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Anti-vaccination propaganda at the Folk Festival

A version of this article was published on the Mamamia web site on December 13, 2011

with the title "This festival allows a dangerous anti-vaxxer to spread misinformation. Why?"

In 2010, Meryl Dorey, once (and maybe still) President of the Australian Vaccination Network, appeared as a speaker at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. I wondered at the time why a festival devoted to community spirit and enjoyment should provide a platform for someone to preach a philosophy that can only cause harm to children, and I wrote to the organisers with my concern. I didn't receive an answer, but Ms Dorey wasn't pleased that I had written and in her usual "just missing the truth" style she claimed that I had asked them not to let her speak. I had done nothing of the sort, just said that I didn't think that what she would inevitably say was the sort of thing I would expect to hear at a folk festival. She can say what she likes where she likes as long as people are aware of her agenda.

She didn't appear at the 2011 festival, but she is booked in to give two talks at the 2012 event in January. I suppose this means that the festival organisers aren't concerned about her message, and the presence of various other practitioners of weird science and ideas on the same stage just confirms this impression. I have no idea why anyone would associate folk music with the sort of things one would expect to see at a Mind Body Spirit Festival or even why there would be an overlap of audiences, but maybe things have changed since my Kings Cross troubadour days. Or, as someone once said, the answers are blowing in the wind.

What makes this Woodford Festival a little different is the range of event sponsors who you would think would run away very quickly from any association with anyone opposing vaccination. And make no mistake, for all Ms Dorey's claims that she is not opposed to vaccination and just wants it to be safe she has never once in the more than a decade I've been dealing with her ever allowed that any vaccine is either safe or beneficial. She is not opposed to vaccines provided that they are never given to any person of any age to protect against any disease. She has described measles (the disease which has killed more children than any other in the history of the world) as "benign; she suggested the slogan "Shaken Maybe Syndrome" as a way of implying that Shaken Baby Syndrome does not exist but is always damage caused by vaccines; she provided strong support to a man imprisoned in the US for the murder of a ten-week-old boy, her support being based on the idea that the dreadful injuries to the child had to be the effects of a vaccine, not the actions of a violent man; she is on record as an AIDS denier; she said on television that "whooping cough didn't kill us thirty years ago and it's not killing anybody today". If she isn't implacably opposed to vaccinations then she hides any other position well.

In 2009 the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission took the unprecedented step of issuing a public warning about Ms Dorey and the AVN. This followed her refusal to agree to a request to display a notice on the AVN's web site saying that the organisation did not give medical advice, that it was opposed to vaccination, and that parents should get advice about vaccination from a competent medical practitioner. Ms Dorey is currently taking the HCCC to court over the matter. She needs to do this because the NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing has withdrawn the AVN's charity status and banned them from recruiting new members or accepting donations. The OLG&R took the HCCC's public warning into account when making its rulings.

But back to the sponsors of the Woodford Folk Festival. One significant sponsor is the local Moreton Bay Regional Council. The Council has quite clear policies supporting vaccination and other public health initiatives, and Ms Dorey's message is diametrically opposed to these. In fact, if too many locals listen to her and believe what she says then the Council's public health activities could be severely undermined.

Another sponsor is the local ABC radio station. I know for a fact that the ABC has been told about Ms Dorey and her activities, so it is doubly distressing to see public money contributing to giving her a platform to spread harmful misinformation. The Queensland Government is also a sponsor, and again public money is being spent to encourage ideas which are in direct contradiction to the vaccination programs and policies of a government.

I don't want Ms Dorey silenced (to want that would be to follow the "principles" that she applies to any public forum that she controls, where the slightest dissent results in banning). I just want people to know that she is not a reliable authority on matters of public health and vaccination. She can say what she likes as long as others can point to her and say "Dangerous, uninformed, unscientific nonsense"

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