vaccine activist stated she was “contacting [them] as a concerned parent”. It didn’t take long for the conspiracy accusations to fly. She accused the McCafferys of being paid, and claimed that they will be responsible for more deaths:
On January 27 2012, Baker replied: the true intent of her correspondence was now revealed:
I have done all of the above. Immunization is not the answer. Unvaccinated people are not to blame for your daughter’s death. Perhaps the vaccines she did receive and medical incompetence are to blame. ALL of your links are PRO the vaccine, but it is not 100% safe and effective. In fact, it may well have been the CAUSE of your daughter’s death. It appears that you must be getting some kind of sponsorship from the pharmaceutical companies. Yay, you now are actually playing a role in encouraging MORE babies to die
through your scare mongering tactics. The vaccine strain is the one my son’s dad nearly died from. Well done, I hope you are getting paid enough.
Toni and Dave did not reply any further. Baker added another email two hours later:
We reap what we sow. Claiming that unvaccinated people spread disease is wrong. Sick people spread disease. Including sick babies. But diseases exist to eradicate the unhealthy members of society. Perhaps you should stop pointing the finger at the unvaccinated and take responsibility for the other contributing factors. Your fear mongering is even more dangerous than disease. Perhaps you could have links that aren’t pro-vaccine? It’s quite likely that the vaccine is the reason your baby died. And the fact her immune system was probably already weakened by the vaccines she DID receive. Oh yeah, not to mention medical incompetence.
I will leave you alone, but you must choose to leave alone the people that choose not to vaccinate. Fair is fair. I feel you are very misguided and no doubt you think the same of me. But comparing how healthy and bright my unvaccinated son is, to how sick, dead or “special needs” the fully vaccinated kids are, well that’s proof enough for me.
We ought to learn from life’s painful lessons. Playing God with our children’s lives is what causes this unnecessary suffering.
Obviously, I don’t need to add anything to Baker’s own words: they speak for themselves as to what type of person uttered them.
Baker was investigated by AHPRA for her actions and had findings handed down against her. So, if you see a nurse or midwife making anti-vaccine comments online; report them. It will be taken seriously.
Judy Wilyman is a PhD student in public vaccination policy at the University of Wollongong. In 2012 Wilyman argued that Dana’s death was merely an anecdote which should not affect public health policy:
These programs have been promoting the whooping cough vaccine on anecdotal evidence (in particular ,Dana McCaffery’s death) and the mantra of ‘seeing sick babies gasping for air’.
Wilyman also argued that the McCafferys were undertaking their immunisation advocacy because they were receiving monetary rewards. From Meryl Dorey’s blog comments; The University of Wollongong never did get back to me about this set of claims from one of their students. It must have been the overwhelming pride holding them back:
Wilyman not only made those hideous claims about the McCafferys – claims she also made about the Hughes family [further down in this post] – she did it again in September 2015!
Little Kailis Smith died in 2011 from whooping cough. The Smiths were also fair game in Holland’s eyes. This comment was made whilst Kailis was in hospital fighting for his life. Note how the troll accuses the Hep B shot of being the culprit, not the pathogen. It also accused Rosalind Smith – Kailis’ mum – of blaming others. She did nothing of the sort:
In 2010 Michael Kokegei died from chicken pox. His father, Chris, went on television to warn parents of the serious possible outcomes from what the community usually believes is a benign illness. A post was made on the AVN page regarding the segment. The AVN responded with mockery. A child died. The AVN had a laugh:
It’s not April Fools today, it’s spring!
But that wasn’t the end of it. As I wrote earlier, Chris received a phone call from a representative of the AVN, who had an American accent (just like Meryl Dorey). And Chris was told of the harm he was doing by advocating for immunisation:
After the Sunrise interview Chris Kokegei received a phone call from his Sunrise contact. They had received a phone call from a woman who claimed that she was also the parent of an injured child, and that she would very much like to talk to Chris. Chris gave the okay for Sunrise to pass on his mobile phone number to the mystery caller, not expecting anything untoward.
The woman rang. She had an American accent and she introduced herself (Chris cannot precisely recall the name given), saying that she was from the Australian Vaccination Network. He had no idea who she was, or what the AVN was about. The woman immediately conveyed her concerns to Chris that he was advocating something which was dangerous and ineffective (the Varicella vaccine), and questioned him as to whether he should be doing this. His advocacy was going to harm more children, he was told. When Chris told her she does not have the evidence to back up her claims, the woman told him to go to the AVN website to find all of the information. The woman also told Chris that his son must have been weak, to have succumbed to such a harmless disease. These things are a matter of survival of the fittest, he was told.
Chris was in shock. He stated that he didn’t want to hear any more of her stories, and not to contact him again, and he hung up. He was very upset, confused, and agitated that someone would call him with this sort of callous misinformation, considering he had just appeared on television appealing to parents to ensure they protected their children so that they, too, would not have to suffer the tragedy his family had suffered. He conveyed, very clearly, to the woman that he had no interest in speaking to her again.
The woman rang again, two days later. Chris hung up the phone a second time.
As discussed above, only recently, little Riley Hughes died from whooping cough. Riley’s Mum and Dad immediately set about on an information campaign. And they’ve had immediate success, working with the McCafferys to ensure maternal Pertussis boosters are rolled out across the country. But, where we see selflessness and altruism which is the hallmark of all of these parents, anti-vaccinationists see targets. See this post for the collection of, frankly, shocking attacks on the Hughes family, posted onto Riley’s memorial page: Anti-vaccinationists attack the parents and the memorial page of a baby boy.
At the time of Riley’s death comments questioning the facts of his passing appeared on various sites.
Cate Andrews (Uebergang) is a chiropractor who operates the manipulating business Life Chiropractic Goondiwindi. Andrews immediately got onto the AVN Facebook page to start sowing doubt about Riley’s death:
Richard Dean is another chiropractor who currently studies in France. He jumped into the comments section of the Daily Telegraph to voice his opinions about the real reason Riley died. It was breastfeeding issues and the like, he argued:
Riley’s Mum replied with evidence, which only further provoked the chiropractor:
The AVN’s resident troll, Holland/Johnson, also attempted to whip up a frenzy on the AVN page:
This comment is from New England (US) crackpot Cynthia Maurer. Maurer left this despicable, cruel comment on Riley’s memorial page the day after it started:
Strong supporter of the AVN, Rixta Francis, wrote a blog post which is as wrong as it is awful. The March 26 post which rounds off by calling whooping cough immunisation “crimes against humanity”, also contains this dreadful claim:
Recently a baby in Australia died from whooping cough. It probably died from lack of breast milk and too much antibiotics, but let’s not discuss those details.
Then, on September 4 2015, the repugnant creature repeated her claims – blaming Cath Hughes for her baby son’s death – knowing how hurtful they were the first time she excreted them, in March. For the record, Riley was breastfed:
These babies died while having whooping cough, but in reality they most probably died from lack of breast milk and bad medical treatment. A fully breastfed baby is pretty much 100% protected against whooping cough…
Publicly available image of Francis courtesy Facebook.
Monique Grobben, of Brisbane, featured in the Sunday Telegraph due to her extraordinary, flippant callousness. Grobben – the ex-wife of rugby league player Steve Walters – delighted in carrying out precisely the same act as the horrid act perpetrated by the anti-vaccine nurse – Kerry Baker – above; Grobben contacted the Hughes family via private message and trolled them. And then she laughed about it:
Lol. I shouldn’t laugh but I messaged the mum. I started out with a condolence letter…I cannot believe how ignorant this lady is
Publicly available image of Grobben (left) with proud partner
Mookie Malthouse (right) courtesy Facebook.
On The Today Show Facebook page we saw the usual accusations. Here is a denial that whooping cough really kills, from alternative health therapist – and de-registered enrolled nurse – Louisa Kenzig (AKA Lulu Langford, AKA Veritas Aléthia):
Kenzig/Langford went on to make a series of astonishingly callous remarks about Riley and the Hughes family.
This is Kenzig/Langford denying that baby Riley Hughes ever existed:
This is Kenzig/Langford stating that Riley Hughes’ mum has a hidden agenda:
And this is Kenzig/Langford lying about the mother of a deceased baby boy; telling lies that Riley’s mum has made fun of other deceased children:
Wendy Hillier-Bull presented the offensive, repugnant dead-baby-competition, which is the anti-vaccine movement’s erroneous trump card:
Daisy Marskell (Daisy Madden) is related to AVN committee member Kaye Payne (Marskell). You can see the pride in their concern trolling. You can smell it:
And this brings us back to Judy Wilyman. Proving the University of Wollongong has the courage to stand behind its students who belittle the deaths of babies for ideological point-scoring, Wilyman repeated the anecdote claim about Riley which she had made about Dana, years before:
There’s a reason I decided to write up this compilation. It’s because the courageous, anonymous Holland/Johnson troll decided to post onto Dana’s Facebook page, and onto Riley’s memorial Facebook page. The same comments were posted on both pages:
On Light for Riley:
This Holland/Johnson troll page has been deleted. Courageous and anonymous. And protected and condoned.
And who can forget this awful person; Anna Rodgers (AKA Miss Eco Glam), who referred to Cath Hughes as a “bitch” and denied that Riley existed. Rodgers first appeared in this Rosalie Hilleman post which also depicts the incredibly cruel behaviour of anti-vaccinationists toward the Hughes family. The Hughes and McCafferys were – and this is not a joke – nominated for a “Goebbels Award” by antivaxers. From Rosalie’s post:
Yes, you read that right, they ‘nominated’ 4 parents who had lost their babies to whooping cough, then devoted themselves to awareness campaigns in an effort to prevent other families suffering the same loss.
Publicly available images of Anna Rodgers and proud husband
Nathan Rodgers courtesy Facebook.
There is one thing I really want to make clear in closing. All of these anti-vaccine trolls, and the anti-vaccine acolytes, and the anti-vaccine grunts, are all following the lead of Meryl Dorey, who has been doing this sort of thing for twenty years, and almost getting away with it until the last six years.
This is Dorey in 1997, from my earlier blog post, unrestrained by the public eye, heaping scorn at will, and barging into areas unwelcome, attempting to access details of confidential medical records:
A friend has just sent me an AVN Press Release, from January 1997. Unfortunately, it shows that Dorey’s callousness, in the pursuit of her beliefs, and the attendant raging narcissism, has a long history. In this release Dorey offers a precursor to her whole career as a public health menace [bold mine]:
There has been a lot of publicity about the four alleged whooping cough deaths which the government has been using to whip up mass hysteria. The health authorities refuse to release the names of the so-called pertussis victims. Until they do, one must be sceptical, particularly in light of the authority’s dubious past in disseminating incorrect information about such matters.
For instance, Dr. Margaret Burgess, a spokesperson for the New Children’s Hospital, had claimed several weeks ago on the ABC radio’s show “The World Today”, that there had been several deaths from whooping cough in the last few weeks in Sydney. The AVN had contacted every hospital in Sydney and was unable to find one in which a child had died from whooping cough. The journalist who had presented the show checked back with Dr. Burgess only to be told that there had been two deaths – one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. Did even these deaths take place? It’s hard to say.
You read that correctly.
On April 30 2010 Dorey uttered the word “supposedly”, which would rightly come to haunt her. That simple word would be her albatross of callousness. And, as you’ve seen above, others followed her:
Isn’t it incredible how they have made Dana into a martyr because she supposedly died from whooping cough…
Dorey also attempted to access details of confidential medical records when Dana died. From my earlier post:
On the day before Dana’s funeral, in March 2009, Meryl Dorey rang the Director of Public Health at the then North Coast Area Health Service, contending that Dana did not die from Pertussis. She even had the temerity to claim that the Director had lied to the McCafferys about the content of that phone conversation, and that it was in fact the Director who was the real person harassing the McCafferys.
Let’s remember that Dorey made her intent clear to her followers in 2009:
From July 12 2010, on the ABC’s Lateline program; the horrid evidence against Dorey is presented; as is her callous, studied, calculated notpology:
So, when we look at all of the shocking behaviour, and the cruelty, and the callousness of the trolls, and the anti-vaccinationists, and the University of Wollongong PhD student, and the chiropractors who have attempted to hide their identities in the last fortnight; just remember who enabled them. Remember who holds the giant dog-whistle, telling them it’s okay to attack grieving families. It’s Meryl Dorey and her cabal of narcissists. And it’s anyone who treats these repugnant ghouls with respect and kid gloves.
Yes Meryl Dorey has never once tried to control the cruelty published on her Facebook page or blogs. She really has nothing to do with “informed choice”.
And someone verbally attacked Greg Hughes recently too, according to the Northern Rivers page. So disgusting. I cannot with these people.
Reblogged this on Dr Thinus' musings.
Reasonable hank you are so wonderfully reasonable. As always, well written.
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This is just appalling. Every time I hear about an infant who dies of a vaccine preventable disease, I think of my own son and how lucky we were that he held out until he could get his shots. We actually went out one month after his birth to the mall. Fortunately he didn’t catch anything, thanks to herd immunity. But because of these nitwits lowering herd immunity, if we have any more kids, we would have to be homebound until our next child has their shots.
It’s amazing that the hate is so misplaced and should be directed towards the anti-vaccine movement. I feel sorry for these parents who lost kids and the crap they have to go through. Hank, you are doing a good job exposing these people. If there was any way to hold these people to account.
hi i am pro vaccine and can’t believe the despicable things these nasty people are saying about children and those who have lost babies it’s sickening, but i am uncertain how you know who the accounts belong to if the names are different? let me know as i am curious thanks in advance! 🙂
These people aren’t as good as they think they are at hiding their real names. Their identities are easily searchable publicly available information.
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Given I don’t use Facebook, I just want to use this comment section to extend my sympathies to the parents of Riley Hughes (and to the families of other children who have been lost to these horrid diseases).
I also wish to apologise on behalf of the rest of the human race for the nasty comments you have received from a minority of nutters. I can’t believe we share the same DNA as these people. I have always been passionately pro-vax, but since I had a little boy late last year, I despise the anti-vaxers even more.
For me personally, what makes this whole sad event even more emotionally trying is how similar your cute little boy Riley looks to my cute little boy. I must say that (like my little man) the photo of Riley is one of a very handsome lad!
Obviously I’d feel very sad for any family who lost a child, regardless of how similar or dissimilar their child looked to mine. It’s just that in the case of Riley, the similarities really made me see my own little boy in his face and made me imagine what it would be like for that to happen to him. Naturally, it provoked a VERY strong emotional response.
Following on from that, I imagined what it must have been like to be vilified at such a sad time by uninformed, heartless scum. Naturally, that made me bloody angry.
To the anti-vaxers out there: First, please check your facts. Second, if you won’t be convinced, please don’t post such hateful comments to people who are grieving.
I salute the Hughes family for pushing on with their plans to inform people of the importance of vaccinations and for people not to ignore evidence based medicine for their children. I also salute them for not being discouraged by the vile comments of the anti-vax morons. You (and any other family this has happened to) should know that there are compassionate people other there who feel for you and do not condone the nasty activity of such fanatics.
PS. Anybody who reads this and has a Facebook account, feel free to post it on the Riley remembrance site if they wish to! There are a number of reasons why I’m not on Facebook, which I won’t go into here. But I will say that the poor signal to noise ratio of social media due to nutjobs like the anti-vaxers and other idiots is one reason!
Thanks so much, Chris. I’ll pass this on to Cath and Greg for you.
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