“Health fascism” in Australia? The anti-vaccine loons think so

Although The Amazing Meeting is now over, my vacation is not, at least not yet. My wife and I decided to take an extra couple of days off before winging our way home tomorrow. Originally I had planned on posting “reruns” for a couple of days, but something popped up that I felt obligated to comment on. I knew this was coming, thanks to the inimitable Australian skeptic and promoter of science-based medicine Dr. Rachie, with whom I shared the podium both for the Science-Based Medicine Workshop and on a panel on Saturday at TAM. She told me that something would be coming on Monday (Australian time, and, as Dr. Rachie put it, Australians live in the future), and it sure did. (As an aside, I also learned from industry insiders that Jenny McCarthy has actually taped the pilot for her new Oprah-sponsored talk show. I was very happy to learn this good news from Dr. Rachie as a remedy to the depression I felt after learning that Jenny McCarthy may very well soon be gracing our airwaves.)

I was too tired last night to blog it (I am still in Vegas, after all), but I’ll try to lay down a bit of discussion right now, before we head off to breakfast and then to Hoover Dam. The story is about the Australian Vaccination Network, which, for those of you not familiar with it, is pretty much the Australian equivalent to Generation Rescue or the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) here in the States, and it’s entitled Anti-vaccine group accused of harassing, misleading parents. The first part of the story shows why AVN is pretty much just like Generation Rescue and NVIC:

The New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) has compiled a damning report into Australia’s most prominent anti-vaccination group, the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN).

The HCCC accuses the AVN of providing inaccurate and misleading information and selectively quoting research out of context to argue against vaccination.


Yes, indeed. These are the same sorts of things that GR and NVIC do all the time. However, I’m a bit concerned. It appears that Australia may have an even loonier bunch of anti-vaccine zealots than we do here in the States:

The report has also noted accusations that the AVN harassed the parents of a child who died of whooping cough last year, after they advocated the importance of childhood vaccination.

On the other hand, maybe not. After all, the anti-vaccine movement recently tried to harass me, but I don’t have a child who died of whooping cough, and I don’t know that even GR would do something like this:

Dana McCaffery died of whooping cough in March last year.

She was 32 days old – too young to be vaccinated against the disease also known as pertussis.

What her parents Toni and Dave did not realise was that they lived in an area with one of the lowest rates of childhood vaccination in the nation, and one of the highest rates of whooping cough.

The McCaffery’s live just a few kilometres from the headquarters of the AVN.

They say they have been harassed by the AVN since their daughter died, and that the AVN has made repeated claims that Dana did not die of pertussis.

“Our daughter wasn’t even buried and it began,” Ms McCaffery said.

“It began the day before her funeral, it began with phone calls to the health department to get her medical records contending she didn’t die of pertussis .”

An email from Paul Corben, the director of Public Health at the North Coast Area Health Service, backs up Ms McCaffery’s claims.

In the email, Mr Corben says Ms Dorey called him on March 12 seeking details of Dana’s death and accusing him of misleading the public by attributing the cause to pertussis.

Ms Dorey denies the claims. She repeatedly says Dana “supposedly” died of pertussis, but the McCaffery’s say that is an “offensive statement”.

“It’s the most offensive statement because I watched over five days my beautiful daughter suffer the most agonising death,” Ms McCaffery said.

“Then to be put in a position where I have to prove that she died of pertussis that’s even crueller.”

Mr McCaffery says Ms Dorey is “she’s diminishing the fact that pertussis can and does kill”.

“It is going to lead to someone making a decision that could put their baby or their family at risk and that’s not right,” he said.

The McCaffery’s have made their own complaint to the HCCC about the AVN.

Although it’s been my observation that GR routinely tries to downplay any outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases, I’m unaware of any case where it’s actually targeted the parent of a child who died of a vaccine-preventable disease for harassment of this type. All that can be said is that Ms. Dorey is despicable beyond all belief, a truly vile human being.

Perhaps that’s why the merry band of anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism are so strongly supporting her. Martin Walker couldn’t resist posting a spectacularly over-the-top screed entitled Health Fascism in Australia. As a member of CFI, I found its introduction particularly hilarious, so much so that I had to pause to clean the coffee off my keyboard as I read it again. It’s just that funny:

The sinister Skeptics group, agents of what used to be CSICOP now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) organised from the US and linked to the major corporate lobby groups, American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) and American Council Against Health Fraud (ACAHF), which is in turn linked to the Australian CAHF) are making ground in Australia. Supported by authoritarian ideological influences in government and Big Pharma, the Skeptics are running constant attacks on homeopathy, natural cancer treatments, those who question vaccination and those who support any form of alternative medicine.

With the present world fiscal crisis, all those linked to Big Pharma and Science are fighting a bitter battle to preserve drug company competitiveness. But where fascist influences in government and health with most force come together is in attacking anyone who speaks out about freedom of choice and expression in relation to vaccination.

Over the last year the international corporate lobby Skeptics, have been behind a campaign against the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). In 2009, one of their trolls, a lay person with no standing in medicine or government complained about the web site of the AVN to the office of the State Government funded Health Care Complaints commission (HCCC) an organisation that accepts complaints against groups found be giving out false information about health.

Truly, the conspiracy woo is strong in this one. You know, I really wish we “sinister skeptics” did have that much power. But we don’t. In fact, it often seems as though we’re perpetually fighting a rearguard, losing action against various quackery and pseudoscience of the type that AoA so frequently advocates. I will admit, though, that it was a nice touch to include ACSH, given that I don’t particularly like ACSH and have complained about its pro-industry bias before. The whole corporatism thing so nicely dovetails with accusations of fascism:

This is the hub of Health Fascism happily embraced by the HCCC evidently supported not by the votes of their constituents but by Big Pharma. The pharma-skeptics and corporate science geeks, have pushed this censorious line in Britain and America. In Britain they went so far as to draw up a set of rules suggesting that no one other than scientists or doctors should be able to write anything, or say anything in the media; no lay person was to be able to hold a view on their own health or that of others. The next step after ruling that no one other than scientists can speak about health, is the bringing into force of fascism. No discussion about compulsory vaccination – force it on people, no discussion about alternative medicine – ban it, no discussion about what constitutes democracy – bring in scientific and evidence based politics and human behaviour.

Damn, I envy those Australian skeptics. They’re fascists with real power to use their jackboots to crush any dissent from the science-based medicine line that vaccines are safe and efficacious at preventing the deaths of babies like Dana McCaffery. I need a trip to Australia right away to study the dark arts of fascistic skepticism under the tutelage of people like Peter Bowditch. Unfortunately, for all his fascistic tendencies, Bowditch notes with sadness that the actual HCCC recommendations are less stringent than they should be in a science-based health care paradigm.

Fascism. Antivaxers keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

Enough blogging. Back to vacation. For one more full day, anyway.