Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anti-Immunization Press Reports in Australia 1993-1997

Anti-Immunization Press Reports in Australia 1993-1997

Julie-Anne Leask MPH, Research Officer and
Simon Chapman PhD, Associate Professor

Department of Public Health and Community Medicine
University of Sydney 2006


The eight themes we identified that coursed through the news reports formed a coherent narrative that can be summarised as follows:

Distillation: The Anti-Immunisation Argument in Australian Media

Vaccines are the modern equivalents of witches brews, brutally injected into babies pristine bodies. These concoctions are commodities promoted by the faceless, venal pharmaceutical industry which enjoys the support of governments and the medical profession. Doctors' professional arrogance and concern to close ranks in the face of damning evidence has not allowed them to acknowledge what is plain to see for anyone who takes the trouble to search: that vaccines maim and kill infants as the testimony of grieving parents shows us undeniably. Further, a whole host of allegedly mysterious illnesses and social problems are also caused by vaccines. The public has not been told this because it would cause the conspiracy between the drug industry and governments tounravel, with the general totalitarian agenda of government being the main casualty. There are many doctors who privately agree with this assessment but are either being ignored or gagged.

Those attempting to blow the whistle on this conspiracy are not quacks but scientifically literate and intrepid truth-tellers, motivated by their rapport with parents and their outrage at having discovered the extent of the conspiracy. Vaccines are poisons which are in every sense unnatural -- in contrast to pathways toward natural immunity such as homoeopathy and healthy living. Those advocating vaccines are urging us to expose our children to these witches' brews rather than choose healthy, natural lifestyles.


We have shown that the anti-immunization case received small news coverage compared to normative or overtly promotional articles on the value of immunization. The question for immunization advocates is; what makes such coverage memorable and potentially influential for the public? In attempting to understand the appeal of anti-immunization coverage it is instructive to first consider its appeal to those who publish it. News is not selected for whether it represents information as actually as possible. Journalists and editors selecting news are rarely qualified in any area of science or medicine and thus poorly positioned to judge whether the often elaborate quasi-scientific claims made by antiimmunizationists have any substance. Indeed, as we have shown, a core characteristic of much antiimmunization news is that it is self-consciously paradigm challenging. It positions itself as attractive precisely because of the forthright challenges it claims to lay, Galileo-like, at the door of the scientific church.

At the heart of anti-immunization discourse is an appeal to an individualistic ideology that upholds vigilance against the erosion of civil liberties, suspicion of authority figures and the prevention of disease through "natural" methods. By framing their arguments in this way anti-immunizationists locate their cause under a canopy of similar newsworthy issues that centre on the moral authority of the individual. For many this evokes a virtuous outlook that would contrast favourably with what they may see as an unquestioning compliance with the dictums of the medico-industrial axis. Armed with tragic case studies of children allegedly harmed by individualistic rejection of immunization orthodoxy can appear a rational and principled choice.

Furthermore, immunization requires that a parent take a small but active risk with their child for the benefit of disease prevention in the community and for future generations who face a world free of such diseases as has been the case with smallpox.16 Some may see the risk they are being asked to take as a risk that will bring little benefit to their child, with the arguments for vaccination embracing communitarian rather than individualistic values.