Why anti-vaxxers shouldn’t be censored

A gentleman by the name of Kent Heckenlively has been denied entry to Australia by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for his ‘dangerous’ views on vaccination. Never heard of him? Not many people had until this recent ABC news report. Apparently Mr Heckenlively is an anti-vaccination advocate on a world tour, who planned to drop by and tell Australian parents  that they should stop vaccinating their kids.

According to Peter Dutton, his views are ‘dangerous’ and are not in the national interest. No doubt Mr Heckenlively was planning to expound on all sorts debunked myths about how vaccinations cause autism or how measles is good for your immune system. As part of his tour, he would have visited a number of venues and spoken to groups of dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxers, as well as people who are just curious about vaccine dangers. He may very well have persuaded a few more people to believe, along with him, that vaccines are a health hazard.

Presumably Peter Dutton is well intentioned, and doesn’t want to see the rates of vaccination in Australia decline, and that is a noble goal. To this end, the freedom of Australians to invite a speaker of their choice to our country, and to hear him speak on a topic of their choosing has been weighed against the ‘greater good’ and found wanting. What is best for society as a whole – high rates of vaccination in the community – has been elevated above the freedoms and desires of a smaller number of individuals.

What this represents is ‘collectivist thinking’: a system of political thought that prioritises the group over the individual. We see it in action in justifications for all kinds of nanny state laws and public health campaigns. Many people would love to see the end of bicycle helmet laws for instance. Instead they are told that it is their duty to wear a helmet just in case they sustain a head injury and become a burden on the public health-care system.

Other examples are public health campaigns against smoking and alcohol consumption. These campaigns are a double edged sword that seek to not only moralise about people’s personal lifestyles choices, but to tax them heavily as well. Over-zealous and opportunistic tax collecting on the sales of tobacco and alcohol, is disguised as a moral good that benefits the community by offsetting the impact of smokers and drinkers on our already burdened health-care system.

But not everybody wants to live their lives by the edicts of public health authorities, and nor should they have to. In a free society not everyone will agree about what constitutes a good life, or a healthy life. We must respect that not 100% of people are going to vaccinate or quit smoking and binge drinking, no matter how beneficial it may be to them or the greater community. If they are not convinced or simply don’t want to, and if the greater good is prioritised over the individual, then force is the only tool left in the toolbox.

We have already seen evidence of that in our ‘No jab, no pay’ policy that twists the thumbscrews on people on low incomes in order to get them to comply with the vaccination schedule, or lose out on the Family Tax Benefit. Collectivist thinking therefore reduces liberty, as in order for the grand plan to work, individual freedom and autonomy to make decisions about one’s own health is compromised. The ban on Mr Heckenlively illustrates that even the freedom to hear dangerous ideas can be taken away, by order of big government.

What Peter Dutton may not realise is that banning a speaker like Mr Heckenlively may prove to be counterproductive. This ban and the resulting news media reports, mean that a lot more people now know who Mr Heckenlively is, and, as they say in showbiz, even bad publicity is good publicity. Many anti-vaxxers also buy into conspiracy theory narratives that tell of a collusion between the government and Big-Pharma that aims to keep us all sick. When our Immigration Minister bans big name anti-vaccination advocates from entering the country, these narratives are strengthened.

It stands to reason that only a certain percentage of Australians are open to anti-vaccination arguments. It is unlikely that a touring anti-vaccination speaker is going to have any real impact on the numbers of parents who abstain. Individual freedoms to invite and hear a speaker have once more been eroded and with probably no real effect on anti-vaccination numbers. If the aim is to prevent people being misinformed, why not instead invite Mr Heckenlively to speak with a panel of experts, and if he is indeed wrong about any claims he makes, then he will be exposed. Refusing to engage, and banning him from even entering the country, will in the eyes of some, mean that the authorities fear what he has to say, and lends his views an air of legitimacy.

On top of all that, banning or censoring dangerous ideas and speakers is an insult to ordinary people. It represents an indictment of the listener, as if to say ‘you are too obtuse and easily lead, and we’re not sure that you’ll be able to discern good information from bad.’ It is a statement on behalf of us all that, ‘Australians do not approve’ even if there is a proportion of Australians who do. It’s a glaring example of how collectivist thought can be exercised on our behalf, justified by its benefit to the greater good, while coming as it does, at the expense of every Australian’s personal liberty and freedom.

A version of this article was published at Spiked Online 6th September, 2017.

Nicola Wright
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Nicola Wright

Nicola is a digital communications professional based in Perth and holds a BA (Internet Communications) from Curtin University. She is passionate about liberty and human flourishing and has an interest in free speech advocacy, and resisting the 'nanny state'. Nicola has had contributions in The Spectator Australia, Online Opinion and Spiked Online, and writes and edits content for LibertyWorks.
Nicola Wright
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52 Comments on "Why anti-vaxxers shouldn’t be censored"

  1. This is an excellent article except the link between vaccines and Autism is neither myth nor debunked and if you do some research you will find credible scientific research to that end.

    One reason why the conversation does not go away and intensifies, is, as you touch upon, because as applies in Physics, ‘with greater force you get greater resistance,’but also because every time someone claims that something has been debunked, when many people know it has not, the foundation is laid for yet more correction and more conversation. Which leads to more questions and more resistance.

    Ditto for Measles, and for that matter, Mumps, Chicken Pox, etc., having positive impacts on the immune system and health in general.

    For example:

    MUMPS: Researchers investigated whether mumps might engender immunity to ovarian cancer through antibodies against the cancer-associated antigen MUC1 abnormally expressed in the inflamed parotid gland. Read more….

    MEASLES: Albonico et al found that adults are significantly protected against non-breast cancers — genital, prostate, gastrointestinal, skin, lung, ear-nose-throat, and others — if they contracted measles (odds ratio, OR = 0.45), rubella (OR = 0.38) or chickenpox (OR = 0.62) earlier in life. [Med Hypotheses 1998; 51(4): 315-20].

    MEASLES: Montella et al found that contracting measles in childhood reduces the risk of developing lymphatic cancer in adulthood [Leuk Res 2006; 30(8): 917-22].

    MEASLES: Alexander et al found that infection with measles during childhood is significantly protective — it cuts the risk in half — against developing Hodgkin’s disease (OR = 0.53) [Br J Cancer 2000; 82(5): 1117-21].

    MEASLES: Glaser et al also found that lymph cancer is significantly more likely in adults who were not infected with measles, mumps or rubella in childhood [In J Cancer 2005; 115(4): 599-605].

    COMMON INFECTIONS: Gilham et al found that infants with the least exposure to common infections have the greatest risk of developing childhood leukemia [BMJ 2005; 330: 1294].

    EARLY EXPOSURE TO INFECTIONS:Urayama et al also found that early exposure to infections is protective against leukemia [Int J Cancer 2011; 128(7): 1632-43]. Read more….

    CHICKEN POX (VARICELLA Canniff J., Donson A.M., Foreman N.K., Weinberg A. Cytotoxicity of glioblastoma cells mediated ex vivo by varicella-zoster virus-specific T cells. J Neurovirol. 2011;17(October (5)):448–454. [PubMed] Canniff et al. reported an association between those individuals with clinical or laboratory evidence of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection and lower risk of glioma.A glioma is a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine. It is called a glioma because it arises from glial cells.

    CHICKEN POX IN CHILDHOOD: Silverberg J.I., Kleiman E., Silverberg N.B., Durkin H.G., Joks R., Smith-Norowitz T.A. Chickenpox in childhood is associated with decreased atopic disorders, IgE, allergic sensitization, and leukocyte subsets. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2012;23(February (1):50–58. [PubMed Silverberg et al. also reported that wild-type VZV infection up to 8 years of age was found to be protective against atopic disorders that are thought to be “mediated by suppression of IgE production and allergic sensitization, as well as altered leukocyte distributions.

    Chicken Pox references taken from Goldman, King STUDY

    INFLUENZA VACCINES Influenza Virus Infection Elicits Protective Antibodies and T Cells Specific for Host Cell Antigens Also Expressed as Tumor-Associated Antigens: A New View of Cancer ImmunosurveillanceUzoma K. Iheagwara, Pamela L. Beatty, Phu T. Van, Ted M. Ross, Jonathan S. Minden, and Olivera J. Finn
    Cancer Immunology, March 1, 2014; 2: 263 – 273.

  2. Medical fascism is the thin end of the wedge. Brainwash people to accept one form of fascism and then push the rest.

  3. I’m currently noticing a link between the above comment and autism.

  4. I don’t agree in any way with anti-vaxxers, but I’m mightily disturbed by the authoritarian mindset that seems to think it’s ok to silence people, and impose medical interventions on them.

    • Agreed on the first half, but many people *cannot* be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons, and a refusal to be vaccinated endangers them. So yeah, refusing to let him in for spruiking antivax nonsense, that’s worrying. Refusing to let people in who refused to get vaccinated though is basic quarantine.

    • That’s fair enough, but then you get people wanting to go far beyond that, and start stripping things like Family Tax benefit, etc., which is state coercion.

    • I agree completely ,Colin King , and am also alarmed at totalitarian methods appearing in our society, and particularly at the ignorant support they gather in the community.Vaccination practices vary a lot around the world , and silencing of comment is harmful to our prospects of achieving best practice.(Australia has in fact a poor record on this score).

  5. Nicola, while I agree the general point about governments presuming to selectively ban the bearers of views they find uncomfortable or ‘dangerous’, the whole anti-vaxer thing is hugely compromising to the commonweal. My non-clinical understanding of this is that a 95% uptake of general immunization is necessary for ‘herd immunity’ to apply. And would we have more than 5% of our population susceptible to nonsense conspiracy theories and the like? You betcha. Spending much time in a third-world country as I do, I get to witness the misery of many diseases that have been practically eliminated from the comfortable and indulgent first-world, like TB, diphtheria, measles, mumps, cholera and even polio. Anti-vaxers are entitled to endanger their own lives and those of their children if they wish, but I feel the risk of their dragging down the general immunization rates to below the ‘herd immunity’ threshold puts all of us in danger.

    • Yes it probably does, but what is left other than force?

    • Nicola Wright Indeed, when education, pleading, practical demonstration and moral suasion have failed to elicit total (ie 95%+) participation, what is left? Segregation? I don’t know. I came to this with the third-world experience alluded to above, plus the ongoing experience of my partner having been left neurologically deaf in one ear from a childhood bout of measles, and thus never having had bi-aural hearing. Which means that she can’t tell where a sound is coming from, with all the hazards and inconveniences that entails. To then hear of the measles outbreak at the Waldorf School in Bibra Lake, if that were to spread where would we be then? At what point does the Health Dept get involved (as they would if someone were harboring plague-bearing rats on their property, f’rinstance)?

    • Gregory Leech , you simplistic view of the vaccination issue does you no credit.Just to take one simple topical example , pertussis vaccination has a 71%to84% success rate , and ‘total participation’ is meaningless . Successfully vaccinated people can still be carriers , which contradicts your thesis.Ignorance of such facts causes a lot of death and suffering ,yet you are advocating their suppression.Peter Dutton is doubtless thoroughly ignorant on the subject ,and like many in his party seems to be attracted to totalitarian methods.

    • I’d be interested to see those who see vaccinations as either unnecessary or just some kind of sinister conspiracy explain their special little insights to a medical professional in a country where the target diseases still ravage the populations. Any suggestion that these diseases are really not much of a threat clearly comes from the luxury that living in a country that has already benefited from comprehensive and long-standing public vaccination policies. And Doug Wynter, just because you can’t understand it doesn’t make it nonsense. It just means you can’t understand it. QED.

    • Roslyn, please. I had a read of the page you linked. I strongly suspect the actual context of those quotes might be revealing, as even the punctuation suggests many of these tenuously supportive quotations are well short of considered pronouncements. But even so, it should be straight forward to invite Fiona Stanley to expand in her earlier comments, eh? You may choose to scoff at the ravages of measles, mumps, diphtheria, polio etc.,etc, because you and I have been spared due to public health measures. Not all are so fortunate.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics Consider the last time your local school was quarantined due to a smallpox scare. Can’t recall? Thank immunization.

    • Thanks for the link: interesting quotes.On this topic , Chlamydia trachomatis is worth a mention.As you no doubt know , Trachoma infections recur lifelong , as no immunity develops.Having no effective vaccine , it is a good example of a disease’s disappearance without the use of any vaccine.Prevalent around the world in the 19th century, it had vanished completely from the developed world by the 1950s.Had there been a vaccine ,credit would no doubt have been falsely claimed for this.The same was being said about the Black Death in the 19th century: it vanished due to improved living conditions and human resistance.

  6. No-one should be censored, no matter how cretinous their opinions and beliefs. Likewise they should not be protected by law from ridicule and vilification for their imbecility.

  7. Opinions should not be sensitive. Even retarded ones

  8. I support Vaccinations due to researching how they have improved the health of people overall but I do support being able to discuss issues and concerns of people who have reservations.

    Yet we see time again from the dishonest media how they attack those worried about vaccinations yet they fully embrace those of the lunatic left transgender movement who support pumping up their children with dangerous hormones and mutilating their children’s genitals. They also expect their child to be able to shower and change with the opposite biological sex. The media is so dishonest they are now calling delusional women giving birth ‘men’!

    • Right, so you’re all for supporting physical health, but supporting the mental health of transgender people is just to wacky a concept for you to support. Got it.

    • Have you ever seen a Polio epidemic (or probably even a fresh case) in modern times ?.
      What about people dying of many other preventable diseases ?.
      You’d be HORRIFIED if you saw the devastation of full on whooping cough, or measles.
      You haven’t seen these things BECAUSE of vaccinations.

    • Garry Jones , the Sabin vaccine has been beneficial , but before it came out Polio vaccinations had probably killed or marked for premature death more than it will ever save.It also spread SV40 , considered a co-carcinogen , throughout virtually the entire human race.Attitudes like yours facilitated all this.As for whooping-cough,unless you are a health worker you are unlikely to be vaccinated yourself.Whooping cough is readily treated with antibiotics if accurate diagnosis is made : the Swedish 1979 to1996 cessation of vaccination demonstrated that the mortality rate from it here is down to medical incompetence.I’ve had measles, as I was born well before the MMR was about.People went out of their way to see their children caught it , and of the many thousands of people I’ve met over the years ,I have never heard of any lasting ill-effects.Doubtless ,in the third world or where people have other problems in conjunction with measles , special care is called for : vaccination programmes are cheap one-size-fits-all solutions , and there are plenty of sad casualties due to them as well.

  9. I don’t support censorship on any issue at all, because it’s used to cover real lies.

    But when things like “flat Earth” and “anti-vaxxing” despite requiring intellectual disability to believe in in light of the facts are best combatted by having them exposed- the fact is that they become a “religion”. That is to say, even when the facts which prove them to be absurd are revealed, they insinuate them,selves amongst society and spread like a memetic disease amongst the people who will discard all evidence and hold onto the lie like it’s holy.

    The antivaxxing movement is particularly dangerous because it kills people and is a risk to public health.

    So the question “should we allow it” is actually a question of peoples right to believe and promote whatever they like vs public health.

    • When free debate is stifled , public health suffers hugely.Medical opinion goes through cycles , and today’s popular notion will be tomorrow’s guilty secret.Setting up sacred cows immune from discussion is a recipe for disaster , as history has shown us many times.

    • Doug Wynter Yeah you are correct in fact actually.

      I think people should be sanctioned even enforced to have their needles. But I also think that if there is a deficit in knowledge allowing a conspiracy theory then that signifies that education on the topic is required.

    • You can add those that believe in man made climate change to the ant-vaxxers. Some delusion belief despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

    • Similar concerns were raised about lack of hygiene in Salk vaccine programmes in Africa in the 1950s , and ignored.Epidemiologists have traced the epicentres of HIV outbreaks back to the vaccination centres , and no-one now disputes that millions contracted a then unknown deadly disease due to the program.The question of whether SIV jumped the species barrier as a result of preparation of Salk vaccine using liver tissue from Rhesus monkeys is considered as yet unresolved , probably because no-one wants to feel responsible for adding a few tens of millions to the vaccine death toll.

  10. Agreed. I think anti-vaxxers are unaware of the scientific facts. I liked the idea of letting him in oz and have medical professionals debate him publicly.

    • I am a GP and have overseen thousands of infant through to geriatric immunisations in my career. Harm=0.

    • Graeme Cumming , have a look at the reply above about the US’s National Vaccine Damage Compensation Program , similar versions of which are to be found in most western countries.Compare the $US2 billion paid out to date (none on doubtful claims) to your ‘Harm=O’.You would have seen harm , but you confirmation bias has been preventing your brain from registering it as such.

    • I am for vaccination and recognize there is a risk to vaccinate and a risk not to vaccinate. The more I read the more I see the risks of either are coming closer together than I feel comfortable with. I am glad I do not have to evaluate the risk as all my kids were vaccinated without a problem.

    • Doug Wynter Crap. I see these patients on a regular basis before and after immunisations. That doesn’t mean no one is ever harmed, but in my experience Harm=0 is perfectly correct.

  11. I am more than happy to ban dangerous people from visiting Australia. You can produce all the evidence you like but where are all the deaths from Measles, Mumps, Polio and Smallpox in the countries with effective vaccination regimes? In countries less fortunate than ours, children die and are permanently disabled by these preventable conditions yet people continue to make money touting their conspiracy theories. The main proponent of the Autism link made money from his claims and was struck off once his immoral behaviour came to light but it was too late. A generation of parents had been scared and others have just taken his place.

    • What a typical “sheeple” mentality. Someone happens to have a different view, & you class them as “dangerous” & they must be banned ??? “Animal Farm” & “1984” must be on your bookshelf.

    • How astute! I’m an English teacher so have both! However much I prize liberty, I value my children’s lives more. Vaccinations only work due to herd immunity (hence the sheep) and I have no idea if vaccinating my children has worked. I do know that 16% of Aussie Mums believe that Vaccinations causes Autism and with idiocy like that, I’ll deny a foreigner’s right to make money from scaremongering and lies.
      Just out of interest, do you find ad hominem insults effective? Or are you just venting?

    • Sorry, Sarah Jane Robinson , but if you want to ban people that you define as ‘dangerous ‘ rather than hear what they have to say , then you are defining yourself as a foe of the cornerstone principles of democracy.Your childlike , uncritical view of the issue here is touching , but defines you as a deferential dilettante in this field .You are advocating suppression of ongoing critical analysis of the vaccination regime , a measure which in the past has led quite literally to the deaths of many millions of human beings.

    • No. I just don’t like bullshit. Be critical. Do rigorous, science backed tests that can be published in medical reviews. Don’t spout half truths while ignoring the big picture. I’d happy to hear anti-vaxers debate their views against experts in in the field but they don’t do that. They speak to their followers and the scared who don’t know enough to refute their conspiracies. As the memory of the devastation these diseases caused fades, it is easy to be complacent. But just as Nazis are not given free rein to say concentration camps didn’t exist so dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to advocate boycotting vaccinations. Australia already has a number of areas where the rates of vaccination are too low to guarantee herd immunity. Sadly the children who will suffer due to this will be too young to voice an opinion, be unable to be vaccinated or just be unlucky. The caring parents who choose to ignore WHO advice will be fine because they were mostly vaccinated as children. So no I’m not childlike, just hopping mad. And if freedom and Democracy are so important to you, focus your energies on the increasing intrusions into our life due to the terror threat rather than barracking for the freedom of nonresidents to get rich off the anxieties of parents.

    • No. I said I don’t see a problem in banning nonresidents from entering the country to cause trouble. I am not against open debate of the issue. I believe society is much better for its members being able to voice their views openly and honestly. If you read my comments, I said I would feel differently if someone came here to discuss the issues with a panel of experts. Perhaps at a Conference about the use of vaccinations. Freedom of speech also allows me to advocate restrictions on freedom of speech. A delicious irony, I think.
      Interestingly I don’t believe I am against scientific or medical debate but then I think the anti-vax movement is as scientific as intelligent design and the earth flat movement!

    • Sarah Jane Robinson , the ‘anti-vax’ movement is largely a figment of your imagination.Those calling for constant review , scrutiny , and education are lumped in with it as dissent from the mainstream complacency is regarded as heresy aimed at the technocrats.I don’t doubt the accepted history of WW2 , but banning alternative views still seems to me to be a foolish course to take.’Dangerous views’ is a term one expects to hear in a tyrannical totalitarian society , not a democracy in which personal liberty is valued.

    • Germany is in many ways a very open, free and democratic society. They jail holocaust deniers. Coming from the UK where there is also concern about vaccinations, I have been horrified at the scale of the misinformation campaign in Australia. It is an incredibly serious risk to public health especially as Australians travel widely overseas and people visit here from all over the world many of whom come from countries where these diseases are common. Ironically it is the middle class Australian family that is most at risk as they have time to waste googling nonsense and tend to travel more. There are affluent areas in Melbourne and coastal NSW with vaccination rates in the 80s. Some more than 10% below the rate needed for herd immunity putting babies and ill children at severe risk. Considering the efforts put in to prevent terror attacks when only a handful of people have been killed in them, there is clearly a major issue when people prefer free speech to protecting our children.

  12. No, it’s not. Once espousing your opinion on a topic starts to negatively affect society as a whole, you are no longer ‘allowed’ to freely express it publicly. End of story.

    • How about the overwhelming majority of scientific study? You want to believe that vaccines cause autism, fine. But if you unvaccinated kids cause irreparable physical harm to an immunocompromised child, or your scaremongering results in an outbreak of a previously controlled, potentially deadly disease like chicken pox or measles, then I hope you’re happy to be charged with terrorist offences, because that’s pretty much how you’re acting.

    • Felix Noah Murley-Anderson ,you are missing the point here .One undisputed item that came out of the Autism/MMR controversy was that assessment and oversight of vaccination programmes was gravely lacking.Funding for studies of sacred cows is unavailable , and even asking for some could ruin a career.History shows that uninformed Health Nazis are a serious danger to public welfare , and that their inability to learn means that the same mistakes must be endlessly repeated.

    • And I suppose you think that climate change denial is a valid topic for debate too, is it? I’m sure the citizens of Texas, Florida, Nepal, and a half-dozen other countries that are currently in the grip of unprecedented weather events would like a word with you.

  13. Censor the crap out of them. Ban unvaccinated kids from preschools and schools. When they DO get sick/die from (or carry in and cause the death of another child) charge their parents with manslaughter or murder. Their neglect IS premeditated.

  14. Have a hard time understanding how these idiots survive in the real world ?

  15. I had measels, mumps and chicken pox.
    I didnt get tetanus, polio, TB the last 3 will kill you or make life a misery.
    Im pro vaccination but maybe the amount of things were vacced for should be reduced as I do see a herd softness where people have little to no resistance as our food chain is also way too sterile.
    Go back to soap and water and ditch the antiseptic gels and wipes. Build a herd immunity

  16. I agree with Dutton. 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century. Polio which devastated so many lifes is almost eradicated. Are anti vaxers suggesting we should have done nothing with smallpox and polio? Before antibiotics 1 in 7 Americans died of TB. 40% of Europeans died from the plague in medievil times. With todays much larger population and air travel the risks are even higher. Yes there are risks in vacination and some people will suffer from it but that risk is more than offset by the greater good for the human race.

  17. Keep going and with will have crippled children all over Australia just like we did when polio was rampant.

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