australia’s hccc wags its finger at anti-vaxers

Australian health watchdogs give the country's most rabid anti-vaxers a scathing rebuke, but doesn't go beyond giving them a slap on the wrist.

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Misinformation groups have a penchant for big, important sounding names. Calling themselves councils and research groups, and involving entire nations and political keywords in their names, they’ll do anything to give themselves even an eggshell thin veneer of respectability. The hope is that those easily impressed by a fancy name will momentarily suspend their normal skepticism and give the propaganda a chance to do its work. In the case of the Australian Vaccination Network, beneath the official sounding title lies a group of paranoid and hysterical conspiracy theorists whose only reason for existence is to tell you that instead of getting vaccinated to prevent a fast spreading disease that can cause very nasty complications, you might as well ask the doctor to just stab you in the stomach with a poison tipped blade. Those with even a passing understanding of how immune systems function may find that attitude to be downright insane. And so do Australian officials.

Again, this is a case where I wish I could just chalk up the hyperbole above to taking creative license to lighten up the post, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. The AVN and it’s leader, Meryl Dorey, are really that far gone, eagerly reposting David Icke’s screeds about vaccines being a sinister population control plan by an alien cabal of otherworldly lizards who secretly rule the Earth. Really, when you start echoing a man considered to be way off his rocker even in the paranoid world of conspiracy theorists, you should be hearing some sort of an alarm bell going off in your head. But not Meryl. No, instead this woefully uneducated lunatic howls about a global conspiracy to vaccinate everyone against their will, spreads ridiculous rumors about vaccination under the guise of “giving parents balanced information about vaccines,” and harasses grief-stricken parents of a baby girl who died of pertussis, demanding that they release their child’s medical records and claiming that there’s no way anyone could ever die of the disease. And so, after receiving an official complaint, the HCCC, the body which basically investigates medical malpractice in Australia, decided to look into the AVN.

What they found is not surprising. While Meryl vehemently denies giving anyone healthcare advice, that’s what she does and no amount of weasel words are going to negate that fact. Worse yet, she’s giving cherry-picked, bastardized, and dangerous advice. The HCCC’s report devotes 16 pages to listing just a small fraction of her follies and peer-reviewed, medical refutations to them. Pretty much every statement made by the AVN is utterly wrong and because of this, the HCCC is demanding that AVN put up a disclaimer to warn its readers that all the information they’re providing has about as much scientific and factual merit as the Harry Potter series. And even that equivalent of a dirty look and a wag of the finger was interpreted as government censorship, despite of course the lack of any order to take AVN’s site down or stop distributing any of its materials. Fellow lunatics at the U.S. based Age of Autism, even called the HCCC’s actions “fascism” while babbling incoherently and inanely about Big Pharma and a “sinister campaign to crush dissent.” There’s a vey fine line between asking legitimate questions and being obstinate cranks, and anti-vaccination activists haven’t just crossed that line, they’ve strapped themselves to a rocket just a few inches away from it, pressed the launch button, and never looked back after take-off. Even after every single one of their claims was shown to be woefully wrong, they still insist on spreading dangerous nonsense driven by their paranoia and political fervor.

One thing puzzles me though. I thought that the AVN was supposedly shut down after Meryl asked the group’s members for as much as 1% of their income to keep the organization in business in a pretty striking display of greed, fell short of her goals, and shut down the blog. But regardless, the group’s activists are still out there promoting dangerous disinformation and only thorough public education about how vaccines really work has any chance of driving them back. When you understand even rudimentary immunology, it’s awfully hard to take conspiracy theorists to whom biology textbooks might as well be alien manuals on how to properly calibrate a warp drive, seriously. And it’s in this regard that the HCCC report is at least a step in the right direction. True, it could never convince those who fear anything even remotely related to science-based pharmacology and view any rebuttal to their claims as just another conspiracy to silence them, but for people who just have questions about vaccination, it could serve as a useful warning and a good source of real, scientific information.

# health // anti vaccination / conspiracy theorists / pseudoscience

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