On November 2 2015 this senate committee public hearing took place, in Brisbane: Community Affairs Legislation Committee – 02/11/2015 – Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill 2015.
The public hearing kicked off at 0900 hours, with the five anti-vaccination representatives, listed as such:
BEATTIE, Mr Greg, Member, Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.
DOREY Ms Meryl, Private capacity
KEMP, Mrs Debbie Patricia, Member of Delegation, Citizens Concerned with Vaccination Legislation and Safety
SMITH, Mr Brett, Member of Delegation, Citizens Concerned with Vaccination Legislation and Safety
TOMLJENOVIC, Dr Lucija, Guest Speaker, Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.
Dorey and Beattie introduced themselves:
Ms Dorey : I was the founder of the Australian vaccination network and I am just a concerned citizen testifying today.
Mr Beattie : I was past president of the Australian vaccination network.
Courtesy of my friend, our favourite black, cast-iron flying pig, here is audio of the pertinent section of the anti-vaccine testimony which concerns us today. I’ve added the audio to this video:
And here is the transcript, taken from the parliament website, so we can read along to the breathtaking meltdown:
Senator DI NATALE: I might start with the AVN. You referred to yourself as the AVN on a number of occasions through your submission but my understanding was that you were instructed to change your name. Can you explain to me why you keep referring to yourselves as the Australian Vaccination Network.
Mr Beattie : I will respond to that by saying: what on earth relevance does this have to this inquiry?
Senator DI NATALE: I will get to that in a moment but I am interested in the reasons for the representation of yourselves as the Australian Vaccination Network when you have been instructed to change your name. I just want an understanding.
Mr Beattie : When I was president, it was called the Australian Vaccination Network. Chair, is this relevant?
CHAIR: The members are entitled to ask questions. We tend to have a fairly wide-ranging discussion. You are entitled to answer the question how you like but I am not going to rule out Senator Di Natale’s questions. He is entitled to ask his questions.
Mr Beattie : I will answer it with this: I would like to know why you have not recused yourself from this panel, Senator Di Natale, given the fact that you very publicly have shown your derision for the people who this bill is going to most affect. Why have you not recused yourself? You should have nothing to do with this process whatsoever.
CHAIR: I would ask witnesses and people in the gallery to keep order as best we can. There is no need for applause and the like. I understand there are strong feelings but we will try and have a back-and-forth with questions. Senator Di Natale, continue.
Senator DI NATALE: I have asked a specific question. I am keen to get an answer. It is actually quite a serious issue because a ruling has been made and I am concerned that this organisation is representing itself in a capacity in which they are not able to do so. I think it is important that we understand the rationale for them representing themselves as a group, which they are not entitled to do. That is where I would like to start.
CHAIR: I made the name clear when I introduced them. I am not going to stop them from saying certain things. These things are on the record and you have now noted that so it will be on the Hansard record and people can read that.
Mr Smith : It is good to see, Senator Di Natale, that you are doing great work for the sceptics. I have been a member of the Greens since 2001 and I will have to tell you now, I think you are a disgrace to the green movement and you will end up like the Australian Democrats—your primary vote is going to be gutted like the democrats—so well done.
CHAIR: We will try and stick to answering questions if we could.
Senator DI NATALE: Again, I urge you, Chair, to ensure that the hearing is conducted in the spirit in which most of these hearings are conducted.
CHAIR: I am certainly doing my best, Senator Di Natale, and I am giving you the call. Obviously I cannot instruct witnesses how to answer but I would ask people to all be respectful to one another.
Mr Smith : We have limited time so I am hoping that we can actually concentrate on the issues here and not worry about what Rupert Murdoch and News Limited want you to say today at this hearing.
So, instead of answering a simple question so the hearing could move along, AVN representatives attack Senator Di Natale over his directly relevant question, which goes to the credibility of the AVN and its representatives, as borne out by Senator Di Natale’s follow-up questions:
Senator DI NATALE: Given that today’s hearing is not actually about the effectiveness of vaccines, I am more interested in the credibility of the witnesses here today. In terms of the evidence provided by the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, there was a ruling made by the Health Care Complaints Commission in New South Wales that the information they provide on vaccination is:
… misleading to the average reader because it is either incorrect, inaccurately represented or because it has been taken out of context.
What has the organisation done to correct the way in which they present that information? How is that different today compared with the manner in which they have presented information on this issue in the past?
Mr Smith : About the AVN, there are a lot of groups here that are not represented by the AVN. You are wasting a lot of our time. I know Mr Murdoch wants you to ask these questions.
CHAIR: Order! It is going to be virtually impossible if people speak over one another. I cannot order Senator Di Natale. He is entitled to ask his questions and you can choose to answer them in whatever way you like. We are almost out of time and it is unhelpful. There was a question but I missed most of it. I am not going to instruct senators how to ask their questions; they are all entitled to ask their questions.
CHAIR: We are virtually out of time. If somebody would like to address the question that Senator Di Natale has—
Ms Dorey : No, we do not want to address that question.
CHAIR: Order! It is unhelpful when we have several people speaking at once. I would ask that we have one person speaking at a time.
Mrs Kemp : I just want to say for the sake of moving on, because it feels like there is a very definite strategy here to hijack our opportunity to speak, there is a committee that has been put in place by parliament. I can see on the paper here that Senator Di Natale is a participating member. I would like to give the committee the respect it deserves and accept that it has been able to choose the appropriate people to speak. I think we should move on and ask questions about the particular subject we are here for.
CHAIR: I think there is going to be an agreement to disagree between the witness and the senator. We are out of time. Senator Di Natale, do you have a final question before we move on to other witnesses?
Senator DI NATALE: No, that question was specifically about the AVN and it could have been answered very directly by the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network. Obviously there have been a number of interjections. If they choose to ignore the question, that is their prerogative to do so. I am more than happy to discuss the matter but it is not the matter that the presentation was about. It was not about the effectiveness of vaccines but specifically about this legislation and its intent to increase vaccination rates. It may be a surprise to some of the witnesses here today but I indeed have some concerns, not around the effectiveness of vaccines but more around whether this legislation will achieve its intent, which is to increase vaccination rates. However, I have given the opportunity to the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network to perhaps provide an account of the Health Care Complaints Commission ruling against them and they have chosen not to do that. They are absolutely entitled to do that.
CHAIR: If you have a question, I invite you to ask it. I would prefer if you did not engage in statements as well.
Senator DI NATALE: I am more than happy to hand the floor over to one of the other senators if they have got questions.
Ms Dorey : Since Senator Di Natale has hijacked almost the entire question time, may I ask if any of the other participating or full members of the committee have any questions regarding vaccination that they would like to ask us or ask the expert witness we have here.
CHAIR: We are out of time and I am trying to manage the time. A significant share of the time has been given to opening statements. Of the 45 minutes, the vast bulk was opening statements so I do not think there is an intent to stop anyone from speaking.
There are two issues of direct relevance raised by Senator Di Natale, and the subsequent, ferocious attack upon him undertaken by the anti-vaccine representatives:
- The NSW HCCC Public Health Warning and the repetition of anti-vaccine claims cited by that warning, and
- Anti-vaccine thug – and “troll hunter” – Mr Brett Smith’s attempt to distance himself from the AVN as a pure rhetorical flourish devoid of substance.
Publicly available image of anti-vaccine thug Brett Smith courtesy Twitter
Addressing the second point before we move onto the HCCC Public Warning; Brett Smith attacks Senator Di Natale over his questions about the AVN’s credibility:
Mr Smith : About the AVN, there are a lot of groups here that are not represented by the AVN. You are wasting a lot of our time. I know Mr Murdoch wants you to ask these questions.
There are very good reasons why the anti-vaccine panel is representative of the discredited AVN. By their own admission, two former presidents of the AVN are giving testimony; another witness, anti-vaccine PhD activist Lucija Tomljenovic, is appearing as an expert witness on behalf of the AVN; and Mr Brett Smith appeared on behalf of the AVN as an “AVN member”, at the recent Public Health (Childcare Vaccination) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 Public Hearing, held on September 10 2015. So, four out of the five anti-vaccine representatives are documented AVN representatives. Meryl Dorey even noted this in her blog post about the September public hearing:
The AVN’s group consisted of Greg Beattie, Tasha David (current AVN President) and Brett Smith, a member of the AVN.
And, courtesy of Dr Rachael Dunlop, Brett Smith even states that he is an AVN representative, for the September Queensland inquiry’s cameras [3:20]:
My name is Brett Smith and I am a member of the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network
So, any attempt by Brett Smith at claiming that he is not representative of the AVN is, at best, disingenuous. And, while we are talking about Smith’s appearance, as an AVN representative, at the September inquiry, I want to highlight this lie he told to the Queensland Health and Ambulance Services Committee (Inquiry transcript: page 22):
If you actually look at how rotavirus got on the schedule in Australia and the Western World, it is a fine example of how a product like this should not be pseudo mandated. I do not know if anyone is really aware of rotavirus and how it became part of the schedule in the United States and then, de facto wise, in Australia, but it was developed and patented by Dr Paul Offit. He had the privilege of also sitting on the advisory board of the CDC to determine which vaccines would end up on the schedule. That vaccine ended up on the schedule in the United States and he made over $40 million, and it is now on our schedule.
It is a matter of public record that Dr Paul Offit did not sit on the advisory board which recommended his RotaTeq vaccine be added to the US vaccine schedule. From Liz Ditz, addressing a previous Meryl Dorey lie which is obviously being parroted by Smith:
Did Paul Offit MD “Sit on the FDA Committee” That Approved His RotaTeq Vaccine?
Here’s Meryl Dorey’s claim, made September 22, 2011 on the Australian Vaccination Network Facebook page …
At the time the FDA committee was considering approving this vaccine, he sat on that committee and even though he excused himself from the vote, he was there for the preliminary debate.
She is entirely wrong.
Dr. Offit was a member of an entirely different committee at the Centers for Disease Control, the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP). He was invited to join because of his expertise in rotaviruses and intestinal immunology. He served from October 1998 until June 2003.
A previous vaccine against rotavirus, RotaShield, was voted onto the US immunization schedule early in 1998 (note: before Dr. Offit was on the ACIP). He did vote to approve RotaShield for the Vaccines for Children program, which subsidizes vaccines for low-income families.
The ACIP voted to approve RotaTeq in February 2006, two years and 9 months after Dr. Offit had left the committee.
The facts laid out above have been public knowledge for years. Ms. Dorey is either knowingly misrepresenting the facts, or is unable to take in new information.
So, Brett Smith misled the Queensland Health and Ambulance Services Committee.
Now, getting back to our first point: the NSW HCCC Public Warning, and its importance in demonstrating the AVN’s poor credibility, as alluded by Senator Di Natale. The importance of the Public Warning is twofold:
- the AVN has previously been found to provide misinformation on the subject of vaccination; and it was asked to amend its misinformation.
- the AVN included at least four similar claims in its submission to the Senate Inquiry which were already noted by the HCCC Public Warning.
The HCCC in publishing its Public Warning requested that the AVN “amend its published information with regard to the above issues and the Commission will monitor the implementation of these recommendations”:
The AVN has not complied with the HCCC recommendations. Not only has the AVN not complied with the HCCC recommendations; the AVN repeated some of the claims it was asked to amend, in its submission to the Senate!
Senator Di Natale was very aware of this. And so was Meryl Dorey. Remember this part?
Ms Dorey : No, we do not want to address that question [of AVN compliance with the HCCC recommendations].
Here is the text of the HCCC Public Warning [pertinent sections in bold], interspersed with sections of the AVN Senate Submission in which similar incorrect claims of vaccine efficacy, safety, and/or side-effects are made:
[HCCC Public Warning]
The investigation found that AVN provides information on vaccination that is misleading to the average reader because it is either incorrect, inaccurately represented or because it has been taken out of context. Specifically:
- AVN makes specific assertions about the efficacy of the Gardasil vaccine used to prevent cervical cancer caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It states that:
- the connection between HPV and cervical cancer is tenuous at best and incomprehensive at worst
- the vaccine contains only four of the 100 strains of HPV and therefore its use is a “shot in the dark”
- it is an experimental vaccine with no proven record of safety or effectiveness.
- AVN does not qualify that:
- Gardasil contains the four strains of HPV that have the greatest potential to cause cancer
- the link between HPV and cervical cancer has been established beyond reasonable doubt
- significant research went into assessing the probable safety and efficacy of Gardasil before it was ever used in humans
- since its use, extensive worldwide data on its safety and efficacy has been collected supporting its safety.
AVN Senate Submission questioning HPV vaccine. Page 36:
2) Many pre-market clinical trials of vaccines use a non-inert placebo such as aluminium adjuvant or another vaccine in the no-treatment control group. This has the effect of increasing the rate of side effects in the no-treatment group acting to minimise the difference in rates of side effect between the treatment and no-treatment group, which in effect is not a no-treatment group at all. The following is one of many examples.
“Women were randomized 1:1 to receive HPV-16/18 AS04-adjuvanted vaccine or aluminum hydroxide as a control.”
[HCCC Public Warning continued]
- AVN asserts that the pertussis vaccine used to prevent whooping cough cannot protect against a new strain of pertussis, and that 84% of cases in the community are caused by this new strain. Further, AVN claims that the administration of the new acellular vaccine sometimes requires surgery at the injection site and attributes this as the reason for the change in the vaccination schedule with the removal of the 18-month booster. It is incorrect to state that the vaccine cannot offer any protection against the new strain; and there is no evidence of severe local reactions to the administration of the acellular vaccine that requires surgical intervention at the injection site. Further, the removal of the 18-month booster dose from the vaccination schedule was based on a study that evidenced protection from pertussis was maintained until six years of age when the primary vaccine course is given at two, four and six months of age.
- In relation to Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTP) vaccines AVN asserts that “all whole cell DTP vaccines contain mercury in the form of thiomersal” and that it is one of the most toxic substances known to man and has been linked with autism. In the past, the whole cell DTP vaccine used in Australia did contain thiomersal, however even if the maximum possible number of doses were given, it is unlikely that the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limit of exposure per kilogram of body weight would have been exceeded. In 2012, the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety reviewed available information on the safety of thiomersal and concluded that the levels of thiomersal attained in the body from cumulative doses of vaccines do not reach toxic levels, making a causal association between thiomersal in vaccines and autism implausible. Further, thiomersal is not present in any of the vaccines on the current National Immunisation Program for young children.
AVN Senate Submission questioning Pertussis vaccine. Page 6:
ES.10.1 The death rate from whooping cough in Australia is low and stable.
ES.10.2 Whooping cough is not a vaccine-preventable disease.
ES.10.3 Vaccine-induced herd immunity, including the cocooning strategy, has been shown to be ineffective to protect babies too young to be vaccinated against whooping cough.
ES.10.4 Pertussis vaccines have consistently failed to influence whooping-cough morbidity and mortality in the 60 years for which Australia has employed them.
[HCCC Public Warning continued]
- AVN states that many of the Anti-D injections recommended for pregnant women with a negative blood group who have babies with a positive blood group, and that prevent the mother’s immune system from making antibodies to the baby’s positive cells thus preventing harm to the baby, contain thiomersal. They also state that late cord clamping and lotus birth minimises or completely eliminates the exchange of blood after birth. The Anti-D injections used in Australia are made from Australian plasma and are free from thiomersal. Further, late cord clamping and lotus birth do not completely eliminate the exchange of blood after birth; there can still be contamination of the maternal system by foetal blood. There is also an increased risk of post-partum haemorrhage and foetal jaundice.
- AVN provides links on its website to 68 journal studies that AVN states support the alleged vaccine/autism causation. However, the studies mostly describe an association between autism or other neurological disorders with vaccines or other environmental exposures, but they make no claim of causality. The subject of any link between vaccines and autism has been examined by a number of expert professional groups, including the Institute of Medicine , none of which have substantiated any link. A study carried out by the Institute of Medicine in 2011 rejects a causal relationship between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
AVN Senate Submission asserting that vaccines cause autism. Page 31:
Vaccines can and have caused autism
Whilst some published epidemiological studies have purported to show that vaccines are not a cause of autism, all of them have employed critically flawed statistical methods…
[HCCC Public Warning continued]
- AVN states that “vaccine ingredients” and “vaccines” have never been tested, either individually or in combination. This statement is incorrect as all vaccines available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This testing is required by law and is usually done over many years during the vaccine’s development. There is also ongoing review of both vaccine safety and efficacy through post-marketing clinical trials and surveillance of disease and vaccine adverse events. This includes multivalent vaccines and the administration of more than one vaccine at a time. Further, much of the understanding of the safety of vaccine components comes from the use of the components and their lack of association over many years with reported significant adverse events. For components such as mercury and aluminium, conservative safety limits at most ages have been published by a number of reputable agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (USA) and the WHO.
AVN Senate Submission claims that vaccines have not been adequately tested. Page 64:
The health effects of multiple vaccines given simultaneously as part of the schedule has not been tested rigorously
When mass vaccination was first implemented in the 1950s only diphtheria, tetanus, pertussisis, and polio vaccines were recommended for babies and children, while today vaccination against 13 diseases is recommended starting at birth, with many subsequent boosters. While it’s claimed that individual vaccines are sufficiently tested for side effects prior to being added to the schedule, we would argue that the health effects of giving multiple vaccines simultaneously has never been sufficiently tested. Even if a vaccine has allegedly been shown to be safe when used individually does not mean it’s safe when used in combination with other vaccines.
[HCCC Public Warning continued]
- AVN uses data from the United States Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) on its website, without qualifying that no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. This is because VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination and it is specifically stated that any report of an adverse event to VAERS is not a causal link that a vaccine caused the event
- On the AVN website there is the headline ‘Nurses don’t trust vaccines’, under which an article from the Vaccine journal about a study conducted into the low rates of vaccinations among nurses who treat infants is referenced . AVN summarised the study conducted as conveying that a large number of nurses are saying no to vaccination because they don’t trust the way in which vaccines have been promoted. The study was performed on a small group of 25 nurses in Israel. Due to the small sample size and unique context under which the study was conducted, the results cannot be generalised without caution. The authors of the article “suggest” that low rates of vaccinations among nurses in Israel who treat infants are “embedded deep in the mistrust nurses have towards health authorities and the nurses’ desire for autonomy”.
The Commission has established that AVN does not provide reliable information in relation to certain vaccines and vaccination more generally. The Commission considers that AVN’s dissemination of misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers.
Given the issues identified with the information disseminated by AVN, the Commission urges general caution is exercised when using AVN’s website or Facebook page to research vaccination and to consult other reliable sources, including speaking to a medical practitioner, to make an informed decision.
The Commission has recommended that AVN amend its published information with regard to the above issues and the Commission will monitor the implementation of these recommendations.
So, we can see why it was crucial that Senator Di Natale raised the existence of the HCCC Public Warning about the AVN. We can see that not only have the AVN not complied with the HCCC Public Warning recommendations, the AVN repeated some of the same inaccurate claims – cited by the HCCC as incorrect and misleading – in their submission to the senate inquiry. The arrogance is astonishing.
One wonders, as Senator Di Natale surely does, why the AVN were invited to give testimony in the first place. For those of us who have been following the AVN’s perfidy for some years, we cannot recall a time when the AVN has not abused any misguided opportunity afforded them to tell their story. The AVN cannot help itself: lying and misleading is their raison d’être.
Indeed, Senator Di Natale twice raised the question of the appropriateness of the AVN’s attendance, given the AVN’s history of misinformation about vaccine safety and efficacy, both in the wild and in their very senate submission:
Senator DI NATALE: Given that today’s hearing is not actually about the effectiveness of vaccines, I am more interested in the credibility of the witnesses here today.
Senator DI NATALE: No, that question was specifically about the AVN and it could have been answered very directly by the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network. Obviously there have been a number of interjections. If they choose to ignore the question, that is their prerogative to do so. I am more than happy to discuss the matter but it is not the matter that the presentation was about. It was not about the effectiveness of vaccines but specifically about this legislation and its intent to increase vaccination rates.
Why were they there? Does the HCCC Public Warning mean nothing? Why was this senate inquiry – which was to be about the appropriateness of the implementation of new legislation linking immunisation uptake to childcare benefits – suddenly yet another forum for the dissemination of anti-vaccine staples which needed debunking all over again? Senator Di Natale gets it. We stand beside him, dumbfounded.
I was going to attempt to cover the embarrassing senate submission of Debbie Kemp‘s made-up group, Citizens Concerned with Vaccination Legislation and Safety, of which Brett Smith is also a representative; however this excerpt will have to do. From page 7, among the list of anti-vaccine notables:
25. Dr. Rebecca Carley [sadly, clinically insane person who smeared herself with faeces and urine to avoid arrest]
26. Dr. Andrew Moulden [sadly, a florid Moulden took his own life due to his mental illness]
32. Many doctors talking at once [it really says this]
Update November 9 2015
Check out The Raw Skeptic, presented by Heidi Robertson – at 4:10 – on The Skeptic Zone Ep. 368. Heidi provides a run-down of the whole day, including the magnificent testimonies provided by the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, Stop the Australian (anti) Vaccination Network, and the Friends of Science in Medicine.
Update November 15 2015