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Meryl Dorey at Woodford Folk Festival: a hazard to your child’s health?

This year’s bill of speakers at the Woodford Folk Festival features anti-vaccine lobbyist Meryl Dorey, spokesperson for the Northern New South Wales-based Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), and purveyor…

AVN spokesperson Meryl Dorey’s message contradicts the position of several Woodford Folk Festival sponsors. AAP

This year’s bill of speakers at the Woodford Folk Festival features anti-vaccine lobbyist Meryl Dorey, spokesperson for the Northern New South Wales-based Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), and purveyor of vaccine misinformation.

The festival is one of Australia’s largest and most popular festivals with approximately 130,000 people attending every year. Held over six days and six nights, the programme includes bands, street performers and speakers covering a range of styles and topics.

Meryl Dorey luckylosing.com

The AVN is a self-declared vaccine safety watchdog and list among its goals, to “empower people everywhere to make informed health choices for their families and themselves”. Yet, if you know any of the history of AVN, you might be sceptical about this claim.

Dubious dealings

In 2009, a public warning was issued about AVN’s website, following a 12-month investigation by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. Despite assertions from the AVN that it is “pro-choice”, the commission concluded that its website “provides information that is solely anti-vaccination, … is incorrect and misleading.”

The Commission also found evidence that the AVN cherry-picks reliable and peer-reviewed research, quoting selectively and often contradicting the conclusions or findings of the studies themselves.

In response to this accusation, Meryl Dorey asserted that her assessment of scientific data was better than that of the authors – “We actually read the studies and frequently, the summary and conclusion does not agree with the raw data itself.”

She went on to suggest that this was due to some kind of conspiracy – “that disconnect can be explained by the financial links between the study’s researchers and the companies whose products are being studied” and therefore her interpretation was “not selective reporting - it is accurate reporting."

This is curious considering Dorey has no scientific or medical qualifications, and in response to a query on the topic, declared, “I am not a doctor, but I have a brain.”

Harassment

Although she claims to have studied vaccination for over 20 years, Dorey gets some things fundamentally wrong. Australia has been in the grip of a whooping cough epidemic for several years now, and since 2008, seven babies have lost their lives. But discussing whooping cough on national television in 2009, Dorey said, “You didn’t die from it 30 years ago and you’re not going to die from it now.”

The AVN also repeatedly misrepresent statistics for whooping cough to make it appear that the current epidemic is solely a result of vaccine failure. This was the subject of a complaint upheld by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 2009.

What’s more, the AVN has been accused of harassing the parents of a baby who died from whooping cough and going so far as calling a director of public health at the North Coast Area Health Service demanding to know the details of the child’s death. Dr Corben described how “Ms Dorey called me on 12 March seeking details of your daughter’s illness and death. Ms Dorey contended that I had misled the public in attributing your daughter’s death to pertussis (whooping cough).”

Flogging a dead horse

According to the Woodford Festival program details Dorey will be sitting in a panel and giving a lecture about autism, where she will “explain more about the causes of this epidemic so you can help prevent your children from being affected".

It seems likely Dorey will assert a role for vaccines in autism, despite the fact that this link has been well and truly debunked both in the lab and the courts and the paper that sparked the debate has been struck from the scientific record.

Disgraced researcher Andrew Wakefield AAP

The lead author of that paper, Andrew Wakefield, claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and a gastrointestinal disorder in autistic children, warning parents against using the triple jab. But what he neglected to mention was that he was being paid more than $A676,658 by lawyers building a case for vaccine damage, and he had a patent for a single measles vaccine, all of which stood to make him an nice swag of cash.

In 2010, Wakefield was struck from the medical register for unethical and dishonest behaviour and “for showing callous disregard for children’s suffering” and in 2011 he was accused of elaborate fraud by the British Medical Journal. Despite these serious ethical breaches, Dorey continues to support him.

Highly inappropriate

But you won’t find any of this information on the website of the Woodford Folk Festival even though several people have already written to the organisers to express their concern about the omission. Indeed, it appears that the AVN’s message contradicts that of several festival sponsors including the Queensland Government and the Moreton Bay Council. The latter actually provides several free immunisation clinics.

The trouble with the AVN is that it’s not completely transparent about its agenda. The AVN insists it is pro-choice, but offers information which is anything but balanced. In some cases, it’s misleading, and in others, outright incorrect.

At a time when vaccine preventable diseases are on the rise, it’s irresponsible and dangerous of the Woodford Folk Festival to be supporting such misinformation. The AVN poses a threat to public health and the public has a right to be know about its agenda, so – like the AVN says – they can make informed health choices.

Join the conversation

11 Comments sorted by

  1. Mark Carter

    logged in via Facebook

    Good article Rachel.
    The AVN is a national disgrace. Ms.Dorey should count every day of liberty she has as an undeserved blessing. Surely she faces a future behind bars when the truth of her role in avoidable child deaths becomes known.

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  2. Jon Wardle

    NHMRC Research Scholar, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

    I will be speaking at Woodford and apparently will even be on a panel with Meryl. Having participated before I most certainly would not be expecting a free-ride from Meryl at this Festival, and given my opposition to AVN's approach will be making this quite clear on our shared panel too.

    The debates in these forums do get quite heated and are anything but one-sided, and I know for a fact the person facilitating these forums (Dr John Parker) will also be holding her to account on what she says. I would see this as an opportunity to hold her to account in a very public forum, rather than any free kick.

    In fact I even see it as a potential opportunity to engage people already attuned to her 'side' and espouse the benefits of vaccination, and am looking forward to being able to dis-spell some long standing myths.

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    1. Peter Tierney

      Health Worker

      In reply to Jon Wardle

      Great to hear, Jon. I was a little concerned that Ms Dorey would not be held to account, as she got away with portraying herself as an expert, on the Festival website (again).

      Please ensure that the audience are aware that the NSW HCCC found that Ms Dorey's list of people "killed or injured" by vaccines was found to be unsubstantiated, and anecdotal. No evidence was provided by Ms Dorey to back up this claim. She was given ample opportunity to do so.

      To see the full Final Report from the HCCC, please see here:

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/51130605/HCCC-Final-Report-Text-seachable

      To see Meryl Dorey's folly in her list of citations provided to the HCCC, please see here:

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/40131345/Tom-Sidwell-s-Analyses-of-Meryl-Dorey-s-References

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    2. Rachael Dunlop

      Post-doctoral fellow at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Peter Tierney

      How the buggery did I miss that? I must have looked at the programme a dozen times and somehow missed your name Jon. I'm glad to see you will be on a panel with MD. Please hold her to account whenever she spouts some nonsense about vaccines = poison. Remind her that the dose makes the poison and that despite her continued assertions that kids vaccines contain mercury, they do not, except for one type of HepB (which you can choose not to have).

      She'll also roll out the old "pertussis is caused by vaccine failure" whilst neglecting to mention that there are some parts of the country (like where she lives - The Northern Rivers region) where vax rates are dangerously low. And also, it's more complicated than that, as you are well aware.

      I'm writing another post on this issue for publication tomorrow for another source where I will cover some of these issues.

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  3. Martin Bouckaert

    Journalist

    Dorey claims to have a brain, but I've yet to see her use it except to conjure up ridiculous excuses to throw proper peer-reviewed scientific findings out the window as if she knows better. She uses conspiracy theory to conjure fear, and then proceeds to insult the intelligence of Autistic people like myself, who happen to ALSO have brains, and I don't mean to come across as an elitist, but are probably thrice as smart and educated as her without even trying.

    I look forward to seeing you make…

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  4. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    Great to hear that both Jon and John Wardle will be there. John Wardle has worked in very impoverished areas for MSF, so I'm sure he will have some first hand knowledge of children dying from infectious diseases.

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  5. Joyaa Antares

    Prospective Researcher, Osteopath (Australia), UCL Alumni (Stats)

    Rachael, Jon et al,

    This is slightly off-topic but relevant.

    I help to organise Seminars for my professional colleagues in my State (QLD).

    Some months ago I was approached by an anti-vaccine campaigner wishing to present at one of our seminars. (No, it wasn't MD). I chose to postpone/decline their offer, not because I didn't want to hear what they had to say, but because I wanted to present a balanced Seminar and wished to locate someone from the "pro-vax" side [please excuse this clumsy…

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    1. Rachael Dunlop

      Post-doctoral fellow at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Joyaa Antares

      Hi Joyaa,

      This is a complicated issue.

      There are a couple of traps to look out for here. First up, I've seen many well respected docs/researchers get tripped up by anti-vaxers. This is because anti-vaxers use a technique called "Gish Galloping" which means they throw out a lot information in a short time which is impossible to rebut. It's the same technique creationists use which is why people like Richard Dawkins refuse to debate them anymore.

      Here's how one person described it

      "Debating…

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  6. Maureen Chuck

    logged in via Twitter

    Joyaa, the best place to look for a person the provide the evidence based side of the vaccine debate would be to contact the Public Health Unit of your Area Health Service. I don't mind giving anti-vaxxers a platform as long as it is countered with a credible evidence based platform.
    The anti-vaxxers don't like to do that very much because they usually come away looking incredibly stupid.

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    1. Joyaa Antares

      Prospective Researcher, Osteopath (Australia), UCL Alumni (Stats)

      In reply to Maureen Chuck

      Maureen, Rachael - thank you.

      The Mamamia site is a good read, but many (myself included) will learn better from a live presentation.

      Loved the pigeon analogy (I know someone just like that, but fortunately it's not the antivax presenter I have in mind!)

      So I need to get someone who knows quite a few of the necessary ropes. I wonder if someone random from the Public Health
      Unit would cope? (Maureen, what do you think?).
      And I need to build in a construct that will enable a list of…

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