On Sunday evening, Australia’s Channel 7 Sunday Night programme aired a positive, well researched and scientifically based story on the dangers of not vaccinating.

The report centred around the death of four week old Dana McCaffery from whooping cough. The tragedy was Dana was too young to be vaccinated, but lived in an area of low herd immunity, resulting in her contracting the deadly pertussis bacteria. There is no cure for whooping cough.

Dana’s parents, Toni and David made the brave decision to speak out to reporter Rebecca Maddern of “Sunday Night”. What resulted was a wake-up call for parents who don’t vaccinate as we viewed footage of tiny babies with pertussis and heard of the heart break from the parents. Dana’s paediatrician, Dr Chris Ingall, who was unable to save Dana, implored parents to vaccinate, not only to protect the lives of their own children but others as well.

Our own anti-vaxers, the Australian Vaccination Network, whose role is to “empower people everywhere to make informed health choices for their families and themselves” were given some air time. Represented by Meryl Dorey, she stated that her mother used to just put her out with sick kids so she could get infected, and thereby gain natural immunity. She had this to say about measles and whooping cough;

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

When reporter Rebecca Maddern 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 offered;

“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”.

This juxtaposed alongside footage of tiny babies with hacking coughs, gasping for air and barely able to breathe.

The story was intended to be “..a wake-up message to parents about the vaccination debate which needs to end right now”. And it was. It was also a rare example of responsible scientific reporting, based on science and evidence. Although the anti-vaxers did get input, what they got was minimal and in the context of the tragedy of Dana, made them look rather irresponsible.

As was expected there has been an overwhelming response to Channel 7, both positive and negative. Some of the negative responses from the anti-vaxers has been published as part of a story called “Channel 7 – one-sided reporting” on the AVN website.

The usual suspects have had an airing; vaccines have never been subject to double-blind clinical trials (wouldn’t that be unethical?); drug companies are not interested in our health, only money; drug companies pay millions of dollars a year to vaccine injured people; my child started exhibiting autism-like symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine; vaccines are full of toxins (formaldehyde, mercury), you’ve heard it all before. One letter sent to Channel 7 had this to say;

“Perhaps you can inspired by the organisation headed by actors Jim Carey & Jenny McArthy in and supported by shows much more renowned & respected than yours such as OPRAH WINFREY & LARRY KING LIVE”.

I also encouraged as many people as possible to send positive feedback and many of you did (thank you). The response, both positive and negative, has been so overwhelming, that Channel 7 have agreed to have a “debate” on this week’s show. As a result of my congratulatory email sent to the show, I have been invited to be in the audience. I was informed by Channel 7 that Meryl Dorey will not be on the panel since they; “only want people with a scientific background”.

Further, for the “positive” they have a paediatrician (I believe it is Dana’s) however, they are having trouble finding a doctor for the negative. Apparently all the doctors they have spoken to told them vaccination is a good thing, (go figure). I was also told that all the doctors consulted so far, assured the researcher there is no link between vaccination and autism.

This is a very positive response from a commercial television station, not previously known for their critical thinking and scientific approach to journalism. I only hope they do not cave into the screeching anti-vaxers in the meantime, and maintain their scientific-background requirement for panel members.

I will keep you updated as more information comes to hand. To watch Rebecca Maddern’s report in it’s entirety go here.

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  • AndyD

    I just did a quick ring-around and found that of all the kids around here who caught a cold last year, the overwhelming majority had been inside of a vehicle sometime in the weeks prior. Hmmm, makes you think doesn’t it?

  • Vaccines are not 100% effective, nothing is. If the large majority of the population around your area are vaccinated, then yes, the majority of people coming in for it will be vaccinated too. Do you compare the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated coming in with pertussis to the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated in the area? I’m willing to bet the ratio of vaccinated coming in to vaccinated out there is miniscule compared to the ratio of unvaccinated coming in to unvaccianted out there in the local area.

  • Steve

    I work in a public hospital and witness every year children hospitalised due to petussis infection … guess what … the overwhelming majority are vaccinated.

    My observation over 30 years is this … if you as a parent feed your children the “modern” diet of fast foods and soft drinks by all means get them vaccinated because your neglect will prepare that child for a (short) life time of illness.

  • Annette

    I am so outraged by this anti vaccination network!. They are like a fundamentalist religion!!!!

    They are so dangerous, so much so I have written to the TGA with some of their website information. What they call ‘fact’ is false and misleading. Organizations such as these should be closed down for spreading untruths. No wonder diseases like whopping cough are on the come back!!!

  • Skep dick

    Very interesting to read these through.
    I seriously don’t know why someone doesn’t have a proper debate through a chanel like ABCs question show or something along those lines. Channel 7 is garbage. Anyone who watches today tonight, ACA or Sunday night wouldn’t know good journalism if it hit them over the head.

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  • mddawson
  • @AndyD,

    I had a very brief look at PubMed and found a Cochrane Review from April 2008.

    AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS: Research has shown of high rates of use of complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) for children with autism including gluten and/or casein exclusion diets. Current evidence for efficacy of these diets is poor. Large scale, good quality randomised controlled trials are needed.

    I will need to read the rest of the review more thoroughly, but what is clear is that “the included trials did not share common outcome measures and therefore no meta-analysis was possible”.

  • Dr Rachie, could you comment on the latest blog link (or whatever it’s called) from “Unique Autism Experiments…” above? It links to a page apparently pushing the GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) diet which I thought had been pretty much debunked as a treatment for autism. Is there new science here or is this the same old “solution” that’s been bandied about for a while?

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  • Missed the show last night but just saw it on the internet.
    I was very dissapointed in the Professor when he was specifically asked about the risks in vaccination he completely ignored this and spoke about the success of vaccination. This sort of answering does not help the general public in making up there minds objectively if to vaccinate or not.
    The whole show was light weight, I suppose all you can expect from the commercial TV rubbish stations we have in this country.
    The professor did not challenge the anti vaccers, he did not give any good arguments in favour of vaccination. I thought he was hopeless.
    The women GP anti vaccer was just as hopeless if not more so, she had nothing to say.
    I was very dissapointed. Total waste of effort I thought.
    This could have been a good forum.

  • No it was a spelling mistake which I noticed three times yet still managed to miss changing.

    I have read your comments. I think we would have benefited from you articulating your case in in one coherent post.

    I found the debate(on the TV) to pretty ho hum myself, I don’t think it did anyone any good or made it clearer for anyone.

  • Louise

    Have to be brief in my reply because i’m so tired my eyes are dry and closing….
    I began a law degree whilst pregnant with my first child at the age of 19 and completed same as a sole-parent. I also studied accounting (by correspondence) to ensure my brain didn’t turn to mush after pregnancy. I know what hard work it is better than most.
    I’ve posted many comments about my position under ‘A Brief Report from Today’s Debate’.
    P.S. I hope calling me ‘Lousie’ was a joke 😉

  • Lousie,

    Ah dear me.

    I believe everything I read do I? Interesting. I try to be critical of things that I read hence my note to read the links that you have provided.

    I note that you artfully dodge providing answers to the questions I asked.

    I have met a variety of people at university, some dropped out, some barely passed others I saw bound for greatness, some like me just did the hard work( while holding down jobs and supporting myself).

    What I did experience was stereotyping, and prejudice from some members of the general public who seem to decry university education and graduates as idiots because they haven’t been in the real world – all this despite having worked in a variety of jobs (laboring to office work) since age 15.

    I have no idea of your education level. I just don’t think you apply critical reasoning to your argument. You outline no case, you can’t or haven’t articulated your case well, not convincingly anyway.

    Don’t try and put words in my mouth. I never said that you were uneducated because you were a mother(I do however see how you could interpret my comment in that fashion if you were a little sensitive regarding the issue – I do apologize if you though that I was suggesting such.)

    Stereotyping – the irony of accusing me of stereotyping you in the same post that you commit stereotyping yourself.

    I applaud anyone who tries to educate themselves. Being well read is not enough though. The reason we have universities and schools for that is that they apply standards that students have to meet, criteria that they have to pass. Depending on your course you will do anything from writing essays to engaging in debate, to carrying out experiments, to participating in practicals.

    You were effectively saying that you were more qualified than a doctor simply because you had read more(how you can know this without actually knowing what comprises a medical degree – I don’t know). The real advantage you do have in the case of your child, is an intimate knowledge of their medical history because you have lived it with them. Something a young doctor, probably working a 48 hour shift doesn’t have.

    I have seen four different doctors in the last year, one at an after hours clinic ( he has some 25 years of experience), one of them was a little quirky( socially inept)one gave me the most thorough exam of my life and ran a full barrage of tests and the youngest one, the one with the dew still dripping from his ears, knew his stuff, reassured me that I did not have cancer, the same doctor was also very supportive(excellent bedside manner) and was able to refer me to other appropriate services. I have had some bad experiences but they have been in the minority.

    So you can get a university degree online, have you done that or have you hand waved it away as unnecessary that you will just continue reading? I have completed post grad qualifications online, much prefer being on campus – you never quite get the same exposure or support. That and there are some degrees that require university attendance.

    Quite simply I don’t believe you are being critical of the information you are reading. What in your opinion is the best resource for the pro-vaccination side of the debate what information makes or made you doubt your current position? On that point what exactly is your position. I don’t think you have clearly articulated it yet?

  • Louise, please this link which debunks some of the cases you linked to in the section headed “Vaccine Court and National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)”.

  • Louise

    So then i guess you’re a fan of cigarettes, thalidomide, DDT, etc? Would you have been a fan of Sir Joseph Banks, who withdrew funding from Edward Jenner and threatened his reputation? How ’embarrassing’ then, for Banks, when Jenner became the pioneer of vaccination! Which one was more qualified/educated?
    If YOU can believe everything you read, then why aren’t I allowed the same privilege?
    Yes, i’ve met many university-educated pea-brains. You can’t honestly say you haven’t met one. And, yes, i believe it must be that easy to become a doctor. Haven’t you ever consulted a GP, or even a ‘specialist’, who left you shaking your head with incredulity at how they actually became a doctor? If not, try visiting an after-hours medical centre where you’ll have the displeasure of meeting all the cereal-box-qualified variety.
    Your assumption that i’m not educated just because i’m also a mother (who doesn’t have a penchant for sewing or associate with anyone who does) is itself ‘blatant stupidity’ and stereotyping. As a matter of fact, i can now further my education WITHOUT even having to go to the library (well, whaddaya know!). I can now get a degree online…………:-)

  • Louise

    You’re the joke darling. If all it took to be a doctor was to read books, our doctor shortage would be solved. As someone who has been to uni for a “few years”, with post grad qualifications and 10 years experience in my field I find your simple hand waving/ dimisal of the importance of highly specialized education insulting.

    You know, i’d like to be an architect. I’ll just pop down the library get out some books on it and hang out my shingle. Please just review the blatant stupidity of your comment.

    Now while I’ll admit the best combination is a good mix of talent/education/experience we make up for lack of experience in professions by having mentors or seniors/supervisors who DO have the experience. Funny I had my thumb nearly severed recently the wet behind the ear ER doctor was extremely competent, but still referred to the senior doctor on the ward.

    By your reckoning I could have just got some one who had read some books on surgery and was good with a needle ( a stay at home mum/dad with a penchant for sewing perhaps?) instead of waiting at the hospital.

    A method that would probably have resulted in nerve damage and necrosis.

    Open your eyes – oh dear.

    How many of those books that you have read are

    1. Based on medical research
    2. Written by someone with professional qualifications in the area they are writing about.
    3. Have been peer reviewed – if you had received higher education in any science field you would understand the importance of this.

    I love how people think that research is reading some online articles, and spoon fed tripe from the AVN or others of their ilk.

    Sorry just got to the bit about the aids conspiracy. I suppose that you think we never landed a man on the moon either?
    If it’s on the Internet it must be true of course.

    Personally I think that Meryl Dorey is a reptilian spy sent to destabilize our healthy nation.

    Now I will you the courtesy of reading the links you have supplied and let others post their thoughts.

  • Louise

    The American Vaccine injury court has already had to pay out over 1.5 billion dollars to people injured by vaccination and this is just a taste of things to come (especially since 1 in 68 US families now have an autistic child). I have very little respect for anyone who doesn’t research vaccines before letting their own child be injected by someone who’s been to uni for a few years (big deal) and read maybe half the medical books that i have as a parent……. Please don’t take my word for it, open your eyes and do some research yourself. There’s plenty of it out there. For example, simply type the words ‘polio aids’ into your search bar and try and convince me that the Yanks didn’t start the AIDS epidemic (either accidentally or deliberately). You people are a joke. http://www.generationrescue.org/cases/index.htm

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  • You say “Dana lived in an area of the North Coast of New South Wales where there is a high rate of non-vaccinated children…”

    That rang a bell… I spent 8 days on a tissue cleanse at a health farm in the Gold Coast hinterland, run by Jenni Edgely (yes Michael Edgely’s ex).

    We had plenty of time to talk of many things.

    She and some others said their children were doing fine without vax. I kept quite then through not wanting to offend the host.

    There were later occasions eg in the Hopi Indian sauna tent (sitting naked around steaming rocks) to say mystical things. Some thanked spirits for their wellbeing. Among other things I said: I would like to thank the parents who get their children vaccinated, so that for those of us who choose not to, the kids have a lower risk of catching serious diseases.

    I was able to gently bring up quite a few skeptical topics over the 8 days. Made myself some sort of reputation.

    BTW the trip was a “surprise gift” for me.

  • What’s the chance that they might end up with a homeopathic or naturopathic “doctor”? Would they understand these are not grounded in science?

  • I don’t think a Dr of chiropractic is really what Ch 7 are after. I can’t find the page on the website where this is listed to check for medical drs.

  • Didn’t Dory have some “Doctors” listed on her website as supporting her cause? Surely one of those could support her side, unless those were out of context quotes, paid quotes, or diploma mill doctorates?

  • Hmmm

    The arguing has spilled over to here: http://au.messages.yahoo.com/tv/tv_general/5645/

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  • Jason Ball

    “they are having trouble finding a doctor for the negative. Apparently all the doctors they have spoken to told them vaccination is a good thing”

    Channel 7 needs to understand that there is no such “scientific” debate to be had about vaccinations. The consensus amongst scientists is overwhelming, and they all know that these anti-vaxers are peddling nonsense, contrary to scientific evidence. The accusation of “one-sided reporting” AVN are spouting demonstrates they do not understand that in Science, sometimes ideas are simply wrong.

    I do hope this comes across in the ‘debate’ they are organising.

    Good luck Dr Rachie!! Keep fighting the good fight!