Why Vaccination Is Too Important To Be Tackled By Breakfast Television

Every year, as we move closer to winter, the anti-vaccination debate rears its ugly head. This morning, on Sunrise, Sarah Wilson took it a little too far.

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The anti-vaccine movement once-more reared its ugly polio-infested head on Channel 7’s Sunrise, as a segment entitled Kochie’s Angels, designed to cover hard-hitting matters such as Miranda Kerr’s modelling contract, turned its hand to the ongoing vaccination debate. Skip to around 3:50.

Regular contributor and author Sarah Wilson was asked to comment on reports that wealthy areas have lower vaccination rates. Asked what might be the reason for this decline, Wilson posited: “[Residents of wealthy areas] tend to be older and I guess more educated, so they tend to engage with the debates more deeply … weigh up all the different research and so on.”

Wilson claimed that, for the purpose of the argument, she was representing “the anti-vaccination movement’s perspective”, a movement which consists of various groups skeptical to the benefits of vaccination (including the Australian Vaccination Network, whose name was called “misleading and a detriment to the community” by the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading). What she failed to acknowledge was that these groups are infamous for publicising unfounded claims – such as links between vaccination and autism — which have been widely criticised as dangerous and inaccurate; a past winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Peter Doherty, has labelled their attempts to decrease childhood vaccination rates as a “crime against humanity”.

So you can imagine how well her remarks went down.


Wilson’s repeated defense on Twitter today [UPDATE: and on her blog] has been that she was “asked the question” — not only an attempt to shift the blame, but also a false claim. The question she was asked, in fact, was not regarding vaccination effectiveness. Furthermore, her suggestion that those who reject vaccination have “engaged with the debates more deeply” than those who don’t was irresponsible and incorrect; if it were someone’s wish to engage with the topic more deeply, they would find the evidence was overwhelmingly in the favour of vaccination effectiveness.

To the credit of David Koch and the rest of the panel, Wilson did not go unchallenged. In fact, she was repeatedly told by the others that vaccination skeptics are “wrong”, and that “the research is conclusive”.

But even on the back foot, Wilson continued to defend the position, incorrectly claiming that vaccination effectiveness was “not conclusive” as “double blind tests have not been done” — all the while stating she “was not going to take a stance”. (She presumably said this moments before doubling over with polio, which is still a common part of our everyday lives.) Wilson was refraining from a stance, she said, because she wasn’t sure of the correct position to take on the issue — an issue which she earlier claimed to have engaged with.

The equivalent would be me publishing an opinion piece claiming that a lot of people think making incorrect, anti-­scientific and downright dangerous anti­-vaccination comments on Sunrise this morning make Ms. Wilson an unconscionable arsehole — however as I am still looking into the matter, I will not take a stance.


Twitter reacted to these comments with outrage, because that’s how twitter reacts to outrageous comments. Wilson defended herself thusly:


It’s true that Sunrise has a less-than-stellar record regarding the anti-vaccination movement, inviting professional whackjob “Doctor” Viera Scheibner, whose qualifications are in geology and not medicine, to discuss her thoroughly discredited and entirely bullshit opinions on vaccinations.

But Wilson’s shifting of accountability is contradicted by her continuing exhibition of vaccine skepticism:


Asking for peer-reviewed studies to verify an argument is an entirely reasonable and even wise response. It’s the sort of response you would hope someone would make were they ever to be asked, say, to spout anti-scientific nonsense on a television program that’s broadcast live into millions of households.

Unfortunately for Wilson, her argument fails to hold water: literally thousands of these peer-reviewed studies do in fact exist.


People are passionate about this issue because when they aren’t, children die. You can smear Echinacea on your peanut butter and thrust it down your idiotic craw thinking you know how medicine works all you like; that’s a personal choice to be stupid. Refusing to have your children vaccinated, however, is not a personal choice. When children aren’t vaccinated, preventable deadly disease continues to spread. Hence the head of the Australian Medical Association arguing that children who have not had their vaccines should not be allowed to go to school.

Despite the praiseworthy efforts of David Koch and the other panelists, Sunrise broadcast dangerous and unscientific information this morning, and should issue a correction. Vaccinations are too important a public health issue to have such irresponsible statements go uncorrected. Leaving aside the cognitive dissonance in her distancing defense, coupled with her continued skepticism, Wilson seems like an intelligent woman — hopefully, after reading many of the peer-reviewed articles that have been sent to her this morning, she will make this correction herself.


Australian Academy Of Science: ‘The Science of Immunisation: Questions and Answers’

The Adelaide Review: ‘To Vaccinate; It’s Not A Question‘ by Paul Willis

[UPDATE: Since the writing of this piece Sarah Wilson has posted a blog explaining the Sunrise incident. By her claims, the vast majority of the blame should be put on the Sunrise programming.

Wilson seems to since have genuinely attempted to engage with the issue, and while I don’t personally agree with all points she makes, it’s good to see responsibility being taken.

I still believe it is necessary for Sunrise to issue a retraction as, whoever is to blame, harmful information was broadcast as fact.]

James Colley is a writer/comedian from Western Sydney, in his final year of a physics degree. He blogs at and tweets at @JamColley.