I have just finished watching a highly anticipated story on vaccination which aired on the Channel 7 current affairs show, “Sunday Night”.

To my surprise and relief, it was positive.

The story centred around the recent death of four week old Dana McCaffery from whooping cough just two weeks out from being eligible for the vaccine. Dana lived in an area of the North Coast of New South Wales where there is a high rate of non-vaccinated children, hence the level of herd immunity is low, allowing for the spread of the disease amongst the population. The tragedy of the tiny baby’s death was highlighted by the fact that she was too young to be vaccinated, but died from a completely preventable illness.

Reporter Rebecca Maddern, emphasised the importance of herd immunity, using the example of a very young boy who had undergone a heart transplant and was therefore not strong enough to be immunised. He relies upon herd immunity as his only mechanism for prevention of childhood ilnesses. Stock footage of children with polio in calipers drove the message home that we need not go back to times when kids were crippled by polio, or died from measles.

In the interest of journalistic balance, we were obligated to endure the opposing view, hence, enter Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network. These people spread misinformation and lies about the safety of vaccination, with no remorse. As professional scaremongers, they go by the catch phrase, “love them, protect them, never inject them”. Whilst I would prefer they are not given a platform whatsoever some of the stuff spouted from Meryl on tonight’s show was enough to make you question her state of mind.

Toni McCaffery; “..I did not want to be seen as a vaccine crusader, I just wanted to be a Mum”. David McCaffery; “Nor is it our responsibility, it’s the responsibility of government and they need to take charge”.

When talking about childhood diseases, including whooping cough, Meryl Dorey said her mother used to just put her out with sick kids so she could get infected, and thereby gain natural immunity;

“You didn’t die from it 30 years ago and you’re not going to die from it today”.

Funny that, when the entire story is based on the death of a four week old girl from whooping cough.

When the reporter asked her; “What if one of your children got whooping cough? (to which she responded they had), “And did you seek help from the medical profession?”, she has this gem to offer;

“No, we treated whooping cough homeopathically and none of us were sick for more than 2 weeks. My vaccinated children got it and my unvaccinated children got it. And none of us were sick for more than 2 weeks and it was nothing more than a bad cough”.

(According to the story, three out of her four children are not vaccinated).

She continued her scaremongering by bleating the much debunked vaccines-cause-autism line;

“The reports that we get are children who have seizures, children who become brain damaged, children who develop diabetes, who develop autism, these are serious reactions after vaccination”

The report only briefly touched upon “vaccine damaged kids” with one teenager explaining he became sick one week after his first round of immunisations, but this was very brief. Mostly, we heard from doctors and scientists, such as a pediatrician describing his heart break at watching a baby turn blue from coughing. Professor Peter McIntyre from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance also encouraged parents to vaccinate.

The only criticism I have of the story is that Meryl’s comments about treating whooping cough with homeopathy were left unchallenged. In my experience, many people perceive homeopathy to be a herbal treatment, and therefore assume it has some medicinal effect. Perhaps this was the case for Rebecca, since she failed to question Meryl about this quackery.

One wonders if Meryl’s children did in fact have whooping cough, since she described their symptoms as nothing more than a “bad cough”. A bad cough is not I the way I would describe the distressing footage which aired earlier in the story, of a baby with whooping cough gasping for air and screaming. I raised this issue with Rebecca in a congratulatory email I sent her and suggested she might like to follow it up with a story on homeopathic vaccination.

In the introduction to the story, Sunday Night host Chris Bath called the vaccination debate “..a wake-up message to parents which needs to end right now”.

Well done Channel 7 for a well researched and accurate story. Please email the show here and let reporter Rebecca Maddern and the producers know that they are to be congratulated for accurate scientific reporting. Also there is a poll on the homepage asking whether vaccination should be compulsory. Please vote here.

I am concerned that both Rebecca Maddern and Toni and David McCaffery may be subject to abuse from the anti-vax crowd as a result of this story.

I have already heard that the anti-vaxers are “hysterical” about the way they and their cause was portrayed in the story. A source revealed this response from Meryl Dorey who described the show as “The most horrible, one-sided report I have ever seen” and “it was even worse than I’d feared“. She ended her rant with “I despair about the cover up, the children who will be injured by these shots and the way in which our organisation and the families who have been hurt by vaccines have been portrayed“.

Time to mobilise the troops. Please help by emailing Sunday Night, voting in the poll, and linking to my blog from Twitter, Facebook or your own blog.

—–
For more information about the anti-vaccination movement in Australia, please see my Dr Rachie Reports blog, the Anti-Vacc Movement, an Australian Perspective.

Toni and David McCaffrey have set up a website in honour of Dana here and a Facebook page here.


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  • Paul

    It is NOT true that vaccination has brought down MORTALITY in childhood diseases in the developed world. (That doesn’t mean that it is true elsewhere but I haven’t seen the figures). The graphs show that the rate of decline was the same before (or faster)than after the introduction of vaccines. The INCIDENCE of the diseases has declined. However, whether this decline in incidence is without a price, or whether indeed the price is worth paying is what the discussion should be about. Vaccines do have side effects. That is a ‘scientific’ fact. Whether the cost/benefit ratio is, as we are told by the medical establishment, worth it, depends upon your attitude to many things. These include the veracity of much that goes by the name of ‘peer-reviewed studies’, the reliability of medical statistics, the objectivity and independence of the authorities who mandate or recommend vaccines, the willingness to look at the historical controversy and origins of vaccination, the influence of pharmaceutical companies on decision-making, the bigger picture of how societies promote and support health, and our willingness to accept what we are told with question. This is not a paranoid assertion of big conspiracies, merely that establishments have their own momentum and that though it may be true that science progresses through its mistakes, that means it will (and does) continue to make them.

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  • http://scepticsbook.com Maggie

    @haz, I have it on another page. I’ll fix the link. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Haz

    Interesting that Youtube took this story down.

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  • scep dick

    Thanks.

    Told you my maths was rubbish.
    So the notifications are Drs notifications and the hospitalisations are (obviously) when they are admitted. Can one cross over ie being a notification and then go to hospital?

  • http://thinkingisreal.blogspot.com AndyD

    @scep dick
    |
    This site gives 1:763 for babies under 1yr. The overall average may well be higher but it’s clear from this report that babies are most at risk.
    |
    “In the three year review period, infants aged less than one year accounted for 3% of all notifications (n=763) but 50% of hospitalisations (n=655).”

  • http://scepticsbook.com Maggie

    @scep dick, that number of cases was for the entire population, not just babies. So Toni’s stats are correct.

  • scep dick

    I know this issue is sad and its upsetting but I have some questions about the McCafferty case.

    In another post about Dana, the Toni is stated as saying “Pertussis can be deadly, for every 1 in 200 children. Three babies have died from infections in Australia this year.”

    Is she referring to the amount who contract whooping cough and then die or the entire population (which is definately incorrect!)?
    According to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System
    http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/Source/Rpt_1_sel_A.cfm
    there was 29,316 cases of whooping cough in 2009. If one in 200 babies died (who contract it) we would have 146 deaths! Thats far far more than three. Im pretty crap at maths so if I’ve made a mistake please correct me.
    But to me this seems like a case of scare mongering!

  • Robert

    Yes Liz, why should we let FACTS stand in the way of instinct and anecdotes?

    My brother believes in herbal “medicine” and believes firmly that the difference in real meds and herbal is that the pharmacies “put in the side effects”.

    Why? Because a guy with a Master in Herbs told him so.

    FACTS are all that matter. Not bull like that, and homeopathy, and gut instinct.

    My gut instinct is to protect my children. shots hurt. So do I protect them from the shot or from the diseases that are prevented?

    I’ll take the long and healthy life over my instinct to protect from a shot.

  • http://thinkingisreal.blogspot.com AndyD

    Okay Liz, I’ll sign up for my university course in medicine and immunology next week and get back to you in 5-10 years on what I find out. You too?

    As a matter of interest, do you apply this logic to everything in life or do you sometimes trust that scientists might have some vague clues about their particular corners of expertise?

  • LIZ

    Choice and self-education are still the biggest issues here. Dont just rely on all the hype and horror stories either way. It is up to the individual to thoroughyl resreach based on all the available evidence, and then make a decision based on fact and anecodtal evidence, AND instinct. And the government needs to stope using coersion to get people to act. We need simple facts on both sides, and full disclousure by all interested parties.

    Stop attacking eachother. This should not be a ‘THEM’ and “US”‘ arguement. And I dont think anyone who has not researched the issue for themselves has no right to comment based on media hype and heresay.

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  • http://www.nontoxic.org.uk Michael Grayer

    An excellent piece of reporting. It shows that you can create a news-magazine-show report that both appeals to the emotions and conveys the right message, backed up by proper evidence.

    On the point regarding Meryl Dorey’s unchallenged comments, I agree that in some respects this was a shame. However, in other respects, this was a good thing. Predominantly, it undermines the argument raised by anti-vaxxers that their side of the story was given no fair consideration and that the coverage was biased.

    If her comments had continually been challenged, then (in the eyes of the non-expert public at least) this may have reinforced her position as “plucky underdog” which earns a good deal of public sympathy. Pursuing the homeopathy line in this report would have resulted in further unsubstantiated nonsense, and would have ultimately detracted from the point of the report – that failing to have your child vaccinated puts your child and other people’s children at unnecessary risk. Homeopathy will have to wait for another day. Or another show, such as this recent BBC programme: blogged here.

    In the light of this, how Meryl Dorey can argue that this was a “horrible”, “one-sided report” is beyond me.

  • Lord Blackadder

    I think Tim Minchin summons up the whole thing in the third verse of this song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-Zd6446qPA

  • http://www.youngausskeptics.com Joel

    @Marci, I still think you jest, but just in case: http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Poe%27s_Law

  • Marci

    Andy loves aeroplanes. Yay. Yay

  • Marci

    who is Poe?

  • http://www.youngausskeptics.com Joel

    I assumed Marci was Poe.

  • http://scepticsbook.com Maggie

    @Marci, you’re taking the piss right?

  • Marci

    oh. I didn’t realise people die from children not being vaccinated