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19 Jan 2016

Health academics at the University of Wollongong have affirmed the lifesaving benefits of immunisation after their institution become embroiled in controversy over the decision to award a doctorate for a thesis questioning the safety and efficacy of mass vaccination programs.

Sixty-five senior medical and health researchers including Professor of Public Health Dr Heather Yeatman, Dean of Medicine Professor Ian Wilson, and Professor Alison Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, have jointly signed a public statement backing the evidence supporting vaccination and its importance in preventing disease.

“The evidence is clear,” the statement said. “Immunisation protects children and saves lives.

“While individuals may express opinions, the international scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports immunisation to protect children from infectious diseases.”

A series of reports in The Australian newspaper revealed that Dr Judy Wilyman, described as an “anti-vaccination campaigner”, had been accepted for a PhD after submitting a thesis in which she criticised the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

In her thesis, Dr Wilyman argued that the implementation of mass vaccination programs like the NIP coincided with “the development of partnerships between academic institutions and industry” and notes the involvement of organisations including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF in urging population-wide immunisation.

“Whilst the Government claims serious adverse events to vaccines are rare this is not supported by adequate scientific evidence due to the shortcomings in clinical trials and long-term surveillance of health outcomes of recipients,” she argues. “A close examination of the ‘Swine Flu’ 2009 vaccine and the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), intended to prevent cervical cancer, shows shortcomings in the evidence base and rationale for the vaccines. This investigation demonstrates that not all vaccines have been demonstrated to be safe, effective or necessary.”

The social sciences researcher called for “independent research” into the safety and efficacy of current vaccines, and added that it was important to have “comprehensive evidence that it is safe to combine multiple vaccines in the developing bodies of infants”.

Dr Yeatman said large-scale immunisation programs began in the 1930s and “immunisation provides an important safeguard against infectious disease when children go to school or play with others”.

According to Immunise Australia, mass immunisation had led to a 99 per cent plunge in deaths from vaccine-preventable disease.

“For more than 50 years, children have been immunised and it is one of our best success stories in public health,” she said.

Wollongong University has staunchly defended its decision to grant Dr Wilyman a PhD, on the grounds of academic freedom.

But, following sustained criticism, it has launched a review of the process involved in awarding PhDs – though it will not include that presented to Dr Wilyman.

Adrian Rollins




Published: 19 Jan 2016