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What's in a name: The anti-vaxxers reach a shocking new low

July 27, 2012

Australian Network for Plant Conservation. Australian Network for Art and Technology. Australian Network on Disability. Australian Fitness Network. Australian African Network. Australian Homestay Network. Australian Vaccination Network.

One of these names is not like the others. There is a network devoted to conservation of plants, one with the objective of supporting artists, another which works to aid people with disabilities, one which wants everyone to become healthier, one which provides support and community for migrants from Africa, and one which links people with holiday accommodation. All of these organisations with "network" in their name have as their aims the promotion of what the other words in their names mean.

The exception is the Australian Vaccination Network, because despite what a naïve person might think from just seeing the name, this organisation exists for the sole purpose of opposing vaccinations of all kinds against all diseases for all people of all ages. There are no exceptions. I have asked many times for an example of a single vaccine that the AVN would support or consider worthwhile and I have never even received a cricket chirp in response. The organisation claims to be pro-choice, but the only choice that they consider is to say "No".

It hasn't always been this way. For some time the AVN was named the Vaccination Awareness Network, a name which suggested that they might not be unquestioning supporters of the greatest life-saving invention in the history of medicine. I have a web site called The Millenium Project (and yes, the single "n" is deliberate) and the event which caused me to create that site was finding out that VAN had changed its name to the much more deceptive and innocuous Australian Vaccination Network. Here is what I wrote on the tenth anniversary of creating The Millenium Project.

Where it started (14/3/2009) In 1996 I wrote a book about the Internet. (It was published in early 1997 and modesty forbids me mentioning the name of the author of the biggest-selling non-fiction book in Australia that year.) One of the distasteful things I had to do while researching the book was to examine how easy it could be to find and look at pornography, because that was (as it is now) a concern for some parents and I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that the subject would be raised in almost every interview I did while promoting the book. While doing other research I came across a site from a crowd calling itself the Vaccination Awareness Network, and I remember saying at the time that none of the porn sites I looked at were anywhere near as offensive as this pile of garbage from a pack of child haters.

In 1999 I discovered that the group of clowns had changed their name to make their opposition to vaccination less obvious to the casual observer. They were now called the Australian Vaccination Network, and this change of name to something deceitfully inoffensive made me think that there were people who needed to be offended and offended often. I was looking for a name for my new project, and that was 1999 so everyone was talking about the millennium except those that were talking about the millenium. A metaphorical light bulb flashed over my head and I thought "millenium – a thousand arseholes". The rest is history. What started as just a list of the first hundred offensive sites on March 13, 1999, has turned into what you see today. Unfortunately, the Australian Vaccination Network is also still with us and they are just as offensive to sane and rational people as they were back then, so I have been paying them some attention in this anniversary week.

There is now a move to get the relevant government authority to force the AVN to change its name to something more representative of its aims. The President of the AVN, Meryl Dorey, is squealing about this and making absurd claims about dictatorships and fascism and freedom of speech and how an evil conspiracy of doctors and skeptics is trying to suppress her right to provide balanced information to parents. She is even claiming that nobody can tell any organisation what its name should be, but I know I had to make two passes through the bureaucracy last year to register a business name because my first choice shared 80% of its letters with a company in another state.

If you haven't heard of the Australian Vaccination Network or assume that opposition to vaccines must be confined to a handful of loons living in tree houses then perhaps you need to know what sort of people Ms Dorey and her followers are.

Until about three years ago whenever any media outlet ran a story about vaccination they would go to Ms Dorey for a comment. These comments were never positive and rarely factual, relying on bogus science (or no science at all), fearmongering about the side effects and dangers of vaccinations, and conspiracy theories about the power and influence of pharmaceutical manufacturers. It is no coincidence that the overlap between anti-vaccinators and proponents of pseudomedicine is almost complete. (I use the term pseudomedicine because the common expressions are meaningless. There is no "alternative" medicine – there is medicine that works and there is other stuff. There is no "complementary" medicine – there is medicine and there is another thing altogether.)

What changed the situation was the death of a baby from whooping cough. The child was too young to be vaccinated and the parents were unaware that they lived in the region with the lowest level of vaccination in the state. The parents went public to warn other parents of very young children and have made a point of never suggesting that the AVN or its activities were the cause of the baby's death. This respect has not been reciprocated. Meryl Dorey attempted to get the child's medical records the day before her funeral, claiming that she wanted to see evidence that the baby really had pertussis. Despite repeated requests from the parents she continues to mention the baby's name in her attacks on doctors and anyone who supports vaccination.

It was this behaviour by Ms Dorey (and a coordinated effort by many people who gave up their time to expose her actions) that caused a spotlight to be put on her by the media. Now if any news outlet goes to her they are quite likely to mention her anti-vaccine activities. There are a couple of exceptions to every rule of course, but lately the only places giving her any significant time and respect are the sort of places that sensible people might apply a bushel of salt to. As an example, she appeared last week on a radio station that proudly declares that its most popular download is a program revealing the dangers of the condensation trails behind aircraft.

But has Ms Dorey learnt anything from the way the mainstream media has turned on her? Has she reconsidered what she does and says? Well, no, she hasn't. Within the last week she has affirmed the official AVN position that members should not contact grieving parents of vaccine-damaged children. (Nobody else knows about these vaccine-damaged children, many of them even dead, but that is just because of the Big Pharma cover-up conspiracy.) But also within the last week she has encouraged her members to contact parents who lost a child to SIDS to see if they can find out which vaccines caused the death. "Vaccines cause SIDS?" I hear you ask. Well, yes, according to anti-vaccination campaigners. The three big side effects of vaccines are SIDS, autism and the injuries seen in Shaken Baby Syndrome, and to a true believer vaccines are the only possible causes of these.

You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. I have been following these people for many years and even so I still get occasional surprises as they invent new terrors that can be used to frighten parents away from protecting their children. If I had another thousand words I could talk about the lies told about vaccine ingredients.

But back to the matter of getting the Australian Vaccination Network to change its name. I believe in freedom of speech, no matter how bizarre or unhinged are the things people want to say, but I draw a line when what people say can cause harm. One protection against causing harm is transparency in what organisations and lobby groups are called. While the Australian Vaccination Network has a name that hides its real objectives and maybe even lends credibility to its dangerous activities the children of Australia aren't safe. Their parents might just turn to the AVN because of its duplicitous name and trust what they are told. If the name reflects the antipathy to all vaccinations that Ms Dorey and its members show then anyone approaching them will be forewarned and prepared.

Maybe just call it the Anti-Vaccination Network. Then they don't have to redesign the logo and stationery and they can keep the same domain name for their web site. Easy. Half an hour at Fair Trading and it's all done. I don't see what all the fuss is about.

A heavily-edited version of this article was published on the Mamamia web site on July 25, 2012

with the title "The anti-vaxxers reach a shocking new low"

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