Finally in the series of extracts from my IAS Charity complaint, I give a brief look at the impact of anti-vaccine information in New Zealand. I also bring together information from other parts of the complaint that have not been covered in the extracts so far.

Impact of Anti-Vaccinationist Misinformation in New Zealand

Maintaining a high level of vaccine coverage is important for reducing the probability of disease outbreaks and to limit the spread of disease in the community. Diseases (often) spread due to contact between infected and uninfected individuals. If the uninfected individual has partial protection from the disease due to immunisation then the disease will spread with more difficulty. This is often referred to as “Herd Immunity”.

Herd immunity does rest on several assumptions, one of which is that immunised individuals are spread evenly throughout the population. If pockets of unvaccinated individuals develop then diseases can gain a foothold in that part of the population and spread outward – even to vaccinated individuals. If parents in a community are convinced by the IAS information not to vaccinate their children then an in-road for disease is created and outbreaks can occur. As such this would constitute a detriment to both children and the wider community – in direct contradiction to the IAS stated charitable aims.

New Zealand has struggled to reach recommended vaccination levels in the past with the coverage rate in 2005 being only 77% at two years of age1. With such low rates of vaccine uptake in the population there is a risk of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks occurring in the population and putting children’s lives at risk. In fact this is happening now with the measles outbreak in Auckland. Health officials have linked this outbreak to lowered vaccine uptake attributable to anti-vaccine misinformation2.

Vaccine coverage for a disease such as measles needs to be at approximately 90% or greater in infant populations to prevent epidemics3. Despite a focus on increasing coverage since earlier this century and improving coverage since the 2005 survey New Zealand still only sees an average of 85% vaccination coverage in this age group, with some areas dropping as low as 75%4.

In 2004, just prior to the Vaccine Coverage survey, a study was performed to see what reasons parents gave for not vaccinating their children5. The results of the study found that many of the parents interviewed made a decision not to vaccinate based on perceived risk of the vaccines. The risks cited were common anti-vaccinationist misunderstandings, including linking vaccines to autism and the belief that children’s immune systems are weakened by immunisations.

While almost all of the study participants consulted their GP for vaccination information, this source was seen as biased. In fact many of the “Pro-vaccine” sources were considered biased and parents expressed interest in information provided by groups outside the “medical establishment” indicating distrust of medical advice on this topic in general. The Immunisation Awareness Society was explicitly listed as a source of information by 76% of survey respondents, along with Naturopaths and Homeopaths (43% and 48% of respondents respectively).

The Immunisation Advisory Centre is sufficiently concerned about misleading anti-vaccination claims that they have included a page dedicated to rebutting this information on their website6.

Conclusion

The IAS dispute that they are “anti-vaccine” both in their Charity “Rules” (3. Beliefs, subsection C7 and through comments on their website. This claim rings hollow though when the actual content of their writings is examined. Therefore it is important to look at the effective output of the ideologies, philosophies and stance of the charity rather than their explicit statements.

In regard to IAS staff and members, belief that they are acting in the public interest, belief that their materials constitute an educational resource and belief that they are in fact doing the right thing are not enough. I have no doubt that the founding members, the officers and members of IAS sincerely think that they are provide a public service and that their interpretation of the scientific facts is the correct one. This however only affords them the right to be respected as individuals and for their views to be given fair hearing, it does not constitute a right to charitable status and does not exempt their views from criticism.

The IAS has shown through their materials that, despite protestations to the contrary, their views are anti-vaccine. This entails that their views are factually and scientifically incorrect, that they have an agenda to reduce or stop vaccinations being performed and that through this their actions may translate into serious harm for individuals, the community and the public at large. The IAS currently enjoys charitable status, as such they are exempt from taxation on their income. This amounts to a government subsidy of anti-scientific and potentially harmful views.

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One last point, I am pretty clear to paint the IAS as anti-vaccine. They themselves deny this label, as mentioned above. But then I have a bias don’t I? Well, heres a link to a website that has the opposite bias, they list the IAS as on of their “100+ Great Anti-Vaccination Information Links“, I’d say that;s telling.

Footnotes:
1. NZ Vaccine coverage survey 2005
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/6028/$File/national-childhood-immunisation-coverage-survey2005.pdf
found on:
http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/national-childhood-immunisation-survey-2005

2. Stories covering the Aucland Measles outbreak:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/5220199/Immunisation-rate-of-refusal-growing
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/immunisations/news/article.cfm?c_id=461&objectid=10553617
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/5222511/Measles-outbreak-likely-to-spread

3. Predictive model for Measles Outbreaks. Coverage at 15months should be >90%
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810912/pdf/10813154.pdf

4. Immunisation Coverage report 2010:
http://www.immune.org.nz/site_resources/Professionals/Research/2010_Immunisation_coverage_report.pdf
Found Here:
http://www.immune.org.nz/?t=603

5. Study looking at reasons NZ parents give for not vaccinating:
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/117-1189/768/

6. IMAC website with anti-vaccination rebuttals:
http://www.immune.org.nz/?T=938

7. Charities Register page for IAS:
http://www.register.charities.govt.nz/CharitiesRegister/CharitySummary.aspx?id=17c102eb-e79c-de11-9604-0015c5f3da29