Category Archives: Politics

Exhuming C. P. Snow : ‘Strangers and Brothers’, the series


The Affair, sixth in the seven-novel series by C. P. Snow, spanning the period from the end of WW2 to the early ’60s.

Heading for the gate on C. P. Snow’s 1959 novel, The Affair.  It has taken me nearly two months to finish this one, but not for want of enthusiasm – in the previous four months I had the space to read the first five in this ‘Strangers and Brothers’ series.   Only tumultuous circumstances have kept me from the same spanking pace with The Affair. Never mind, you are always rewarded by slowing down with Snow.

For a writer who could create texture, density, intensity and share insights as richly as Snow, he virtually ignores metaphor.  Despite this absence of poetic license and of linguistic musicality, he still can reveal the subtleties of human behaviour, the textures of a built environment –  the weather, and beautifully, of plot.
The wealth of his vocabulary, used with so much ease and an obvious pleasure in words, seems anachronistic.  It feels to me that writers now, even if they have Snow’s grasp of language, wouldn’t dare use his words for fear of alienating readers who haven’t time for more than the gist of things.

Mea culpa.  As a writer and reader who adores Cormac McCarthy (fewer words, ever fewer; few lines, ever fewer; but stitched together into powerful elegies), still I am thrilled and sentimental about the wealth of Snow’s language.  I can’t think of a novelist writing now in English who, in just three pages, uses pudeur, ‘pertinacious’, ‘ectomorphic’ and ‘tenebrous’.
“No, the thought of Howard, … of Laura, … of seeing Brown, they were just tenebrous, as though they had added to my rage, but were looked at through smoked glass… I was just enraged because I hadn’t got my own way.”* 
Sixty years down the line, Snow offers up powerful, still-significant pictures of a cultural institution – Cambridge University – that helped shape the Western hegemony we still struggle with today.  With a careful, but never cold eye he dissects the college’s dependence on its past,  its assumption that self-referencing is sufficient when considering matters of conscience and justice. 
Looking backwards at Snow’s opus, Strangers and Brothers, and cynical as I am now of Golden Eras, I could easily feel alienated from his chosen setting.   It is his gift for the eternal sameness of human yearning, callousness and self-preservation, that keeps me engaged with the university’s inward-looking world.  Through his affectionate sketches, subtle ridicule and careful analysis of what such an institution signifies – and what the global ‘Ivy League’ still means for and in society – Snow created a portrait of the corridors of power that is just as reprehensible now as then.

Above that, his affection and kindliness toward human frailty keeps me convinced of and attached to his characters.  He is careful and true to people’s motivations: shallow, grandiose, genteel, plastic, loyal, disingenuous, arrogant … And his careful and consistent acknowledgment of love.  Certain recurring characters – Winslow, Martin (the narrator’s brother),

Remarkably, and regardless of his critical insights, Snow – Lord Snow, as he became – seems to have alienated no-one within his establishment.  He moved smoothly forward, first as a physicist at Cambridge, then in military intelligence, then as a career political apparatchik of substantial influence (during the war he was named on the Nazi’s ‘Most Wanted’ list of political prisoners), and finally as one of the well-noted, best-selling fiction writers of his time: 1947 – mid-1960’s.

Snow’s ability to straddle his world, a leg over several horses, seems to have kept him in good odour wherever he went.  As I reach for my 1961 edition of Corridors of Power, last in this remarkable series, I am reasonably certain that Snow’s narrator ‘Lewis’, is not the author’s only mirror. I believe the recurring character Arthur Brown is Snow’s – self-satisfied and self-applauding! – portrait of himself.

* How delicious the reference to Corinthians 13:13,  so foundational to the Christocentric origins of Cambridge University, in which most of this series is set?


What’s not to Like? Less beige, Zuckerberg

Like Reply

Last week I eavesdropped on two 30-somethings talking about their favourite skiing destinations. When they finally agreed on a snow field in Japan, the guy said, “Oh yes! Big Like! ”

Thank you Facebook, for doing away with hyperbole around the things we love, for flat-lining our great passions and worst fears into one beige syllable.

We need this conflation, don’t we, Mr Z?  The sort of pale pleasantness that Zuckers has decided will arbitrarily help us scale down nasty aggression and unbridled positivity.

Well, in line with a current FB meme currently, I am thinking of ‘doing something different’, of laying down ‘new neuronal pathways’, by going to live in Spain or Holland. I’ve dreamed of hanging out in both places while finishing my novel, and now there’s an even stronger incentive to do it: these are the two countries where FB is trialing alternatives to ‘Like’.

I forget the more nuanced expressions that FB mavens are considering, and I don’t know exactly what they’re testing for.

Perhaps they want to know how alternatives to Like are understood in other languages?  Will shades of emotion cause confusion? Yes.  But confusion of this sort helps make life experience so piercing, so puzzling, so enticing – and so unique to the individual.

I am afraid of hearing more and more people say “Oh, big LIKE!”
I want to hurry to places where you can pick through a cornucopia of synonyms for warm feeling … weakness for example, or soft spot, partiality, bent, leaning, proclivity, inclination, disposition; enjoy, appreciation of, taste for, delight in, relish, passion, zeal, appetite, zest for, enthusiasm for, keenness around, predilection toward, penchant, and in the most beige moments, perhaps simple fondness?

What is wrong with ‘fond’? Such a lovely last-century word? So Scott-Fitzgerald, or even earlier, so Austen, so Elliot. Think Zuckers ever read Austen or Elliot? Possibly. But they clearly didn’t work for him. Because we have ended up at this anodine ‘LIke’.

I can see this young woman and man, clearly attracted, heading off for the incredible, six-meter powders on the Japanese slopes, pumping their funny skiing things and flexing their fine, powerful young bodies along the pistes and chutes and so on (I don’t ski).
They feel the blood powering through their cells, wind chewing their earlobes, the one-off sensations of being young, strong and happy … and, through the fizz of adrenaline and roaring pheromones, they’re yelling to each other:  “Oh, like, like, like, like.”

Reasoning with fear: the rise and rise of the anti-vaccination movement

Child with meales

Ten years ago in Northern New South Wales I finally found a community of people who felt like my true cultural kin. If you are the creative sort, or yearn for space to think about anything you like, the prevailing attitudes in that little enclave toward personal freedom can be very liberating. For around half a century the regional tribe has built a reputation for liebensraum – living ‘space’. Followers of the meditative religious traditions have settled there, along with a significant group of writers, artists and creative industries professionals, well-heeled lefties and of course, alternative health aficionados.

Almost by definition, living in those parts means you seek a more balanced, less processed-and-packaged lifestyle, and newcomers quickly adopt as much as they need of the local alternative health and natural medicine opportunities.

It is magnificent country for bringing up young children: a plethora of independent schools, a strong tradition of parenting groups and ‘natural parenting’ styles. Also among these fathers and mothers is a staunch tribe of anti-vaccinators. Almost half the children in the area have never been immunised against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), or the more ‘old fashioned’ infections like diphtheria and polio.

The pitch and heat of these parents’ opposition to inoculation took me by surprise.

I grew up in central Africa and my generation received jabs and drops against everything – measles, mumps, rubella, polio, cholera, yellow fever, you name it – vaccination was just a fact of life. The rural areas were different; vaccination roll-out by-passed many villages in places without adequate clean water: in those places epidemics continued and people of all ages died, especially children.

As the country transitioned from British rule to independence, people migrated from rural areas to settle and find work. Some of my new classmates wore the scars of polio and smallpox.

Half a lifetime later, and here I was blissfully happy … among people who held this strong oppositional belief and resisted vaccinating their kids.  I was at first shocked and then negatively self-righteous.

I heard their claims and declarations, but I had no strong scientific rebuttal other than the obvious: people in developed countries no longer died in epidemics and pandemics were a thing of the past. My anti-vaxx friends seemed unphased by any of that. Any suggestion that their position might be selfish led to a shut-down of further discussion.

I soon realised that if I wanted to be comfortable in my new community and build relationships, it was going to be more productive to exchange outrage for curiosity. And so I began thinking about how our socio-cultural paths had diverged and look for the storylines that influenced the beliefs of my anti-vaccinating friends.

As this inquiry went along it ran far beyond notions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, or selfishness and the common good, leading instead to the origins of our fears and beliefs, and how we interpret these in a world full of conflicting information streams and interest groups.

. . . . .

Frontline anti-vaccination troops are always parent activists. This the story of how these parents, their influential media spokespeople and their children, are now perceived as a significant threat both to civic order and to the health status of some communities.

Their position obtains extra muscle from groups like the Australian Vaccination Network, and outspoken medical practitioners who’ve chosen to work against their original training.

The Australian Vaccination Network was founded as an online resource years ahead of the social media onslaught by a canny, naturally resistant American named Meryl Dorey. Ordinary parents in search of information about vaccinating their babies were driven to the website by its deliberate misnaming and there found a substantial archive of material urging against vaccination.

In 2010 the NSW Health Ministry compelled the AVN to change its name to the more accurate ‘Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network’, but it still runs under the original name on Facebook, and has several thousand friends.

Among the medical doctors who have transitioned out of the mainstream, Motherly Sherri J Tenpenny is a vociferous and unequivocal defender of anti-vaxx: It is always amazing to me how strongly a parent will defend the rights to inject their children with viruses, bacteria and chemicals.’

Tenpenny was right about that:  In January 2015, parent-led pro-vaccine groups went to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton insisting he cancel her visa for a planned lecture tour. He did not, but the media went on poking at her until venues cancelled, and Tenpenny withdrew.

Another spear thrower, American surgeon Joseph Mercola, is as much media salesman for himself as he is anti-vaxx rep. Though authorities cautioned Mercola against making spurious claims, Oprah gave him an entire segment to spruik the dangers of vaccination. He’s been interviewed on CNN, NBC, US ABC and in Time Magazine.  That is significant reach and influence by any standard.

On his website Mercola writes: The existing medical establishment is responsible for killing and permanently injuring millions of Americans … the surging numbers of visitors to since I began the site in 1997 … convinces me that you, too, are fed up with their deception.” His website is reputed to attract more traffic than almost any other alternative medicine site in the world.

Mercola’s statement goes to the core of parents’ fears, helping to sustain notions that we’ve been duped by science, that modern medicine and government are united against us for expediency’s sake, or perhaps just to make money.

. . . . .

One of the anti-vaxx movement’s strongest beliefs is that infant inoculation can cause autism and other abnormalities in children who were born perfectly healthy.

For nearly six decades two supporting narratives have swirled around this notion, and as with most important myths, its power comes from elements of fact.

First is the story of a corrupt doctor, medical malfeasance and public mistrust of the official version of events.

The second is a complex, real-world morality tale about medical proofs and practices, money and the greater good, socio-politics, and certain compromises that are sad, yet realistic.

In 1998, an English surgeon named Andrew Wakefield submitted a paper to the revered medical journal The Lancet. Wakefield claimed that in a study of eight autistic children he found a correlation between the onset of their autism and their MMR inoculations.

The Lancet had this study reviewed by six medical peers, four of whom rejected it outright. The editor decided to publish regardless – he thought the story would stir some interesting discussion.  He was correct: all hell broke loose in the medical world, and pretty soon every aspect of the study had been disputed and junked.

Soon after, a British investigative journalist discovered that a lawyer paid Wakefield a substantial sum of money to produce the study. He planned to use the published work as part of his defense in a class-action to be brought by the children’s parents. The Lancet issued a complete retraction. Vilified, Wakefield was charged with fraud and barred from practice.

Newspapers picked up the story and gave it front-page notoriety. In response, a significant group of punters decided Wakefield was not a villain; they said he had been framed by medicine and the scientific media because he had identified an inconvenient truth. Wakefield became and remains a counter-culture hero, and his specific claims ­– about how vaccines cause autism – still fuel anxiety.

Ironically, Wakefield in his work did intuitively flag a connection between vaccines and neurological problems in children – but it was the wrong flag. The right flag was flying over an ethylmercury-based vaccine preservative called Thimerosal, which was to become the focus of a far bigger and more complex drama.

. . . . .

For seventy years, Thimerosal has been in continuous use stabilising the world’s most common childhood vaccines. For half that time, its efficiencies have conflicted with suspicions about its toxicity.

People’s concerns about Thimerosal/ethylmercury come out of its perceived association with another mercury-based compound, methylmercury. There really need not be any confusion because while both compounds contain mercury – and mercury in certain concentrations is poisonous to mammals – methylmercury has no commercial applications.

Methylmercury is a by-product of petrochemical processing and a known neurotoxin. In the 1950s and ’60s, a processing plant on the edge of Minamata Bay in Japan, discharged methylmercury waste straight into sea. The Bay also provided the local community with their staple protein, fish and seafood ­– which animals naturally ingested the mercury-poisoned water.

For over a decade Minamata experienced the onset of a range of neurological diseases that eventually affected an estimated two million people. Unborn babies were affected by their mothers’ diet, and scores were born with symptoms similar to cerebral palsy – a condition now called congenital Minamata disease.

To this day Minamata stands as one of the worst industrial accidents on record. The event alerted researchers worldwide and they began identifying similar neurodevelopmental problems wherever mercury-contaminated effluent flowed into waterways.

The scope of research enquiry expanded to other mercury-based compounds, eventually focusing on the ethylmercury-based vaccine preservative, Thimerosal.

Originally tested on monkeys, ethylmercury was found to be an efficient, non-toxic substance which when ingested at approved levels passed rapidly through the system, and was safely eliminated. Once approved, the same result was found when ethylmercury was administered to human infants; it appears to pass quickly and harmlessly through the body.

Thimerosal became manufacturers’ preservative of choice in a range of vaccines, including the most common of all infant jabs, the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR.

Medical historians believe that confusion around methyl- and ethylmercury has sustained a line of suspicion from Minamata Bay to the edges of parents’ consciousness in the West. That said, there is no confusion around the intrinsically poisonous character of mercury.

. . . . .

Although researchers’ real concerns about mercury had been ongoing, Andrew Wakefield’s deception in 1998 undoubtedly brought public anxiety about vaccination to a head.

In 1999 the US government determined to settle the question of Thimerosal’s safety by funding a scientific review involving eight separate studies.

Epidemiologists found ethylmercury safe in the quantities approved for use in vaccines, but now they had other concerns. For example, since infants at that time received up to nine vaccinations before six months of age, what might be the cumulative effects of ethylmercury contained in all those needles? So the substance is of itself safe, but the application could cause problems.

The US Public Health Service includes the five peak US medical bodies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 1999 and again in 2000, the USPHS, ‘issued two Joint Statements, urging vaccine manufacturers to reduce or eliminate Thimerosal in vaccines as soon as possible.’

In 2001, the US Academy of Pediatrics added a rider to the earlier statements: ‘Mercury in all of its forms is toxic to the fetus and children, and efforts should be made to reduce exposure to the extent possible to pregnant women and children as well as the general population.’

Since then, Thimerosal has been phased out of almost all children’s vaccines manufactured in the US – but not the MMR shot. A recent US Food and Drug Administration summary says that since 1999 some of the major pharmaceutical manufacturers have developed alternatives to Thimerosal for some vaccines, while others have reduced the amount of ethylmercury in vaccines to trace levels – but it is still there.

You might think the anti-vaccination lobby could now claim vindication, but they do not. Because regardless of negative findings and shifts in the politics of drug manufacture in the West, on the global market Thimerosal persists as medicine’s preservative of choice.

. . . . .

In December 2014 an international working group of health professionals met at the World Health Centre in Geneva to look for workable vaccination solutions in the developing world. At that point measles and whooping cough epidemics had been raging through sub-Saharan Africa for more than five years.

An original agreement reached in 2002 had aimed to eradicate measles by 2020. Despite that, in 2010/11 more than 27,000 people across the Horn of Africa were infected, almost two-thirds of them children under five. Far away to the west and south, Nigeria and Zaire have suffered outbreaks in similar numbers. Things are not under control.

For the WHO’s plans to work, every unvaccinated person needs two doses of measles-containing vaccine. Here we are talking giant quantities of serum with delivery and logistical issues special to emerging countries.

The Horn nations, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, are famously war-torn with patchy infrastructure, electricity and clean water supplies. Massive refugee camps perched on regional borders shelter nearly one million people in conditions even more rudimentary than elsewhere, and the incidence of measles is even higher among children who live there.

Delegates at the Geneva conference voiced their concerns about mercury in vaccines, but they still need vaccines that will work for their region. That means cheap to manufacture and produce in multi-dose vials with a rubber stopper that lets you reintroduce a syringe without contaminating the balance, keeping serum viable for at least a week. The vaccine must also be less costly to deliver, store and refrigerate than single-vial vaccines. There is still only one solution that fits all those parameters: Thimerosal.

To First World anti-vaxxers this is a pyrrhic outcome.

. . . . .

People are not necessarily convinced by ‘the facts’ – sometimes they arrive at a position based on the intuitive knitting together of feelings, values and their lived experience. This could be why anti-vaxx parents are not more likely to vaccinate when presented with proofs, no matter how strongly founded.

In a recent research project, two scientists set out to test this hypothesis. Doctors Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler used three different approaches to see if they could affect the mindset of nearly two thousand anti-vaxx parents.

Whether they presented respondents with a scientific report issued by the US Centres for Disease Control, or emotive anecdotal material supported by disturbing pictures of infected children, the parents dug their heels in: None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate a future child. Refuting claims of an MMR/autism link successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism … but nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate …’

The same researchers had already authored a now famous inquiry into the contrarian power of personal values – and fears – over changes in available information.  The study looked for shifts in position by self-professed conservative voters who believed George W Bush’s declarations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When the WMD narrative was universally discredited as misinformation – and Bush himself issued a retraction – the study respondents continued to insist Bush’s initial statements were the truth.

. . . . .

As fascinating as those findings are, I wonder if the Nyhan/Reifler studies bypass one or two other aspects of being human, such as a sense of personal agency, and of prerogative over our own and our children’s bodies.

In the reading I found analysts and the media consistently blame the Internet and social media for fanning the anti-vaxx fires. That may be a fair assessment, but it is not a wrong thing. The debate both on- and off-line comes from such a broad and well educated demographic, the people just cannot be dismissed as bumbling Arcadians, or ignorant monkey-do’s.

Nevertheless it is true that without arbitration, the on-line discourse usually disintegrates. As Sydney psychologist Robin Grille says: ‘It is a viciously unmanaged debate, invariably personal and insulting, as is so often the case when the underlying motivation is fear and the overlay is the absence of scientific methodology.’

I decided to open a vaccination thread for discussion on Facebook.  I worded my query as carefully as a politician testing the waters on potentially unpopular policy.  Then I posted it to Friends generally, and added tags for a trans-global selection that might take a special interest.

I lined up private conversations with professionals in a variety of fields, who preferred to comment outside the public domain: a Melbourne GP; consultant paediatrician; Sydney family therapist and writer on child abuse; family educator in the Tiwi Islands, and someone in the non-profit community with special insight on how NGO funding can support and influence global health programs.

When I tried to engage an established West Australian naturopath – a rabid Anti-Vaxxer and trained Registered Nurse – she unfriended me at once. In her farewell note she forbade me ever refer to her by name.

Every one of my anti-vaxx friends insisted on anonymity – later the penny dropped that these people feared discrimination against their kids.

The online thread evolved quickly. For the first time I was in a vaccination debate that did not descend into vituperation. For or against, people said their piece – and although a few men chipped in, mostly it was women who responded, all of them mothers.

. . . . .

It was becoming more and more apparent that anti-vaxxine resistance runs far, far deeper than wonky belief systems, Big Pharma conspiracy theories, and Nyhan and Reifler’s exciting experiments in moral cognition.

For many anti-vaxxers the real argument is about human rights: the sanctity of my body, my body as the final frontier against external interference – and a parent’s right to make decisions about their children’s well-being.

Sydney psychologist, Robin Grille thinks there is something in that. Author of a history of child abuse, Robin suggests anti-vaxx parents ‘might be exhibiting a visceral rejection of the legitimacy of authority.’ 

He reminded me that the perception of child ownership is still very much alive in the Western zeitgeist: it is less than fifty years since American law changed a child’s status from that of parents’ ‘chattel’, to that of ‘person’.

Robin suggests parents might also have a ‘sense of violation’ around exposing their innocent babies to jabbing needles, similar to the feelings of some contemporary parents around circumcision.

Things have moved on from where it was inconceivable to resist or reject the proposed benefits of contemporary medical science. Perhaps anti-vaxxers are a bellwether for growing public suspicions about the objectives and intentions of science generally and medical science particularly, and about financial opportunism and widespread manipulation of people’s fears.

‘What makes matters harder for all sides of this debate is that unless you study and apply scientific methodology, anecdotal evidence remains the profoundly emotive driver for this argument,’ says Robin.

. . . . .

As the online chat went along, more and more people seemed to conclude that a parent should retain the right to choose or refuse vaccination.

Even though Ebola was breaking out on the other side of the world, nobody in my Facebook thread started baying for compulsory vaccination, but within two months of those conversations, Australian media began feeling around for a public response to that very idea.

Within three months, government and the judiciary were announcing plans to enforce vaccination, including severe penalties for those resisting. As enforcement arrives, the anti-vaxxers have been remarkably quiet – these are good, middle-class activists after all, and the threat of punitive action and of family support benefits may have caused serious shock-waves through the movement.

A Brisbane primary-school teacher told me she’s ‘sick and tired of these parents who think it’s trendy not to give kids their needles.’ She said avoidance was ‘rife’ at her school and she found it hard to accept the risks people were taking. At 23 years of age she had never seen an epidemic of any kind – but she fully understood the risk implications for public institutions.

Anna, an adult educator, therapist and mother from Tasmania has three children born in the ’80s and chose not vaccinate them. ‘I was lucky,’ she told me, ‘I could stay home with my babies. They were all healthy and strong and I felt perfectly able to nurse them through any ordinary childhood disease.” Then she added a rider: ­­­ ‘That said, if I were a young mother today, I would vaccinate. There is no way I could stay at home and raise kids now, it’s just too costly – I would have to work, I would have to put them into care.  They would be far more vulnerable and exposed.’

Over a glass of wine on a warm afternoon, Anna’s story had pointed up the real cost of childhood disease in another, critical way. In the social structures we have worked so hard to create there is little space for old-fashioned illnesses; a sick kid can severely impact the household economy, and an epidemic of sick kids could disrupt the economy of an entire community.

. . . . .

Such complications – emotional, economic, legal and expedient – weave through so many arguments where moral and human rights rub up against state and legislative control over a person’s body and their possessions.

Euthanasia, suicide, corporal punishment, all create the same level of contentious social concern where debates rage over time, and change comes through at glacial speed – but comes through nevertheless.  Compared to such dilemmas, it could seem comparatively easy to legislate and force parents into vaccinating, and design repercussions for those who refuse or avoid.

But even if vaccination enforcement were in place, the borders would forever be porous. How will laws account for children of a religious denomination or culture that opposes vaccination – will they be denied school entry?  Will people have to carry proof of vaccination ­– perhaps recorded on chips in Medicare cards? Will gay people be forced to have an AIDS inoculation? And how will the state police gaps created by legal and illegal migration from places with threadbare human services?

Any of those possibilities include inherent threats to individual rights, and infractions of civil liberty. That is why successful mass vaccination in developed countries has rested not only on individual choice, but on our human predisposition to work as a group.

Those values, together with our cultural tendency to utilitarianism (belief that the best behaviours serve the largest number of people), also underpin Thimerosal’s continued use across the planet.

From that perspective, the anti-vaxxers might be called society’s critical dissenters – even if you are tempted to brand them as selfish rebels.

At the very least, the strength of their resistance asks us to question the notion of Western medicine and science ruling by their obvious virtues.

The anti-vaxxers remind us that moralistic tut-tutting by citizens who vaccinate is not the only driver: research and vaccination programs go-ahead at the behest of business and government, and in that order.

If there is insufficient financial return, medicine and pharmaceuticals will unceremoniously drop development or delivery of a vaccine, and shift resources to somewhere with safer returns on investment.  That is what happened with the Ebola vaccine, and with tragic consequences.

A decade ago, Australia’s Nobel-winning Professor Peter Doherty, was working with an international team to develop a vaccine. They were on the verge of success when funding was withdrawn and the research shelved.

Speaking about the seemingly unstoppable progress of the disease in August last year, Professor Doherty said: ‘This is a big issue really because unless there’s profit in a product, there’s a real issue on how you take forward, say new antibiotics and new therapeutics for minority diseases.’ The expression ‘minority diseases’ of itself puts grunt into an argument about practical economics and medical discovery.

On this topic Robin Grille and my Melbourne GP both suggest that in this instance the profits to be made from standard vaccines are so negligible as to hardly count in the argument about the greedy pharmaceutical industry. “They’re bread and butter, like most old, off-patent drugs’, wrote the Melbourne doctor.

But in this I suspect they are wrong. Where demand is high and a vaccine is cheap to manufacture, the quantities involved and the business around packaging, distribution and administration will be massive – and safely funded by governments, or by substantial NGOs like Rotary.

This returns us to the group of health workers gathered in Geneva in 2014, searching for ways to stem disease breakouts in Africa. Irrespective of their anxieties about drug safety, the cost effectiveness of serum preserved by Thimerosal won the day.

Also present at the Geneva conference were representatives of the international anti-mercury lobby, the Zero Mercury Working Group. They did not interfere with the discussion about Thimerosal. A co-ordinator of the ZMWG said: ‘As far as we’re concerned all mercury uses are a problem and they all should stop. But on a pragmatic level, we try to fight battles that we think we have a chance of winning.’

. . . . .

Anti-vaxx parents remind us that an infant is a person who cannot yet make complex choices for themselves, and a parent has the duty and the risk ­of doing it for them. Access to more information does not necessarily make the duty or the risk less confronting.

After all, some babies do suddenly show serious developmental and neurobiological disabilities following vaccination.  And while medicine can explain some of these, they cannot explain them all.

. . . . .

As the online investigation began winding up, someone called me on my own view, ‘You can’t be sitting on the fence,’ they said, ‘Not after all this sturm und drang‘. I replied that I would vaccinate my children without hesitation.  I said if even the most articulate and well informed of my anti-vaxx mates tried dissuading me, I lacked the nerve to let a child go without needles.

To that one of my closest friends came straight back: ‘Isn’t that interesting. I felt exactly as clear and adamant as you … except I simply could not justify the risk of sticking needles into my perfect, healthy, beautiful child. So far she has never had anything but chicken pox, and nobody vaccinates against that anyhow.’

March 12, 2015. Child immunisation: Queensland Government moves to allow childcare centres to reject unvaccinated kids.

March 2, 2015.  Pakistan arrests parents for refusing polio vaccine. BBC News Asia.  The story notes that In November 2014, “… four polio vaccination workers were shot dead in the south-west city of Quetta.”

.  .  .  .  .

Image credit:  Julien Harnells.  His photo journal is accompanied by an incredible short essay on the measles epidemic in Guinea, West Africa.  I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this topic read the essay and look at his images.

Information resources

Goodson, James L., Kebede, Assegid A., Ahmed, Hinda, et al. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control, USA. August 31, 2012 / 61(34); 678-684

Gastañaduy, Paul A., Redd, Susan B., et al. Measles — United States, January 1–May 23, 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control, USA. June 6, 2014 / 63(22); 496-499

Controversial anti-vaccination campaigner to visit Australia. January 6, 2015.  Anti-vaccination campaigner Dr Sherri Tenpenny cancels Australia tour amid security concerns. January 29, 2015.

Doctors Against Vaccines: The Other Side of the Story is Not Being Told , built around the multiple-award winning documentary, The Greater Good, released 2014 –!wp-video-lightbox/0/

Vaccine Hub. Admin: Sanofi Pasteur.

Minamata Convention on Mercury. United Nations Environmental Programme.

Fitzpatrick, M. The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to a Growing Vaccine Crisis. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, March 2006, 99(3): 156.

Griesbauer, L. Methylmercury Contamination in Fish and Shellfish. Proquest. February 2007.

Thimerosal in Vaccines, US Federal Drug Administration P

Bernard, S., Enayati, A., et al.  Autism: a novel form of mercury poisoning. Medical Hypotheses, (2001) 56 (4) 462–471. Harcourt Publishers Ltd, 2001. on

Baker, Jeffrey P. Mercury, Vaccines and Autism: One Controversy, Three Histories. American Journal of Public Health, 2008 February; 98(2): 244–253.

Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s ‘entitled’ Westsiders behind city’s epidemic.   Baum, G. The Hollywood Reporter, Sept 2014.

Tavernise, S. Vaccine Rule Is Said to Hurt Health Efforts, , New York Times, Dec 17, 2012

Mid-Year 2013: Measles and Rubella So Far. American Red Cross, US CDC, WHO, et al

Effective Messages in a Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial. Nyhan, B and Reifler, J et al, in Pediatrics, 2014.

Will mercury be removed from vaccines? Rebecca Kessler, FairWarning. Jul 1, 2013

When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions of conservative voters.2 Nyhan, B and Reifler, J. Dartmouth College, New Hampshire.

  1. McCalman, J Science and Fear: a review of vaccination documentary Jabbed. The Conversation, 2013.

140 000 people to get cholera vaccine in South Sudan. WHO Media Centre news release, Feb 22, 2014.

Jacob, T. J. and Samuel, R. Herd immunity and herd effect: new insights and definitions. European Journal of Epidemiology, pp 601-606, Vol. 16, Issue 7, 2000.

The Greater Good Movie.

Pemberton, S. Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines. 2013.
For a fascinating, easily digested – and subtly biased – review of the history of vaccination and immunization, watch Sonia Pemberton’s award-winning documentary, ‘Jabbed’, 2013. Funded by SBS and available on SBS On Demand.

The promos for this documentary are also useful:

Grille, R. Parenting for a Peaceful World. Longueville, Sydney. 2nd edition, 2013.
Essential reading for anyone interested in the Western history of child-rearing over the last 3000 years: origins of childhood, genesis of child-abuse, and the begetting of violent societies.

Nobel Prize laureate says Ebola outbreak shows need to rethink vaccine research funding.  Sarah Dingle reports on P.M., ABC Radio, Sept 17, 2014. 9

Copyright: Naomi Radunski, February 2015