“I think it’s actually the wrong name; it shouldn’t be the Australian Vaccine network, it should be the anti-Australian vaccine network”, Radio Host 2UE radio, Sydney Australia.

Initially I was somewhat disappointed to learn the ruling from the HCCC was no more than a requirement to post a disclaimer on the AVN website, but as the news has spread, I am somewhat buoyed by what has been happening.

The HCCC ruling states that the AVN has 14 days to post a disclaimer clearly stating their website is anti-vaccine and that any information on the website should not be construed as medical advice.

For more detailed information go here and here.

The McCafferys have posted a media release here where you can also find a statement from Ken McLeod who submitted the original complaint.

Seems like a slap on the wrist right? At first yes, but since the story has spread across the webosphere, an unexpected result has emerged and one that makes me very pleased indeed. (I even happy-danced with @skepticzone in Las Vegas airport yesterday, apologies if you had to witness it).

Everywhere across the media, the AVN are now being referred to as anti-vaccine. Australia’s anti-vaccine organisation, the anti-vaccination network, and asked repeatedly why they are anti-vaccine. Regular readers of this blog will shrug and say, yeah we already knew they were anti-vaccine Maggie, so what? But what you may not know is that many people, especially vulnerable non-science educated parents and the media did not.

Like the majority of anti-vaccine groups, the AVN have gone to great lengths to conceal their true beliefs from the public and especially the media – and the reasons why are obvious. Their rhetoric generally consists of “we are pro-choice”, “we want to empower parents to make a decision by providing both sides of the story”, “we provide a balance”, “we are pro-information, blah blah informed choice” etc. You know the drill.

And although it has been blindingly obvious to anyone who knows how to use teh internets, for many busy producers, journalists and the like, the AVN has been their first port of call for “balance” (or rather false balance) simply because they didn’t know any better. Well, never fear dear readers, things they are a-changing.

Even before the HCCC fallout, Meryl appeared to be concerned about the public perception of the AVN. In July 2009 (Yahoo! Group message # 44295) she wrote;

“….While we are already seen as rabid, idiotic fringe-dwellers by so many in the mainstream, it does our argument no good at all to bring in conspiracy theories which, though we may subscribe to them, are unprovable…”

But as they say, the truth eventually comes out and it seems the game is up for Meryl “I’m pro-choice” Dorey. Even the normally sympathetic morning television host Kerry Anne Kennelly, whose show consists largely of light entertainment and info–mercials, apparently asked Meryl twice why she was anti-vaccine.

In an email sent to her Yahoo Group, Meryl described how she had initially refused to appear on the show, eventually relenting under the condition that she was given 6 minutes to discuss the HCCC findings and that she was to have the questions ahead of time.

(Coincidentally the website 6minutes were the first to break the news of the HCCC report and wrote a less than flattering piece about the AVN).

But according to her email the questions were changed;

“Turns out not one of the questions they read to me last night was actually asked and kerri anne asked me twice why we were anti-vaccine!”

Why the exclamation mark Meryl? I’ve mentioned this before, but remember when you appeared on radio to defend your Australian Skeptics Bent Spoon Award?

Interviewer: “Which vaccines do you think are good then in Aust..?

Meryl: “I think that all vaccines are up to the parents and…”

Interviewer: “That wasn’t what I asked though was it. Which vaccines are good? This was the point I think the Skeptics were making is that you’ve never actually said, which vaccine is worthwhile, which scientific designed vaccine is good, worthwhile.

Meryl: “It is not, it is not my role, nor is it the role of the Australian Vaccination Network to tell anyone what to they should or should not do when it comes to vaccination…”

Blah blah blah, rhetoric, rhetoric, deflecting the question. (You can hear the full audio here).

But c’mon, I’m just being a big meany. And afterall this is only one example. And as a scientist I require repeatable results. Oh wait a sec..

In an email sent to the AVN Yahoo! Group on Tue Dec 16, 2008 9:08 pm Message #36449 Meryl wrote:

“There will come a time – I pray to God that it will happen in my lifetime – when those who have pushed vaccines upon innocent, helpless babies – doctors, pharmaceutical companies, government officials – will be proven to have lied and cheated these instruments of death into our children’s bloodstream. When that occurs, the outcry will be heard around the world and there will not be enough hiding places on the globe for these murderers to hide or enough money to pay for compensation. Of course, it will be too late for the babies, like this poor child, to be saved. But we will be able to take satisfaction from the fact that never again will anyone have to be pushed to poison their child because for once and for all, it will be known as poison and we will all wonder how it was we fell for the vaccine lie for as long as we did”.

Does that sound like a pro-choice message to you?

Or how about this one? The t-shirts they sell on their website say;

“Love them, protect them, never inject them”.

And another; Yahoo! Group message #41806 sent Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:24 pm

“This is a sort-of off-topic question. I would like to donate to the efforts to help in Haiti but I don’t want ANY of my money going towards vaccines so that red cross and Unicef are out. Does anyone know of an organisation doing work on the ground there helping without vaccines?”
(Thanks to Scott Lewis and Podblack for alerting me to this one)

From a quick perusal of the blogosphere parents and babies’ blogs are also starting to cotton on. Mia Freedman who blogs at Mamamia, writing “A website of deception” described her reaction as she watched the Lateline story;

“I watched the report with tears in my eyes and my jaw dropped somewhere near the floor. Tears for the McCaffery family whose baby Dana died of whooping cough at only 32 days, and dropped jaw for the extraordinary cruelty and misleading dogmatism of the Australian Vaccination Network.”

Since then the story has been lodged with news aggregator AAP, meaning it will soon be distributed even further. And so far, every story I have seen refers to the AVN as antivax. Here are just a few of the headlines I have collected:

Anti-vaccine group rapped for false information
Anti-vaccine group accused of harassing parents
Top doctor backs disclaimer for anti-vaccination site
Warning order for anti-vaccine website

So not only are parents finding out that the AVN has not been completely truthful about their agenda, they also harassed the parents of a 4 week old baby who died from complications associated with a vaccine preventable disease.

Pro-tip: this is unlikely to endear you to parents Meryl. Just saying’.

If you haven’t seen the Lateline piece, DOET NOAW. It is a thoroughly researched and sensitively compiled piece by award winning journalist Steve Cannane (insert fan-girl squeeing here).

In addition, Meryl was totally pwned on radio 2UE where she was asked repeatedly why she was anti-vaccine and tried to avoid the question by saying the AVN does not tell parents what to do, but simply offer the “other side of the story”.

Interviewer: “Are you medically qualified Meryl?” “What on earth gives you any sort of qualification to make any informed comment on this at all..”

Meryl Dorey: “20 years of research”

Interviewer: “Well, 20 years of research? Well big deal, give me a break, please.”

“You’d know a guy called Andrew Wakefield? Do you guys still support him?…..he was struck off the UK medical register…”

“What qualifications do you have to disagree with the HCCC here in Australia and the UK medical registry? All of a sudden what you are saying is far superior that what these two credible worldwide organisations are?”

Man, it is refreshing to see the credulity gone from the media with respect to the AVN. Only a few months ago, they were unquestionably called upon to offer the “other side of the story” (in other words, false balance) to the vaccine “debate” (there is no debate – the risks from contracting a disease far outweigh the risks of having an adverse reaction to a vaccine).

But, I gotta hand it to Meryl, she is nothing if not consistent. That is, consistently wrong and consistently dogmatic. She continues to wheel out the canards like the incidence of communicable diseases fell before vaccines were introduced, whooping cough notifications are at their highest levels despite equally high levels of vaccination, Big Pharma Shill, conspiracy, vendetta, septics, etc…


That was the sound of Meryl’s head asploding. And the AVN’s house of cards crashing down.

Congrats to Ken McLeod for compiling the HCCC complaint and to everyone who submitted supporting material along the way and to the HCCC for carefully considering and responsibly ruling on the complaint. To Stop the AVN for all their hard work, all the other bloggers and tweeters who have constantly kept the pressure on, and to Steve Cannane for the brilliant story on Lateline.

Lets keep slamming that oyster shut. One day it might get permanently jammed.

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  • Michael Kingsford Gray

    As you say: “Times are a-changin'”, but due in no small part to you!

    (Litotes:- intended as a massive tribute to your unstinting & unpaid efforts in combating infanticidal-genocidal-pseudo-medico-bullshit.)

    The globe thanks you.

  • Ken McLeod

    Re the question above “Does the HCCC have the force of law behind it? Or is it toothless like the TGA?” Everything that the HCCC has done is according to law, I am reliably informed that they and their lawyers spent a lot of time getting the report absolutley correct according to the enabling legislation, hence the rather mild sanctions against the AVN.

    So, yes, the HCCC’s powere are rather limited, but it is not quite “toothless” as you put it. That is the fault of the enabling legislation and the politicians who put it in place.

    It is time then, to enable bodies like the HCCC and TGA to have more powers to stop dangerous crackpot organisations like the AVN, so I would be talking to your politicians.

  • AndyD

    I think the time will come where sceptics/scientists/medical professionals will have to lay out a policy position for a future government to adopt (similar to what happened with English libel reform).
    Do we ban groups like the AVN? Sounds dangerously like something Stephen Conroy might suggest. If not, how can they be effectively managed without imposing laws that would similarly restrict unqualified sceptics from public comment on health issues?
    Can we ban homeopathy? Should we? Can it be regulated without lending it credibility? Should it be restricted to a limited group of qualified MDs who recognise its value as a (should be) cheap placebo?
    It seems clear from the global lack of action that governments either don’t care (there’s probably a lot of votes in alt-med) or don’t know what to do to deal with the promotion of bizarre and dangerous anti-reality theories. (On that score, it’s interesting how homeopaths and other anti-science groups continue to flourish when world governments are supposedly out to shut them all down.)

  • Podblack

    So wonderful that this was in the works and a great round-up of links. And yes, more is needed. Thank you!

  • Brendan

    I can remember back in my early twenties (when I was unaware that homeopathy was just water), a woo woo friend of mine convinced another friend that vaccines were “toxic” and caused everything from autism, death, and the music of Michael Bolton. She further convinced my other friend that “homeopathic immunisation” was a better alternative to vaccines. I remember being a bit skeptical at the time but still willing to be open minded and learn more. I did some investigating and later found out the truth and was dumbfounded that people could believe such nonsense. Yet over the years since I have encountered people with good educations (some in government departments) who believe the nonsense the AVN promotes. I feel very relieved my mother was vigilant about my vaccines as a boy and I have kept up my schedule of vaccines as an adult. I am very happy to see the AVN exposed for what it is, people putting lives of young children at risk. I find it ironic that when you look up AVN on Google that there is another AVN in the US and it promotes the porn industry. Given that the AVN in this country promotes homeopathy I thought this clip was fitting and shows what the world might be like if the AVN had their way.http://youtu.be/cVV3QQ3wjC8

  • Pingback: More Fallout from the HCCC findings against the AVN | Michigan Skeptics Association()

  • exarch

    What’s kind of sad is the fact that of the 5 responses on the 6minutes piece, 3 are antivaxxers backing the AVN. In fact, the very first one is from someone of Age of Autism (perhaps another site in dire need of a similar disclaimer).

    Freedom of speech and censorship are the easy accusations to reach for in a case like this, but it’s pretty clear neither of those has anything to do with allowing blatant lies to stand unchallenged.

  • Does the HCCC have the force of law behind it? Or is it toothless like the TGA?

  • Szwagier

    It makes the BBC ‘Today’ programme’s interview with Wakefield look like the pusillanimous “putting both sides” bullshit it was.

  • Ausduck

    The media and blogosphere pickup of not only the ruling, but the HCCC report which is so damning, is heartening as any credibility that the AVN enjoyed crumbles away. And it is still watch this space as other authorities are still investigating.
    Thx Maggie 🙂

  • Indeed, the HCCC ruling, while AVN may dare to ignore it, is working brilliantly to utterly demolish Doughy Dorey & the Anti-Vaccination Nutwork in the public eye.

    I, for one, welcome our new reptilian overlords.

  • Mick

    YAY HCCC, Yay Maggie, Yay for the truth and for herd immunity.

    As if Meryl’s week wasn’t bad enough, check out this in the Australian earlier this week !!!


  • AndyD

    2UE eh? Interesting.
    Howard Sattler is on 2UE’s sister station in Perth, 6PR. I wonder if he’ll have the guts to follow this line of questioning when Dorey comes here next week (assuming she still plans to).

  • Grendel

    Parents like myself who have experienced the trauma of vaccine preventable diseases are applauding the HCCC and the media outlets for first the ruling and now the reporting on it. Parentsneed to know thetruththat while no vaccine can ever protect perfectly, nor can they ever be totally risk free yet they are so much a better option than the diseases they prevent.

    Vaccinate please! And thank you Dr Rachie for keeping up the push on this issue.

    And note to the AVN this is not a freedom of speech issue, you are free to spew whaterever crap you like, as long as it bears a disclaimer to parents identifying it for the uselessness that it is. The call is Stop the AVN, not Silence the AVN. You probably don’t possess the skills to parse that though.

  • EoR

    “Turns out not one of the questions they read to me last night was actually asked and kerri anne asked me twice why we were anti-vaccine!”

    So Ms Dorey is admitting she’s unable to explain the fundamental raison d’etre of her organisation?

  • I wasn’t going to have a drink tonight. But this post might just change my mind.

  • KittyB

    Despite my disappointment in the HCCC findings (being a bit weak in my opinion), you’ve pointed out all the good that have come from it!

    Thanks Maggie! 😀