If you haven’t heard of the Australian Vaccination Network (aka the anti-vaxxers) and assume that opposition to vaccines must be confined to a handful of loons living in tree houses, you need to know what sort of people belong to the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) and what lengths they’ll go to, to distress, frighten and misinform parents.
Until about three years ago whenever any media outlet ran a story about vaccination they would go to founder & President, Meryl Dorey for a comment on behalf of the AVN.
The comments she gave to the media were never positive and rarely factual, relying on bogus science (or no science at all), fear-mongering about the side effects and dangers of vaccinations, and conspiracy theories about the power and influence of pharmaceutical manufacturers.
What changed the situation was the death of a baby from whooping cough. Her name was Dana McCaffrey and you can read her tragic story and see and interview with her parents here. At only 3 weeks of age, baby Dana was too young to be vaccinated and her innocent parents were unaware that they lived in the region with the lowest level of vaccination in the state.
After their baby died, they questioned why health authorities had not warned them about this. “Did I miss a pamphlet in that bag of information they give you in hospital?” Dana’s mother Toni McCaffrey anguished. She hadn’t. No warning had been given.
So Toni and her husband Dave went public to warn other parents of very young children. They have made a point of never suggesting that the AVN or its activities were the cause of the baby’s death, even though the AVN are most active in the area in which they live – the area with a dangerously high number of non-vaccinated children.
This respect has not been reciprocated.
Meryl Dorey attempted to get Dana’s medical records the day before her funeral, claiming that she wanted to see evidence that the baby really had pertussis (the medical name for whooping cough – for which there is no cure or treatment).
Despite repeated requests from Toni and Dave McCaffrey to leave them alone and stop using their baby’s death in the AVN’s false propaganda, Meryl Dorey continues to mention Dana in her attacks on doctors and anyone who supports vaccination.
It was this behaviour by Ms Dorey (and a coordinated effort by many people who gave up their time to expose her actions) that caused a spotlight to be put on her by the media. Now if any news outlet goes to her they are quite likely to mention her anti-vaccine activities.
Most credible news sources refuse to give her oxygen. But still, Meryl Dorey and the AVN continue to speak at public festivals and even in birth classes, trying to scare parents with misinformation about vaccines – something for which there is no scientific proof in any country in the world. Ever.
But has Ms Dorey learnt anything from the way the mainstream media has turned on her? Has she reconsidered what she does and says? Well, no, she hasn’t. Within the last week she has affirmed the official AVN position that members should not contact grieving parents of vaccine-damaged children (mysteriously, none of these children’s stories are ever reported in the media, and the AVN claim this is because of a ‘cover-up’ by big pharmaceutical companies and the government. Really?).
Outrageously however, Meryl Dorey last week encouraged her members to contact parents who lost a child to SIDS to see if they can find out which vaccines ’caused’ the death.
AVN head Meryl Dorey seems to suggest she knock on the recently bereaved parents’ door and ask if their dead baby had just been immunised. She dismisses SIDS as a “garbage can diagnosis”. She says maybe their baby “died for the greater good”, and says ambulance officers are forbidden to ask about vaccinations when they arrive at a home where a baby has died.
I asked Ms Dorey about what seemed to be a suggested death door knock. She says no, she just said “the only thing you can do is to try and contact the families involved to find out if the children were vaccinated before their death”,
Vaccines cause SIDS? I hear you ask. Well, yes, according to anti-vaccination campaigners at the AVN. THEY claim the three big side effects of vaccines are SIDS, autism and the injuries seen in Shaken Baby Syndrome, and to a true believer vaccines are the only possible ’causes’ of these. This is, of course, absolute rubbish with not a skerrick of scientific evidence. In fact the opposite is true. In every credible study ever conducted, vaccines have been found to have no connection to autism or any of the other things the AVN claim.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I have been following these people for many years and even so I still get occasional surprises as they invent new terrors that can be used to frighten parents away from protecting their children. If I had another thousand words I could talk about the lies they tell unsuspecting parents about vaccine ingredients.
REMEMBER: there is no cure or treatment for many of the diseases that we vaccinate for. They are potentially deadly and highly contagious which is why vaccinations were introduced. And the effectiveness of vaccinations rely on ‘herd immunity’ which means everyone needs to vaccinate or these diseases can continue to spread.
Which brings us to the current push for the AVN to change its name.
Australian Network for Plant Conservation. Australian Network for Art and Technology. Australian Network on Disability. Australian Fitness Network. Australian African Network. Australian Homestay Network. Australian Vaccination Network.
One of these names is not like the others. There is a network devoted to conservation of plants, one with the objective of supporting artists, another which works to aid people with disabilities, one which wants everyone to become healthier, one which provides support and community for migrants from Africa, and one which links people with holiday accommodation.
All of these organisations with “network” in their name have as their aims the promotion of what the other words in their names mean.
The exception is the Australian Vaccination Network, because despite what the average person might think from just seeing the name, this organisation exists for the sole purpose of opposing vaccinations of all kinds against all diseases for all people of all ages. There are no exceptions. I have asked many times for an example of a single vaccine that the AVN would support or consider worthwhile and I have never even received a cricket chirp in response. The organisation claims to be pro-choice, but the only choice that they consider is to say “No”.
It hasn’t always been this way. For some time the AVN was named the Vaccination Awareness Network, a name which suggested that they might be questioning supporters of the greatest life-saving invention in the history of medicine.
There is now a move to get the relevant government authority to force the AVN to change its name to something more representative of its aims.
The President of the AVN, Meryl Dorey, is squealing about this and making absurd claims about dictatorships and fascism and freedom of speech and how an evil conspiracy of doctors and skeptics is trying to suppress her right to provide ‘balanced’ information to parents.
She is even claiming that nobody can tell any organisation what its name should be, but I know I had to make two passes through the bureaucracy last year to register a business name because my first choice shared 80% of its letters with a company in another state.
I believe in freedom of speech, no matter how bizarre or unhinged are the things people want to say, but I draw a line when what people say can cause harm. One protection against causing harm is transparency in what organisations and lobby groups are called.
While the Australian Vaccination Network has a name that hides its real objectives and maybe even lends credibility to its dangerous activities the children of Australia aren’t safe. Their parents might just turn to the AVN because of its duplicitous name and trust what they are told. If the name reflects the antipathy to all vaccinations that Ms Dorey and its members show then anyone approaching them will be forewarned and prepared.
Maybe just call it the Anti-Vaccination Network. Then they don’t have to redesign the logo and stationery and they can keep the same domain name for their web site. Easy. Half an hour at Fair Trading and it’s all done. And then perhaps the unsuspecting people who Google “vaccination” and click on the first result (which is, terrifyingly, the AVN website) will at least be aware of the tainted message they’re being sold.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. The “Stop the Australian Vaccination Network” (SAVN) was formed in mid 2009 following the death of baby Dana McCaffery of Pertussis, a preventable illness. We believe that the anti-vaccination propaganda issued by the AVN and its President, Meryl Dorey, is a menace to public health. Stop The AVN comprises over 2000 scientists, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and laymen. You can join us on Facebook here. And the Twitter hashtag is #stopavn
2. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) are calling on the NSW Government to force the AVN to change their name (ANV is a national organisation but it’s registered in NSW). You can urge the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to act on the AMA’s call via
email: [email protected]
Peter Bowditch writes for several skeptical and scientific publications and runs the web site at www.ratbags.com. In real life he is married with two daughters and pays the bills by being an IT consultant and TAFE teacher.