Monday, May 4, 2009

Channel 7 Sunday Night Program - A study in discrimination

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.” Anne Frank

This belief, one which I also hold, eternal optimist that I am, has been sorely tried over the last two weeks. The cynicism brought on due to the treatment of this issue by Channel 7’s Sunday Night program, has been a bit all-consuming.

Due to the number of letters from our members and others who have been disgusted by the open and obvious hostility and bias shown by the program in both episodes and because of requests for more information from our members, I have decided to produce a chronology of events leading up to and during my involvement with Channel 7’s program.

Approximately 6 weeks ago, I was contacted by Rebecca Le Tourneau who is one of the producers of Sunday Night. She had recently moved to commercial TV from ABC radio where I had heard her previously and liked what I heard. I was happy that someone with some (apparent) integrity had moved to a station that was known for its shonky non-journalistic approach to many issues – not just vaccination.

She told me that she had been speaking with some mothers at her child’s school about the outbreak of measles in the Beerwah area and that many of them told her that they hadn’t vaccinated their own children and referred her to our organisation and she was interested in this because she hadn’t really heard a lot about it before and if she had questions about it, probably their viewers would as well.

We initially started talking about measles, then went on to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) and Munchausens’ Syndrome by Proxy – she seemed to be very excited about both of these conditions and the fact that parents whose children had been injured by vaccines were being falsely accused of either shaking their baby (under 12 months of age) or of intentionally harming them for attention (over 12 months of age).

She wanted to speak with families who had been put into this situation and I was working with a couple who had lost custody of their children due to accusations of SBS and had referred them to a lawyer who ‘specialised’ in these types of accusations. The mother was not happy to speak with Rebecca (in retrospect, a very intelligent decision) and I had trouble getting on to the lawyer so the story was dropped.

A couple of weeks later, Rebecca was back. Dana McCaffery had died from whooping cough and interest in the issue of vaccination was hotting up. Though Dana’s was the first death from whooping cough in Australia for over 12 years, the fact that we were seeing record numbers of cases of this disease and that an innocent child had died from it on the Far North Coast of NSW, an area which is home to the AVN and is known as having a low acceptance level for vaccination, meant that accusations were flying from those who favoured vaccination against those who choose not to inject their kids.

Rebecca proposed that she would like to do a program on why parents don’t vaccinate. I was sceptical about how fair such a show would be on commercial television but she assured me that her interest in covering this issue was due to the fact that so many of the parents she knew did not vaccinate and that there were so many questions in the community about this issue. It was in the interest of fairness that she wanted the other side to be heard.

She said that of course, she would have to show both sides but that the presentation would be fair and we would have an opportunity to air our views as would the pro-vaccination doctors.
Fair enough – it all sounded good.

We left it at that and I went away for a few days with my in-laws. When I got back on a Friday afternoon at about 4:30, the first phone call I picked up was from Rebecca Le Tourneau. She asked me if I had been able to get any parents yet.

“Parents?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

She told me that she had spoken with one of our office staff members while I was away and asked her to get some parents whose children had been injured by vaccines to come out on Monday (remember, this is Friday at about 4:30) so they could film them for the program!
I was in a panic of course and said that I would do my best but couldn’t guarantee anything. And, I started calling around. It is hard enough to organise something over the weekend, but something like this is nearly impossible.

Luckily, one of our members, Belinda – a woman I have known for years and whose son had been seriously affected by vaccines 13 years ago and who is still undergoing treatment for his injuries – was available.

Plans were made for the film crew to come out on Monday and Belinda was asked to arrive at a certain time and the filming would take approximately 1 hour. I had plans for Monday but they were cancelled so that I would be available for this program.

On Monday, I spoke with the woman in our office Rebecca had claimed to have spoken with about the filming. Yes, she had spoken with Rebecca but she had told her to call me on my mobile phone because she was not aware of my schedule so she couldn’t commit to Monday’s filming – Rebecca would have to speak with me directly. Rebecca had never called me so everything was very rushed and last minute – we joked around at the time that she must be incredibly disorganised and left it at that. In retrospect, I have to wonder if the intention was to make it impossible for me to find a parent who was willing to speak out on very short notice?
On the Monday, Belinda showed up at the appointed time and we were sitting around waiting for the Channel 7 crew to show up. We waited and waited and about 45 minutes after they were due to arrive, I called Rebecca to find out where she was.

She was very apologetic. She said that they were still filming the tail end of another story that they were covering while they were up here on the North Coast (an untruth – they were actually with the family of Dana McCaffery – Rebecca obviously did not want me to know of the McCaffery’s involvement so she made up this story) and that they were running late plus, the weather was causing them problems (it was raining pretty heavily).

She was very sorry but could she ask if we could do the interview the next day, Tuesday?
Belinda and I were both a bit miffed but we agreed to come back and try again the next day which is what we did.

Filming took almost 5 hours from the time they arrived until the time they left.

They interviewed Belinda and her son Jackson first. Rebecca asked me to go inside while they did the filming as my presence might make Belinda nervous. I was not happy with this but I went in and sat at the door with it slightly ajar so I could hear what they said.

The questioning was quite intense and both Belinda and Jackson were wonderful. For those of you who watched the program, you might have wondered why it was that Channel 7 had bothered talking to the mother of a son who only suffered from a ‘body rash’ due to vaccination. In fact, Jackson’s reactions were severe and immediate after both of his vaccines – so serious that his mother was quite fearful for him. The downplaying of his response by the final program was nothing more than an obvious ploy to minimise the perceived risk of vaccines.

The interviewer, Rebecca Madden asked questions of both Belinda and Jackson. I heard her ask Belinda many times, “How do you know that it was the vaccine that caused Jackson’s reaction.” Belinda was calm and dignified and described the responses and the tests that have been done since as well as the detoxification which Jackson has undergone to help clear his body of the poisons put in there by his shots.

Belinda’s clear and articulate responses as well as Jackson’s maturity under pressure were wonderful to witness. It is a shame that the viewers of Sunday Night didn’t really get to see much of that.

After Belinda had finished and left with her son, it was my turn. We set up on my veranda and Rebecca sat down to begin questioning me.

I produced references on the current situation with whooping cough in Australia. I told her about the NNDS data showing that in 1991, when our vaccination rate was only 71%, we had 381 cases reported in Australia. Last year, when our vaccination rate exceeded 95% for the first time on record, we had almost 15,000 cases – almost 40 times the number of reports of whooping cough and the largest per capita incidence ever.

I also stated many times that when studies have been done, the majority of those who contract whooping cough as well as other so-called vaccine-preventable diseases are, themselves, fully and appropriately vaccinated.

I actually felt like I was speaking with a doll – a very pretty but perhaps not too bright doll. Rebecca would sit there and nod at what I said, take in the information on the number of cases of whooping cough increasing despite a huge increase in whooping cough vaccination and then, she would ask me, “But Meryl, doesn’t it worry you that the unvaccinated are putting babies at risk of getting whooping cough?” I had this question – rephrased but basically the same question – at least 20 times during the close to 2 hours that I was interviewed.

Every single time I was asked about this, I said that it was the VACCINATED who were getting and spreading the disease – not the UNVACCINATED and that what we were seeing with our 95% PLUS rate of whooping cough vaccination in Australia was proof that the vaccine simply wasn’t working. That blaming the unvaccinated for the failure of the vaccine to protect was not only illogical but scientifically and ethically immoral. She just couldn’t seem to get it through her head that this was the case. Of course, this didn’t fit with the pre-programmed aim of the show – to raise the community’s fear and anger levels and to push compulsory vaccination.

At the end of the interview, I was tired but happy that I had presented the information about vaccination and referenced my statements to mainstream, peer reviewed journals and government statistics.

Little did I know (trusting person that I am) that none of the details would actually go to air.
The response to that first program was overwhelming on both sides. I have run this organisation since March of 1994 and in all that time, I have never gotten hate mail or calls from angry people. Immediately after this show, I received several emails from people who told me that I was responsible for the deaths of babies and that if I had my way, we would all be sick. I got calls from people who told me to go back to America and to take my crazy ideas with me.
I will share one of these letters with you now (I have not changed the spelling in any way – this is just a cut and paste):

I watched the Sunday Night show last night. You did not do yourself or any members of your organization any justice at all. You had those poor parents there that had lost their precious daughter and you never even had the respect or care to pronounce her name correctly. I have 2 sons now teenagers that have both been fully immunised. They have both had measles, German measles and chicken pox. Thankfully neither of them have had whopping cough. But when my son was about 12 months old he contracted German Measles. I held my son in my arms while his body temperature kept rising and nothing would bring it down. I called the hospital for advise and then my sons temperature rose to such a degree that he started to convolute in my arms and his little eyes were rolling into the back of his head. The hospital nurse sent an ambulance straight out for my son. At the hospital after his temperature was brought down two doctors had told me that if my son had not be vaccinated then the possibility of him surviving would have decrease significantly. So this is what I have always said and always will if somebody asks me my views on immunization.

I wonder if you would or ever have had a flu vaccine or if the Swine Flu is to enter Australia and there is a vaccine, would you have it or encourage you friends and family to have it to protect themselves from this deadly flu.

I know Bangalow very well and live near there for years. I am all for alternate living as long as it is not interring or affecting others and by not immunising you are endangering the lives of other children and adults. I don't think this is right. Non-immunised children should not be able to attend pre school, day cares or schools. They should be schooled at home so they can not and will not infect other children who's parents are protecting their children.

I did not allow my child to attend a school where the children were not immunised and luckily the School Head Staff agreed with my views. So my kids were safe whilst at school.

I think you need to stop trying to be a do gooder and flapping your mouth not making sense. Where was your back up. Where were the families you were talking about last night. Refused to say their story on television which makes you look ridiculous. No one listens to an agruement when it is not back up by proof.

Obviously, Channel 7 had achieved its goal. Obviously this woman never questioned why her fully vaccinated kids would get diseases they were supposed to be immune to nor why German Measles (Rubella) which is such a mild disease, should cause such problems for her son.

Some amazing statements were made during this first episode of Sunday Night. From Chris Bath about vaccination, “It’s a decision that could save your child’s life. Make the wrong one, and you place us all at risk. …Tonight, a wakeup call on why this debate needs to end right now.” I was left asking myself – what debate?

From Rebecca Madden, when discussing the fact that the McCaffery’s had moved to this area for the clean living and clean air but that there was “poison lurking behind that perfection”. The poison of the unvaccinated people spreading diseases. And while walking down a crowded street, she wondered who the killer was (an unvaccinated person) but that luckily, she was surrounded by invisible armour – her vaccination. Sorry Rebecca, your shields are down.

She stated that we could start to see outbreaks of polio because of low vaccination rates – again, an ignorant and ridiculous assertion since we have not had a native case of polio in Australia for decades – apart from the cases that have been caused by the vaccine, that is. At another point in the show, she states that “As numbers [of vaccinated people] start to drop, we will reach a tipping point where these diseases will kill again.” This is a bold-faced lie when the government’s own information was presented to channel 7 on several occasions both before and after the show went to air showing that in all cases, our levels of vaccination are higher than they have ever been.

The program showed a very sick baby (not Dana) with whooping cough and used the tragic instance of this Dana’s death from the disease along with this visual of this other sick baby to blame the unvaccinated when it is unsure of how Dana was exposed. The only thing that is fairly certain, according to Dana’s doctor, is that she probably did come into contact with pertussis in the hospital – not after she went home. Perhaps it was a fully vaccinated staff member who gave her pertussis just as has happened so many times in the past.

You can read a bit about this here. In this case, a fully vaccinated health care worker took her fully vaccinated son to hospital with whooping cough. She had also been ill but was not taken off of work nor was she diagnosed with whooping cough until her son was. It was found that she had been working around pregnant women and babies while she had whooping cough. All of them had to take antibiotics – not a great start to life, I’m sure you will agree. Yet one more story to show the ‘effectiveness’ of this vaccine.

A poll was put up on the channel 7 web page which asked the question, “Do you think vaccinating your child should be compulsory?” Immediately following the program, the results were 75% in favour of compulsory vaccination and 25% opposing.

Due to our members and others in Australia who believe that parents should have the right to choose what to do with their own children in regards to vaccination, this situation was completely reversed over the next week.

Also due to our members and the fact that, according to one of the workers at the station, they had received hundreds of emails and letters about the program, Channel 7 decided to present a forum on vaccination the following week.

They did not inform me of this. I found out because Stephanie Messenger, who has lost a child from a vaccine reaction and who works with Susan Lindberg in Brisbane running a parent’s vaccination information and support organisation, VAIS, wrote to tell me that because she had written to the show and told them about her child, Channel 7 had contacted her and wanted her to come onto their show. According to what they told Stephanie, they were going to run a forum where parents of vaccine-damaged children could ask doctors questions. They told her on Monday, the 27th of April that they would pay to fly her down to Sydney and would be in contact with her the next day. She never heard from them again and when she followed up, they said that they didn’t have funds for flying her down but if she wanted to make her own way from Brisbane to Sydney, she could go on the show.

I have since heard from several other parents who have vaccine injured kids and who have told me the same thing. Channel 7 initially contacted them after they had written in to the program to tell about their child’s or children’s reactions (one is a mother of 7 children on the autistic spectrum). Channel 7 told all of these mothers that they wanted them on the show and made preliminary arrangements to fly them to Sydney. They told one mother to arrange for child care so she could come. Then, there was silence and when these mothers followed up, they were told what Stephanie had been – come here under your own steam and we will let you on the show.
It seems obvious to me that once they realised the overwhelming number of families out there whose children had been affected by vaccines, they decided that showing this side of the story might not be such a great idea after all.

This makes Mike Munro’s accusation that we could not ‘produce’ families with vaccine injured children to come onto the show appear to be nothing more than an evil attempt to discredit not only the AVN, but the experience of the tens of thousands of Australian families that have to deal with vaccine injuries on a daily basis.

After speaking with Stephanie and being informed by her of the fact that there would be a forum, I contacted Rebecca Le Tourneau and asked her about it. This was also on Monday the 27th of April. Rebecca confirmed this and when I asked her for the makeup of the panel, she said that it would be composed of doctors from both sides of the issue. I asked if the AVN would be included and her response was, of course! We would not have this without you.

So, I waited to find out the details. By Wednesday, I was getting a steady stream of letters from our members who had written to the program – all saying that they were invited and didn’t trust Channel 7. They asked me what I thought I should do. At this point, I contacted the show and spoke with Gabrielle who was producing the segment (Rebecca Le Tourneau was not involved with the forum). She told me that the panel would consist of Prof Peter McIntyre and that was the only person who would be on it. I asked her how you could consider a panel to be one person and how fair it was to only have one side when the program was being promoted as a chance for the other side to be aired. She said that they would have families of vaccine damaged children in the audience and that they would be able to ask Peter McIntyre questions.

I told her that this was a travesty and it was obvious this would be yet another beat-up of the issue and if they did not get a pro-choice person on the panel, I would be advising all of our members not to participate.

When I hung up the phone, I got a call from one of our members who had been speaking with Stephen Tucker, another person working at Sunday Night. She was on the phone with Stephen at the same time as I was on with Gabrielle. She asked Stephen who was on the panel and he told her that it was going to be doctors from both sides of the issue. She asked if I would be included and he told her that they had asked me if I could be on the panel but that I hadn’t yet gotten back to them! The lies these people tell is just incredible!

I then called Gabrielle back to tell her about this and she told me that Dr Giselle Cook was also going to be on the panel and I have known Giselle for years. She is a passionate, ethical and very informed doctor who does not give vaccines in her own practice because she does not believe in them though she has never told anyone not to vaccinate – simply said that if they want vaccines, they need to see another doctor.

I was happy at this point that at least there would be one doctor from each side and, having seen Peter McIntyre before on television and having debated him on radio several times, I knew that Giselle would have no problem refuting the things he would say.

I was happy to sit back and let our members present and ask questions of the panel and to watch it on TV. Stephen wrote and told me about where to go for the filming and I informed him that I would not be attending and that we didn’t have funds for my airfare and I didn’t really feel that my attendance as a member of the audience was something our membership really would benefit from.

He wrote back to me a few minutes later and said that they would pay for my flight down so…the die was cast as they say and I made arrangements to go to Sydney for the program.

Enough of this – I do run on! Now, for the forum.

When we arrived, it was great to see that there were many AVN members there. One of them, Cate, had been kind enough to offer to put me up in her home for my stay in Sydney and she also picked me up at the airport – above and beyond the call of duty – thank you Cate and your beautiful family. Cate’s son became autistic after vaccination and she had been invited to the show because of her letter. Though she did ask a question during the forum, like so many of those from the pro-choice side, her question never made it to the final cut.

In fact, of the 45 minutes of filming that was done, 2 minutes (give or take) was devoted to a recap of last week’s show and only about 8 minutes made it onto the program. Not exactly a serious attempt to cover such a complex and difficult issue as vaccination.

Before filming started, Mike Munro talked to Peter and Giselle about how he would introduce them both. He told Peter that he would introduce him as the head of the NCIRS and that was agreed upon. He then turned to Giselle and said that he would introduce her as Dr Giselle Cook, an anti vaccine doctor who hasn’t given a vaccine in 18 years. Giselle objected to this and said that she was not anti-vaccine – she was pro-choice. Mike said, but it’s true that you haven’t given a vaccine in 18 years, isn’t it? Giselle said that this was true but that she wasn’t anti-vaccine and she objected to being labelled in that way. Mike told her that he would introduce her that way and she could then refute it.

One of the women in the audience then called out to say that Giselle was a guest on the program and as such, she should be treated with respect and introduced in the way she wished to be. Mike, completely ignoring common courtesy and showing his own bias, refused to listen and those who watched the show would have seen how Giselle was treated.

The person who so bravely spoke out about Giselle would later during filming, read out the results of the trial of Kenneth Best vs Wellcome PLC in which the Irish Supreme court awarded 2.7 million pounds to Kenneth’s family when it was found that the dose of DPT which had caused Kenneth’s brain damage had failed Wellcome’s own internal testing processes. Wellcome knew that because this batch was too strong and had killed all of the mice it was tested on, it would also be highly reactogenic in children and could possibly have serious consequences when it was administered to them. Margaret Best, Kenneth’s mother, worked diligently to defend her son’s right to compensation. During her research, she discovered internal memos from Wellcome executives in regard to this batch. They said that what they would do was break the batch of vaccine up into smaller lots and distribute it to many far-flung areas so that any side effects which occurred would be more difficult to trace because there would be no clustering effect.

When she read this out, Mike got very aggro and immediately demanded to know what court this case had occurred in. When she replied, very calmly, that it was the Irish Supreme Court, he then demanded in an angry voice – what is the name of the case. I feel that he thought she had made this up and he would catch her out. She again replied calmly, Kenneth Best vs Wellcome PLC.

This segment never made it to air – yet another indication that the intention of this show was not to give a fair airing to the facts about vaccine injuries.

What you would have seen on air was only a small portion of what actually occurred. For instance, you would have seen that the mother of a 15 month old vaccinated boy who was just recovering from whooping cough was afraid to have her child exposed to the unvaccinated but healthy baby one row in front of her. What you didn’t see, and what shocked me completely, is that this poor baby was diagnosed with whooping cough at 10 weeks – just 2 weeks after getting the vaccine. He was still sick with whooping cough at 16 weeks when his doctors administered the next DPaT vaccine. I asked the mother why she got her son the whooping cough vaccine when he already had whooping cough and she replied that she wanted to make sure he was protected against diphtheria and tetanus. So, the doctors administered the vaccine for a disease this child already had and administered it when he was seriously ill – something which is absolutely contraindicated by the manufacturers – and she was afraid of having her child around the unvaccinated?

The other mother who was a welfare worker and who implied that parents who didn’t vaccinate were guilty of child neglect and should be reported as such, also had a fully vaccinated child who, at 8 months of age, was diagnosed with whooping cough. She also blamed unvaccinated kids in the community for ‘giving’ her child pertussis.

So, there were 4 children in the audience, the two mentioned above and the twin boys of the young mother who had not vaccinated. Both of the vaccinated babies had contracted whooping cough – the unvaccinated children had not. Pretty much the same picture we see in the community.

But instead of commenting on this, Mike Munro accused the mother of the twin boys of not knowing enough about vaccination to have made a decision when he never once asked the other mothers what research they had done. The mother of twins said that she had read and researched this issue before making her choice and it was my understanding from listening to her that when she said she didn’t know enough to make a comment, she was actually referring to the woman behind her who said that she was fearful to have her son near the unvaccinated twins – not to her own decision not to vaccinate. I could be wrong – but that was my reading of her statement.

When Mike Munro stated that we (the AVN) couldn’t produce families of children who had been vaccine injured, what you did not see on TV was the number of mothers in the audience who stood up and said that their children were injured by vaccines but that they were told they would not be allowed to speak or ask questions. There was the woman at the back of the room who had taken a few hours from the autism conference she had been attending to come to the show. She told the story of her son whose autism occurred after vaccination and of her daughter who was vaccinated while she was ill against all of the recommendations of the vaccine manufacturer and who has suffered as a result.

None of this was shown because none of this would fit in with the agenda of Channel 7 – an agenda which is to ridicule those who question the status quo and to cover up any and all referenced information which might indicate that vaccination may do harm.
I was amazed when they allowed Peter McIntyre’s statement that no vaccine is 100% safe or 100% effective to go to air – must have been napping in the editing room at the time.
After the filming stopped, we continued to talk amongst ourselves. During this time, I heard Mike Munro ask Peter McIntyre, “So, if I don’t get the pertussis vaccine, I could possibly put my children or grandchildren at risk?” And Peter said yes. Part of me entertained a momentary nasty thought that if he did get Boosterix, he might suffer one of the reactions he so sincerely seemed to think couldn’t happen after vaccines. But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, to be honest.

He also told Giselle Cook, well, I have to admit, I am pretty biased on this issue. No Mike, really?
The last thing I will share since the sun is now up and I am leaving tomorrow to go overseas and have got sooooo much to do before I go, is a conversation I had with Peter McIntyre.

I went over after the filming and shook his hand and introduced myself. I said, “Peter, I want to talk to you about working together to get a study done.”. I could see that this surprised him.
I said that we here in Australia are the only country in the world that has a national database that tracks who is vaccinated and who is not (the ACIR – Australian Childhood Immunisation Register) and that our database is linked with the Medicare database. This means that it would be a simple and cheap matter to take the two cohorts – the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – and find out how much is spent on each group. This would be a good indication of the health status of both groups.

He said to me, it’s a good idea, but we would need to get changes made to existing legislation because the current government legislation says that the information on the ACIR database can only be used for a purpose that benefits vaccination.

Think about this folks. This is an open admission that Peter McIntyre, the head of the NCIRS, recipients of millions of dollars in grants to study vaccines including a recent grant to study vaccination in newborns, is admitting that if we were to compare the amount of money that is spent on doctor visits in the vaccinated vs the unvaccinated, we would find that the unvaccinated are healthier!

We will be investigating the feasibility of doing this study, whether or not the legislation actually wouldn’t allow it to happen and if it is barred by legislation, how to change the law to allow this to occur. Look to see this in a future taking action.

In the meantime, if you have gotten this far, congratulations! What we now need you to do is to write in to the following email addresses or to call or write in hard copy.

The first place we need you to contact is Media Watch. I think that I have given a good overview of how the media used its power in this situation to totally slant not one but 2 shows towards a certain viewpoint. Claiming balance, they instead used the family of a dead baby and parents who are dealing with vaccine injuries for their own purposes. This should not be allowed.

Media Watch’s contact details are:
Media Watch
GPO Box 9994
In your Capital City
02 8333 4454
02 8333 4962

The other show I would like you to contact is SBS’s Insight Program. I believe that they would be able to do a fair show on this issue and if they see that there is enough interest, they will do it. So please write in and suggest they look at vaccination.
I can only find a web contact for them. If anyone else has more details, please forward them to me and I will send them on:
SBS Insight -