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Expert Blog

Anti-vaxxer v Doctor: Who is the real expert?  

Dr Judy Wilyman, one of Australia’s most notorious anti-vaccination activists, was reported in late September as having been called to act as an expert witness in a family law dispute between a mother and father.

Background
The dispute centres around whether the couple’s children should be immunised. Dr Wilyman was retained by the solicitors acting for the mother, who does not want her children to be vaccinated. The father, who wants his children to receive immunisations, has retained the expert services of expert epidemiologist and former director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research, Professor Peter McIntyre.

Professor McIntyre is the author over 200 papers and book chapters on a wide range of vaccine preventable diseases and is a former paediatrician and infectious disease physician. Professor McIntye is currently undergoing a clinical appointment at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead as a Senior Staff Specialist in Infectious Diseases and has a conjoint academic appointment at the University of Sydney. Dr Wilyman does not possess any medical qualifications.

The safety of vaccines has been one of the most contentious areas of health policy over the past 20 years. Despite the many dangerous diseases that vaccines prevent, there are many people who avoid vaccinations due to the fear that vaccines cause autism. No link between autism and vaccines has ever been proven, and indeed numerous studies that claim to prove a connection have been debunked.

A Controversial PhD
Last year, Dr Wilyman was awarded a PhD by the University of Wollongong for a thesis titled “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”. The thesis made the argument that the World Health Organisation conspired with pharmaceutical companies to promote unnecessary vaccinations. The University of Wollongong was criticised by medical professionals and other academics, including numerous staff members of the University of Wollongong, for its failure to uphold academic standards.

Dr Wilyman’s Expert Report
Dr Wilyman’s expert report insists that the government’s attempts to get children vaccinated is “coercion in a medical practice… contrary to the good medical practice guidelines…”, asserting that doctors and the industry in general ignores the risks of vaccination. Dr Wilyman argues that the Federal Government is hiding information that proves immunisation is not only ineffective, but also dangerous.  In her statement, Dr Wilyman accuses the government of not providing any evidence that vaccinations are safe. She argues that if it cannot be proven that vaccinations are not harmful, then the default position should be not to vaccinate.

Specialised Knowledge?
Experts witnesses must meet the requirements of Section 79 of the Evidence Act. Namely, they must possess “specialised knowledge” which is based on their “training, study or experience”, and their opinion must be “wholly or substantially based on that knowledge”.  Dr Wilyman’s views have met with significant criticism by a number of highly qualified experts. Given Dr Wilyman’s lack of any sort of medical expertise and considering that she is commenting on the safety of vaccines, it will be interesting to see what the court rules as to her absence of medical qualifications in terms of her specialised knowledge.