I would like to begin by thanking all those who helped organise this meeting, as well and all of those who have come along to hear the debate this evening. We are fortunate to live in a democracy in New Zealand, and challenging, debating, asking questions are at the heart of the democratic process and should be welcomed.
Unfortunately this has not been the case for vaccination, which has become a taboo subject in New Zealand, off-limits to debate.
Health officials and the medical establishment have decided that vaccination is such an essential public health tool that New Zealanders should simply accept its benefits without question, and have even implied that the unvaccinated are a risk to the health of society. At the same time they have dismissed those who question or oppose it, as dangerous, extreme and irresponsible.
Campbell Murdoch, a former Professor of General Practice at the Otago Medical School summed up the status of vaccination in an article he wrote in the New Zealand family Physician more than a decade ago. "It is a brave or foolish medical person who dates to question the wisdom of this wonderful scientific advance (of vaccination) … for to do this is to challenge one of the sacred cows of modern medicine…espoused uncritically by the medical profession…Any doctor who dares to suggest that there might be a dark side to this wonderful miracle is pilloried by the medical establishment and subjected to threats and ridicule."
"For most public health specialists, belief in the beneficence of immunisation is absolute and to question this has become the medical equivalent of mortal sin. Thus any opposition is dismissed as myth… any adverse reactions are denied and opponents are classified as cranks."
If we want to avoid having compulsory vaccination in this country, it is essential that people do speak out and ask questions and express our concerns, because the Ministry of Health has already raised options ranging from giving schools the power to refuse a child's enrolment if they do not have an immunisation certificate and giving the government emergency powers to vaccinate adults and children without their consent in a discussion document on future Public Health legislation which is likely to be introduced after the next election.
My own interest in vaccination began when I gave birth to my son 14 years ago. Whether or not to vaccinate our children was a hot topic at our regular mother's group meetings, but eventually I had my son vaccinated.
Shortly after receiving his triple MMR vaccine at 15 months, he developed a horrendous incident of croup — to the point where he was taken to the emergency department. He subsequently developed a weakness in the chest which led to childhood asthma, which fortunately, through my various remedies, he has managed to shake off.
At the time I said to my doctor, I am certain the croup was triggered by the vaccination, but the doctor dismissed my suggestion as ludicrous, and certainly never forwarded it as an adverse reaction to the Centre for Adverse Reactions, which records significant adverse reactions to vaccination. I was convinced it was, however, and my son has never received another vaccination since.
After that incident I came across various mothers whose children had suffered terrible incidents as a result of vaccination. One of my friends has a beautiful and apparently normal baby, who developed inexplicable brain damage shortly after a vaccination. At the time — twenty years ago — she never even questioned whether his condition could have been triggered by vaccination, but years later she has become convinced.
So when I found myself parachuted, unexpectedly, into Parliament, I began asking questions of the Minister of Health about the New Zealand vaccination.
I discovered, to my horror, that 23 vaccines, including vaccines that were given to babies, used thiomersal — a substance that is 50% mercury, one of the most toxic substances. Another 12 vaccines used formaldehyde — a substance that is designated as a known carcinogen — to inactivate toxins or to kill bacteria used in the manufacture of these vaccines. A further 15 used aluminium hydroxide to stimulate the production of antibodies, and another 11-used aluminium phosphate. Formaldehyde exposure even at very low doses has been linked with neurological and immune system damage, while aluminium has been linked with Alzheimer's disease.
As well as these, the Ministry of health's website acknowledges that vaccines can contain antibiotics — to prevent the growth of bacteria in the cultures, sulfites (known to trigger allergic reactions in asthmatics) — and also traces of human blood products and animal enzymes. At the height of the BSE crisis in Europe I was alarmed to discover, through written questions to the Minister of Health, that a number of our vaccines contained 'bovine material' from German cows. "The bovine material used in the preparation of the working seeds of the vaccine come from 'closed herds' in Germany, the Minister of Health sought to reassure me.
And all these substances are injected directly into the blood (aside from the polio vaccine which is taken orally). So I wasn't surprised to learn, from figures I obtained from the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring, that between 1995 and 1999, there were 2074 adverse reactions to vaccinations, the majority affecting children two years or younger. (These would only be the tip of the iceberg, as there is no mandatory requirement for doctors to report adverse reactions to vaccinations, and thousands of reactions, such as those of my son, are not being counted.)
The latest statistics I have obtained from the Centre show that there were 1,266 adverse reactions to vaccines in 2002; 1,152 adverse reactions in 2003, and 962 so far this year.
Given these adverse reactions, and the acknowledged risks of vaccinations, it is alarming that the government has been quietly increasing the number of vaccinations our children receive before they are five, without any public debate or inquiry. Whereas forty years ago our children received 12-13 different vaccines (including boosters), recent changes to the vaccination schedule mean that every New Zealand child is recommended to receive 31 different vaccine doses ---- — and now 34 different doses, with the new MeNZB vaccination being added to the schedule — some of them beginning at birth, and others at 6 weeks of age.
I was also alarmed to discover that no clinical research is undertaken in New Zealand to assess the potential short and long term effects of the mass vaccination campaigns; that vaccination trials are funded by the companies that will profit from their widespread use; that vaccinations have not been subject to large scale long-term trials or proper independent reviews of follow up monitoring — indeed most vaccinations are monitored for only 5-7 days.
So I met with the Ministry of Health to present my concerns. I presented them with a research paper, and asked the government to review the current immunisation programme, to ensure that each vaccine is indeed necessary, beneficial and cost effective; that the medical profession was alert to the issues surrounding vaccine safety.
I pointed out that despite the Human Rights and Disability Act stating that patients must be given full and truthful information prior to any procedure that carries a risk — and vaccination certainly does — that the information being presented to children did not present a balanced picture or outline the risks, so that parents could be make well informed choices on behalf of their children.
We also raised concerns about individual vaccines which have been linked with serious adverse effects such as autism, and about the use of mercury in vaccines, given that the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products had issued a world-wide alert detailing the potential risks of mercury as a vaccine preservative. We asked for urgent research into any health risks posed by traces of formaldehyde, mercury and aluminium in vaccines and whether there are alternatives substances that could be used instead.
I also flew down Dr Mike Godfrey to brief them on his concerns and ask questions.
We quickly realised we were wasting our time, that the Ministry would brook no criticism of its vaccination schedule, or undertake any serious review of its programme.
The only success we did have was an undertaking from the Ministry of Health that it would seek to remove mercury from all childhood vaccines. The Ministry assured us that all new vaccines would be mercury free — an assurance which has proven false. While it has removed mercury from childhood vaccinations it is still present in the diptheria tetanus vaccine, given at 11 years of age, and in flu injections which are given to children with chronic illnesses, and in an estimated 14 vaccines that are still given to adults.
I have other, more general, concerns as well. Vaccination is attractive to health professionals because it is a highly visible, statistically impressive way of appearing to tackle health problems. It is a one size fits all magic bullet treatment which is designed to kick start the body into taking action against invading pathogens — rather than letting the body's own natural defence system (its antibodies) do the job in a less dramatic way.
But this one size fits all remedy ignores the complex underlying causes of diseases like meningitis — nutrition, poverty, poor housing, smoking, amongst others. Annette King acknowledged this when she extolled the findings of a landmark two year Meningococcal disease Study that clearly demonstrated a link between the disease and poor housing and overcrowded living conditions. "Members of this government have been saying that for years," she said. But the link was consistently denied by Jenny Shipley and members of her former government."
But now she is ignoring it. A recent Ministry of Health report Looking Upstream estimates that 11 thousand people die from diet-related diseases like heart diseases — each year, many from an inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables. That's an extraordinary 30% of all deaths, twice as many as die from smoking, and far eclipsing deaths from tobacco, drugs, alcohol, motor accidents and violence — and meningitis.
But where are the campaigns to improve the nutrition and quality of food we eat in New Zealand? While the government is spending 200 million on a campaign to vaccinate all children against a strain of meningitis that killed 6 people last year, it is spending only a couple of million dollars on nutrition education even though it acknowledges that it is causing 11,000 deaths each year. And while we have numerous targets for vaccination in New Zealand, we have none for nutrition, other than for breastfeeding. Where is the sense in that?
"Politically, Sandra Coney wrote a decade ago, vaccination is an easy option. "It is a much bigger problem to worry about the houses the children are growing up in or the food they are putting in their mouths everyday. That's a political and economic problem, calling for complex solutions: nothing as simple or as politically appealing as jab in the arm.
Christchurch GP Dr David Ritchie also believes we should be concerned about boosting our children's immune system. Good nutrition and good emotional environment are the cornerstones of a good immune system, he says. Others note that many of the most pervasive modern illnesses such as asthma, chronic fatigue are related to immune deficiency, and worry that multiple vaccinations could adversely affect our children's immune systems. Relying on vaccines to kickstart our bodies into taking action against pathogens, could have the unintended effect that our bodies become so unused to doing their own detection work they may no longer distinguish between foreign invaders and ordinary tissue.
The Green party is committed to preventative, public health, but equally to holistic health which acknowledges that health is not simply the absence of diagnosed disease, but a state of physical, social and spiritual well-being; which treats the whole body, stimulates the body's innate natural healing mechanisms, is based on health promotion and keeping people well and which uses drugs and surgery and conventional medicine as a last rather than first resort. The approach of the vaccination campaign is not based on a holistic approach but on a one size fits all remedy which has significant risks and adverse reactions.
Finally, let me talk briefly about meningococcal vaccine the MeNZB vaccine, which the government is spending $200 million dollars developing. Now I am the first to acknowledge the horror of meningococcal disease — the most serious communicable disease in New Zealand-- and the distress and trauma it has caused to families which have contracted it. But I also believe it is vital that we publicly question and challenge and scrutinise a new and experimental vaccine that is intended to be injected three times into 1.15 million of our children.
One of the many curious and concerning aspects of this vaccination is that it hasn't even been given full approval for use under section 21 of the Medicines Act. Full consent is given under section 21 where all safety, quality and efficacy requirements have been met to the satisfaction of the MAAC and Medsafe.
Instead of full approval, it has been given what is called provisional consent, under another section of the Medicines Act, section 23, for two years. Provisional consent is given "where the data provided is insufficient to meet all the requirements of Medsafe's guidelines" and when the Minister is of the opinion that it is desirable that the medicine be sold "on a restricted basis for the treatment of a limited number of patients."
The Ministry of Health has already administered 200.000 doses of MeNZB vaccinations, and is aiming to vaccinate 1. 15 million New Zealanders — with three vaccinations each. Does this sound like a vaccine sold 'on a restricted basis for the treatment of a limited number of patients?'
The Ministry admits it has been rushing the vaccine to market and that the usual timelines have been condensed. It acknowledges that it has not yet completed its clinical assessment of the vaccine: that no efficacy trials have been carried out to see if it works, and that none of the clinical trials it has conducted has been published. It says it has conducted trials to an international standard but in fact a proper randomised, double blind controlled trial would have tested a control group vaccinated with a placebo, to compare against the group who had been vaccinated, rather than another vaccine. It has made much of the fact that the parent vaccine was administered to 180 thousand Norwegians in clinical trials, but kept rather quiet about the fact that the Norwegians decided not to proceed with the vaccination because it was not sufficiently effective to merit general release.
It acknowledges that 25% of participants gained little or no immunity to the B strain of Meningococcal disease. It says it is rushing ahead and administering the vaccine, even before it has completed its clinical assessment, because the meningococcal epidemic is so serious that it is justified in waiving the normal requirements for getting a new medicine or vaccination into the marketplace. The Minister of Heath says the epidemic shows no signs of abating — when in fact the epidemic has declined steadily since its peak in 2001.
It admits that the manufacturer, Chiron, has funded the trials that will ascertain its success. It admits too that no efficacy trials have been carried out, and that none of the clinical trials has been published. Chiron has just had its license to manufacture flu vaccine suspended in the UK for violations of good manufacturing practice. In the US FDA inspectors have determined that Chiron's entire manufacturing process for the flu vaccine was unsafe and they have rejected all of the 48 million doses at the facility.
A similar meningococcal C vaccine the company made in the United Kingdom resulted in thousands of adverse events and several deaths. The British Observer newspaper reported recently on conflicts of interest between Chiron and four of the medical experts advising the UK government on the safety and efficacy of their vaccine. Meanwhile an American expert was fined and jailed for two years earlier this year for 13 shadow payments he received from Chiron and another pharmaceutical company, in which he had pocketed over one million for recruiting patients into clinical trials. The US Securities Commission is investigating whether Chiron had tried to cover up problems with its investors.
All of these incidents undermine confidence in the integrity and independence of the Chiron corporation, and beg the question: what is all the rush and panic about? Why are rushing to dose more than a million of our youngest and most vulnerable with an experimental vaccine which hasn't yet completed its clinical assessment? If the epidemic is on the wane, why are we shortcutting normal processes to get it to market: conducting an emotional and it must be said one sided campaign to panic parents into having their children vaccinated.
Why aren't we spending $200 million on a nationwide childhood nutrition education campaign aimed at improving the diet and quality of food our children eat: increasing the minimum wage to help alleviate childhood poverty, improving the quality of the housing stock in high risk areas such as South Auckland and Northland, and taking other preventative measures to reduce the underlying causes of this and other diseases?