Stephanie Messenger – messages of misinformation

By Helen Petousis Harris 17/10/2013

Apparently one of Australia’s anti-vaccination lobbyists is visiting NZ and doing tours around some of the local hotspots of like-minded people. This includes areas with pockets of the lowest immunisation rates in the country. For those who are not familiar with Stephanie’s work, she co-authored a book with Meryl Dory (Of the Australian Vaccine Network fame) where they expose the ‘hidden truth’ about vaccines. Pretty routine pseudoscience stuff but not so Stephanie’s children’s books which are a whole new kind of sick.

Her stories for children promote diseases such as measles as friendly and fun.  Of course this book has been widely criticised and there is no shortage of those critiques on the web. Perhaps what makes this book even more revolting is that it is also suspiciously alike in title to “George’s Marvellous Medicine” by Roald Dahl whose daughter died of measles encephalitis and was who was highly critical of those who opposed measles vaccine. For a salient consideration of this work of mischief check out John Stumbles version.

Stephanie’s tour is being promoted by the defunct NZ anti –immunsiation group WAVES, formally known the Immunisation Awareness Society. She promotes her children’s books such as Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, Sarah Visits a Naturopath and Don’t Bully Billy about vegetarianism which she recommends are read to children from the age of six months so that they may resist other views later on. The idea that children have to be indoctrinated to instil a biased point of view does not bode well for her claimed adherence to scientific method. Messenger is generally ‘anti’ many things including water fluoridation, microwaves, antibiotics; and Vitamin K injections for newborns. She advocates sleeping infants on their stomach.

Stephanie claims to use a scientific approach. Like many anti-immunisation lobbyists she asserts to hold the scientific high ground and that scientists and health professionals are misled and faith based. Mmmm. Lets take a couple of Stephanie messengers claims and put them to the test.

Stephanie on Influenza vaccination and Alzheimer’s Disease

According to Stephanie, receipt of the flu vaccine over five successive years results in a ten-fold increase in risk for Alzheimers disease. This is a myth that can be found on the internet and after a bit of sleuthing I could only find this referred to on anti-vaccination websites. It appears to be attributed (on one of the most dodgy ant-vaxer sites) to one Hugh Fudenberg . Now I have certainly come across Dr Fudenberg before and Orac, who appears to have been through the same exercise, has summarised nicely. Fudenburg is quoted as saying

if an individual has had five consecutive flu shots between 1970 and 1980 (the years studied) his/her chances of getting Alzheimer’s Disease is ten times higher than if they had one, two or no shots.

…and this is due

to the mercury and aluminum that is in every flu shot (and most childhood shots).  The gradual mercury and aluminum buildup in the brain causes cognitive dysfunction

Well of course there isn’t actually any aluminium and/or mercury in influenza vaccine (check the datasheets) and neither of these elements are associated with Alzheimers anyway. Also, the only paper kicking around on the issue concludes past exposure to vaccines appears inversely (protective) associated with Alzheimers 

Stephanie has in no way attempted to apply the scientific method to this subject and she produces no scientific evidence to back this statement, if she uses science as she claims then she should have, at the very least considered the following:

  1. Formulated a question – what causes Alzheimers disease?
  2. Gathered information and made observations , what did existing research say?
  3. Formulated a hypothesis – Influenza vaccine does not increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and any associations are due to chance
  4. Test the hypothesis – in this case find or conduct an appropriately designed study/studies that others can evaluate/peer review and replicate
  5. Analyse the data and interpret   – does it support the hypothesis?
  6. Have other researchers review the findings and also replicate them

This is broadly the scientific method. Which bits have been applied to Stephanies claims?

Stephanie on Gardasil and early onset menopause and infertility

Stephanie claims that the Gardasil vaccine causes menopause and infertility. If the HPV vaccine caused early onset menopause and infertility then one would expect higher rates of vaccinated people with early onset menopause and infertility. In the clinical trials of the Gardasil vaccine there were equal rates of pregnancies and babies born to vaccine and placebo groups. This is what the exisiting research says and it is readily available. If Stephanie thinks that the Gardasil vaccine causes these conditions then she should perhaps follow the scientific method and produce some data to support it. Where is the preponderance of evidence here? I have been unable to find any research that suggests there are fertility issues associated with the vaccine so it is impossible to comment on its validity.

At the presentations, handouts are provided for the audience. One of these is “Questions to ask your doctor – they could save your child’s life!” There are 14 suggested questions. They are loaded and rhetorical and I pity any health professional faced with a tirade of these. I have listed the first six with some comments.

1. Do you keep up to date on the vaccination issue? If yes, could you supply some of the latest SCIENTIFIC information on vaccinations to take home and read?

This appears to imply that firstly the health professional is ignorant on the topic and secondly the information they provide is not scientific.

2. What are all the reactions to vaccines you want to administer? Could you give me a copy of all the product inserts for each vaccine to read at home?

This is a reasonable request. Part of the informed consent process is to inform people of the risks and the benefits of vaccination. I would suggest that the datasheets are often quite limited and for people who are genuinely interested in vaccine safety the following links may be more informative.

 The Institute of Medicine 

The Australian National Centre for immunisation Research and Surveillance

The NZ Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland

3. Professor Wakefield has linked autism to the measles vaccine and since then the U.S. federal government has paid compensation for some children who were diagnosed with autism after being vaccinated. Prof.Wakefield’s research has since been duplicated many times so it was not really fraudulent. His colleague has now been reinstated as a medical researcher since it has been proven that the action by the medical board was nothing more than a witch hunt. Did you know that?

Firstly, Andrew Wakefield does not hold an academic appointment with any University. He not a Professor. Secondly, he tried to claim autism was associated with the MMR vaccine, not the measles vaccine. He advocated the use of measles vaccine for which he had taken out a patent . Thirdly, see here for discussion on the compensations, fourthly, no one has ever duplicated Wakefield’s fraudulent research – probably because it was fraudulent. Fifthly, the decisions by the British General Medical Council (GMC) (not sure what the medical board is) still stand.

4. Dr Michael Odent has linked asthma to the whooping cough vaccine. Have you read his research and what do you think?

I think if someone intends to ask this question then they had better read the “research” Messenger refers to. A letter to the editor where Odent is commenting on research by Drs Ellis and Douglas is not a research publication. However this letter to the editor has been subsequently referenced as research. There is plenty of actual research on the matter of vaccination and asthma and other allergic diseases. Here are some links to some high level evidence rather than 20-30 year old anecdote.

5. Why is the same dose of vaccines given to a small two month old baby as is given to a 4 year old?

Why not? The appropriate dosing for different age  groups and other population groups under study is evaluated very early on in phase two clinical trials. Infants respond very well to the same dose as older ages. For vaccines such as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis the dose is reduced for older ages not increased.

6. Are you aware than Japan changed the start time for vaccinating from 3 months to 2 years and straight away their SIDS rate plummeted?

This is a lie. The rates and the cases of deaths attributed to SIDS actually increased significantly after the vaccination programme was temporarily changed, probably due to an increase in diagnosis. The source of the claim that SIDS deaths plummeted is Vera Scheibner. Her figures are sourced from the Japanese vaccination compensation programme. Japan only diagnoses SIDS in infants under 12 months.The flaw in this is gobsmackingly obvious.  Clearly one cannot make a claim to the vaccine injury compensation programme if no vaccine has been given and meanwhile the deaths attributable to SIDS increased. Vaccinations are associated with a halving of the risk of SIDS .

Indulge yourself with this clip of debunking Viera Scheibner at 6.48 claims in US mid 1970’s of vaccine saw the increase of whooping cough by 300%. Kudos to Professor Booy

And so on…

Stephanie Messenger does not deliver messages that have any foundation in science. She makes baseless claims. Unfortunately this sort of scaremongering can lead to confusion and worry among parents looking to make the best decisions for their children. Stephanie Messengers messages do not pass any of the baloney detection tests and should be relegated to fairy tales along with sasquatch, mermaids and centaur. Entertainment value perhaps. Please do not let your children near the books.

0 Responses to “Stephanie Messenger – messages of misinformation”

  • Dear Roald Dahl. That is a very sad story. there’s a link at the end of the John Stumbles work relating to Dahl’s time with his daughter in hospital. These are the reminders that really speak to me about the benefits of immunisation.
    I do hope that Stephanie’s tour has been an abject failure.

  • Where does accountability lie here ……..there are avenues for accoutability for health authorities and health professionals (hence Andrew Wakefield appropriately got sanctioned in the UK ) but no avenues for grossly misleading information from members of the public. Even if she is doing this with genuine good intent, it is scary the potential to lead to damage from vaccine refusal.