By Helen Petousis Harris 24/05/2017

Dr Lance O’Sullivan I salute you.

Kaitaia is a town in the far north of NZ, warm people, lovely beaches. Sadly immunisation coverage is low, infectious disease rates are high. Doctors like Lance O’Sullivan work their guts out to improve the health of the people they serve, including treating kids for illnesses that they should never have to suffer. The community need screenings of the manipulative pro-disease film Vaxxed like a kick in the guts. At the local screening Dr O’Sullivan got up and defended his community against the anti-vaccination lobby with an open, honest message.

You can watch it on TVNZ: Dr Lance O’Sullivan stuns guests at anti-vax doco by leaping on stage to explain why their message is a killer.

The film in question has as much scientific fact in it as a B-grade zombie film yet is so manipulative it manages to persuade people that its insidious messages are somehow true. I am not going to write a film review because many others have done so already, but in short there is no scientific debate about a relationship between the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine and autism. This has been extensively investigated and put to bed years ago. MMR vaccines have a longstanding excellent safety profile.

The film focusses on the claim that the CDC hid evidence in one of its studies evaluating the safety of MMR vaccine. Like the myth that MMR causes autism, this conspiracy theory has also been well and truly debunked. If MMR did cause autism then one of the large carefully conducted internationally diverse studies would have found at least a hint of a link, a whiff, a vestige…

It must be also be highlighted, for the millionth time, that Andrew Wakefield, the director of this film, falsified data, lied, performed invasive painful procedures on children without ethical approval and did not declare massive financial conflicts of interest. He has lost his licence to practice medicine and remains unsupported by any respected expert in either vaccines or autism. These are the accepted facts and Wakefield is the person delivering the messages to communities like Kaitaia, through his mondo film.

While Vaxxed is a film that will appeal to people who believe that the moon landing was filmed in a Hollywood basement and reject the warming of the planet as a fact it will also scare good decent parents who want to do the best for their kids. This is what makes the whole thing stink so badly. The promoters are so despicable that they even targeted Somali refugees in a community in US Minnesota with devastating consequences. Now there is a measles outbreak and kids are in hospital. This is not really what we want in our NZ communities. I do not believe that showing the film represents free speech because all over the country the organisers have done everything in their power to prevent any challenges – covert screenings etc. In Auckland the organisers began by issuing a warning to the audience that if they wanted to make trouble they had people posted throughout the theatre.

Lance said babies will die. He is not extremist, it is true. The impact of the anti-vaccination movement has been documented for over 200 years. The consequences of the recent activity against MMR vaccine have included deaths from measles. It is purely a numbers game – about 1 per 1000 cases will die. Last outbreak in Auckland 23% of cases went to hospital, which case # will be the one who dies? The outbreak cost untold millions to manage. The world is trying to eliminate measles, a major killer, people who promote Vaxxed are trying to thwart the efforts, does this make them pro-measles? Well yeah!

The organisers of the film screening are crying foul. On their website they accuse Dr O’Sullivan of bullying. I certainly hope the accusations are unfounded, they are indeed grievous. Perhaps WAVES may like to provide some evidence to support these claims, the video would speak otherwise.

In taking the stage Lance stood up for the tamariki/children in his community.

0 Responses to “In defence of the tamariki”

  • Helen,

    I thought it might be useful to provide some balance seeing as you seem to be unwilling to undertake that task. By the way, I haven’t seen the film but I’m not a believer in censorship either.

    The question that begs to be asked is why are some people opposed to or sceptical about vaccination? You don’t address that question. You’ll recall that when the vaccine for the B strain of meningococcal disease was rolled out in NZ in 2005, the vaccine wasn’t as successful as had been hoped. See

    Grandiose predictions were made about what the vaccine would achieve, predictions that failed to live up to the hype. Maybe (maybe!) one child’s death was prevented at a cost of well over $200 million. As you will know, children who were immunised against the B strain contracted the disease and some of these died. It is precisely that sort of information that parents should receive when deciding whether to vaccinate or not.

    I’d have more faith in Lance O’Sullivan if he told the full story, that vaccines can and do fail and they can and do cause damage, huge damage in some cases. Don’t parents deserve to be told the truth?

    You link to deaths in Romania (for some obscure reason) but there have been many cases of measles throughout Europe in recent times. That is despite the fact that many countries in Europe have relatively high rates of vaccination. It’s reasonable to assume that many recent cases will include those who have been vaccinated. Again, do you think parents should be given this information before deciding whether to vaccinate or not? Or would you rather parents be given a sanitised version of the truth because they can’t be trusted to make the “correct” decision?

    • Ross please keep the to the topic, otherwise your posts could appear like trolling.
      What sort of balance are you proposing? What is the question you say begs to be asked? What has the MeNZB vaccine got to do with an anti-vaccination movie?
      Your comments about MeNZB are misleading. If you want to talk about the effectiveness of the MeNZB vaccine I suggest you produce some scientific literature on the topic, say perhaps Arnold, R., Galloway, Y., McNicholas, A., & O’Hallahan, J. (2011). Effectiveness of a vaccination programme for an epidemic of meningococcal B in New Zealand. Vaccine, 29(40), 7100-7106..

      Your fallacious statement about Lance not telling the full story… You are making a strawman argument. Scientists do not claim vaccines are perfect.

      As for deaths in Romania…would you prefer a different country? How about the UK? The point was that when vaccine coverage is damaged by anti vaccination activities disease out breaks and ultimately deaths ensue. It is not rocket science.

      Parents deserve accurate information, not the sort of trash served up in Vaxxed.

        • Angela,
          Gosh, harsh criticisms indeed and not really a contribution to a meaningful discussion but rather an ad hominem attack. Please refrain from this sort of non-constructive dialogue in this comments forum.

          I am very happy to state that I have no training as a medical doctor. This is absolutely true. I am not a medical doctor. If someone has a heart attack on a plane I am completely useless. However, I am a Doctor of Philosophy in Vaccinology, a scientist. In addition to having done research on the topic of vaccines and vaccination for the best part of 20 years, I also teach medical doctors both during their training and during their continuing medical education. I teach them about the ‘floaty bits’ in vaccines. This is because medical doctors learn the science stuff from scientist Doctors such as immunologists, microbiologists, virologists and epidemiologists, none of whom are usually trained in treating patients. A PhD trains for longer than a medical doctor and has a higher level degree, in case you are confused. Both continue to train throughout their careers and develop their skills and knowledge further.

          The knowledge base on vaccines is a culmination of many kinds of doctor each contributing their expertise.

        • Hi Angela. You seem to confuse scientific and academic medical expertise with practical medical skills. Its unfortunate. Your attack makes as much sense as attacking a metallurgist who comments on the quality of steel used in a car because he isn’t a panelbeater.

          I hope you learn from the experience.

          GPs (and medical practitioners in general) are highly skilled but generalists. They rely on experts like Helen who have laser-focused understanding in specific areas. We should be celebrating the ability we have available to us to draw on from academically skilled researchers and scientists.

          Lets not go with the intellectual clobbering machine that we are so good at here in NZ

        • She actually states that she is not an expert in the emails that were released under the NZ FOIA, referred to in the open letter, that was sent to the WHO Director Dr Margaret Chan, making her presence there puzzling quite frankly…

    • The link that Helen provided to the MeNZB vaccine is behind a paywall. You may find this study enlightening –
      Stanley Plotkin et al – ‘ Fast Tracking the Vaccine Licensure Process to Control an Epidemic of Serogroup B Meningococcal Disease in New Zealand ‘ .

  • I once heard that in the absence of fact the best defence if offense. In this regard Trisha Cheel’s behavoiur, caught on camera, was certainly highly offensive. Lance O’Sullivan had little opportunity to respond politely least of all offer the full and frank information associated with allowing parents make an informed decision about immunisation.

    Interestingly, Dr O’Sullivan has remained quietly spoken and respectful of others throughout all the video media content I have watched. No need to be offensive when the facts are behind him I suggest.

    B-grade movies that purport to be ‘documentaries’ are shown in secret locations are on par with the Agatha Christie weekend away murder games. The secrecy encourages viewers to play into the conspiracy themes the movies try to sell. Advertised screenings and respectful, open communication where scientific evidence is allowed to be presented when it contradicts beliefs derived from “working from my heart” doesn’t work for supporters and organisers of Vaxxed screenings because they know that after a true informed consent process parents will see them for what they are and vaccinate.

    Is Andrew Wakefield so impotent that he needs these older female groupies fighting his fight?

    • Informed Consent just does not happen as it ought to…and to be fair, it is not possible, given that apparently some health professionals don’t seem to have the time to study clinical trial data and outcomes. This is easily revealed, if you ask a few pertinent questions…

      Full disclosure of risks, a legal requirement under the NZ Bill of Rights…there’s a problem right there….not happening…and that does not even include theoretical risks…until a child experiences an adverse event, the parent then looks at the extensive small print they never knew existed and asks, why was I never informed about this possibility? is just a coincidence…no CARM form offered, on your way..she’ll be right…but unfortunately the child is not always going to be OK after that.

      No liability for the manufacturer; what great business plan. Duty of care? Due diligence? Precautionary Principle? The stuff that dreams are made of….

  • I was going to differ to the to the use of “despicable” as unnecessarily perjorative that inflames debate using emotional language unneccessarily, and was intrigued by the claim that the Somali community were “exploited” by promoters of the film, so clicked on the link because I assumed it was equally plausible that the Somali community had agency and were perfectly capable of getting suckered/enlightened/confused as the rest of us and then, reading crazy comment after crazy racist comment, I realised it was a Breitbart article, and I was like, wtf, whatevs, lol

    • Paul, Holy moly! Fair to say I am cringing. That is not the link I thought I put in, it was supposed to be an article from the Independent. Breitbart not my scene. I will fix this now with a more appropriate link to the Somali story, and acknowledge my bad!

  • “Ross please keep the to the topic, otherwise your posts could appear like trolling.”

    That is a poor response when I was on topic. (Such a patronising response is possibly not going to make sceptical parents less sceptical.)

    I explained that vaccines can and do fail and can and do cause damage. I also asked whether parents should be given the full story. It’s quite possible that my idea of informed consent and your idea of it are different.

    “Multiplying the age-specific mortality rates by the number of prevented cases estimated in each age group yielded an estimated 1.7 fatalities that were prevented.”

    Hmmm an estimated 1.7 deaths prevented at a cost of approximately $220 million. The problem is that before the vaccine was rolled out, parents were told that the vaccine would prevent numerous deaths. “Cabinet was told that meningococcal disease would kill 20 New Zealanders per year for the next ten years, and that the MeNZB™ vaccine would avert 13.6 deaths per year.”

    I think parents can handle the truth and should always be told the truth, messy as that might sometimes be. And when health authorities get it wrong, as they sometimes do, they should be able to say sorry. I suspect that not saying sorry and not giving parents the full story is behind the decision of many parents to say no to vaccination.

    You do, however, acknolwedge that “Scientists do not claim vaccines are perfect.” What imperfect things does Dr O’Sullivan and other doctors say about them and is this information routinely shared with parents?

  • Ross –

    re your link to analysis of the MeNZB vaccine – Ron Law isn’t exactly renowned for good analysis. Similarly, in your link in a later comment, Barbara Sumner Burstyn isn’t a reliable source either; in fact she was Ron’s partner-in-crime, as it were. As Helen suggested earlier, more reliable sources might help!

    (Also lest I start to think that you’re Ron touting his old wares under a pseudonym…! The style, and focus, read as similar.)

    re and not giving parents the full story is behind the decision of many parents to say no to vaccination.”

    My experience is that the local ‘vaccine concern’ groups have made very little mention of MeNZB in years. It would follow that their motivations now lie elsewhere. I guess Ron would be disappointed that his moment of fame didn’t last but that’s how vaccine memes seem to roll.

    The latest objection du jour seems to mostly vague unspecified, untested claims of ‘vaccine injury’ along with ‘the aluminium’, the latter replacing ‘the mercury’ – they seem to have cottoned on to that that’s embarrassing, not that they ever own up to getting things wrong. Also dropped is ‘the seizures’, now hardly mentioned since Dravet’s Syndrome, a genetic condition, was shown to be a cause of many of these. ‘Too many too soon’ still features oddly enough, oddly since it’s fairly easily shown to be wrong-headed. Guess there’s always a few things that buck the trend and persist? Anyway, point is that it’s hard to miss that objections to vaccines are (mostly) a parade of memes with newer ones replacing the older ones over time, and with that, that it’s mostly really about any one of the memes themselves.

    More relevantly I doubt the Vaxxed movie mentions the MeNZB vaccine. (Feel free to correct me.) Given that, and lack of recent mention of it, it seems odd and irrelevant to be touting Ron’s old (and flawed) stuff here.

    The movie if anything seems to be Wakefield trying to ‘justify’ his fraud by pointing fingers—not that pointing fingers would actually justify it—but leaving out stuff that would show him and the argument presented up. A central theme is that the CDC is supposed to have ‘buried’ some results linking vaccines and autism from a subset of the data — except that never happened. In practice, they actually reported the data referred to in a publication. Those results were from so small a sub-group as to not be meaningful. The “re-analysis” the movie refers to overplays a statistically ‘blip’ (to use a very scientific phrase!) gotten from trying too hard using overly simple methods; the person who claimed it later said that it was not meaningful a government hearing (Senate committee, I think). The movie ‘conveniently’ doesn’t mention any of this.

    An issue with that is that viewers have to know what was not said in order to correctly judge the movie. That’s great as a propaganda piece to preach to those with (blind) adulation of the guy I’m sure; but it’s not some sort of informative documentary.

    • Grant, I do believe you are right. Pretty sure MeNZB not mentioned in the film. Of course I could have missed that bit! So agree, this must be a an attempt to commit the Red Herring fallacy, an absolute favorite of Ron’s.

      For those who wonder, the MeNZB vaccine was relatively effective in preventing meningococcal disease in the vaccinated for a short time. It did not make much of a difference on the epidemic because it came at the end, when the rates had begun to wane naturally. If the vaccine had been available earlier more lives could have been saved.

  • Pity we can’t edit comments. Among a few others slips,

    “that it’s mostly really about any one of the memes themselves”

    should read

    “that it’s mostly NOT really about any one of the memes themselves”.

    My apologies.

  • Just watched the video clips of Lance O’Sullivan that you linked to. Generally I find the good doctor to be an upstanding individual. But I found his conduct rather disturbing. He stated he would publicly list the names of people who work with children in the community if they came to view the movie. Is New Zealand a society where people are not permitted to form their own opinions about a subject without fear of such bullying tactics?

    • Toni,
      I think this is the issue we have. For many, Lance resonated well. For others he went too far. I don’t think he in anyway meant people could not have their own opinions but he vehemently opposed the subversive content of the film and the risk he believed it posed to his vulnerable community. To be honest, the film, and those promoting it, exclude views that challenge the claims. For example the film fails to mention any of the extensive evidence on vaccine safety and the promoters have not given opportunity for experts to speak so it kink of flies in the face of democracy. In terms of bullying, if you mean the performance of a Haka and the intensity of his message, then I think the only people genuinely qualified to give an informed opinion are those who are culturally qualified, and those are the people to whom Lance primarily addressed. From what I have heard (so far) from Whanau in Kaitaia his community were supportive and appreciative.

  • re your link to analysis of the MeNZB vaccine – Ron Law isn’t exactly renowned for good analysis. Similarly, in your link in a later comment, Barbara Sumner Burstyn isn’t a reliable source either; in fact she was Ron’s partner-in-crime, as it were.


    You had a great opportunity to explain how many lives politicians were told would be saved by the MeNZB vaccine. You didn’t take that opportunity so I assume the numbers are correct. The fact you dislike Ron Law is well known, but it’s beside the point. Try not to let your personal dislike of someone get in the way of the facts or a coherent argument.

    I note that you made no mention of informed consent. Are parents entitled – indeed, should they get – all the relevant information about vaccines? Should any information critical of vaccines be withheld from parents?

    I note that several years ago Helen complained about doctors and midwives providing parents with “misinformation”. I don’t know what misniformation she was referring to. But publicly criticising midwives and doctors probably isn’t a great strategy if you’re trying to get them onside. In the same presentation, she said that myths come about from an absence of trust and from a vacuum. I couldn’t agree more. I would recommend providing information to parents so that a vacuum cannot exist. One wonders why that has not already happened.

  • For those who wonder, the MeNZB vaccine was relatively effective in preventing meningococcal disease in the vaccinated for a short time. It did not make much of a difference on the epidemic because it came at the end, when the rates had begun to wane naturally. If the vaccine had been available earlier more lives could have been saved.

    But the vaccine cost about $220 million. You will be aware that such a large sum of money could have been better spent elsewhere. Even when the so-called epidemic was at its worst, Treasury said the numbers didn’t stack up and a vaccine shouldn’t be publicly funded.

    The health budget is not unlimited and there are competing demands for funding.How many people would you estimate died as a result of not receiving funds that were instead spent on the MeNZB vaccine?