But is anyone listening?

By Michael Giles

IN DECEMBER 2017, Russell Broadbent was one of only four members of the House of Representatives to vote against the ‘Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017’, which legalized same-sex marriage in Australia.

He’s not afraid to take a principled stand, regardless of what his constituents think.

And now, after calling for feedback on his own government’s support for COVID-vaccine passports, he’s widened his position to one that is increasingly questioning the government’s whole stance on vaccination.

Principally he has questioned any idea of compulsory vaccination, including where it relates to staff working in high-risk settings such as aged and disability care.

Speaking to the Sentinel-Times this week, he said that quite apart from the civil liberties involved, the latest government requirement, that all aged care staff must have at least one vaccination dose by September 17 was likely to create a critical shortage of aged care workers.

“Where are they going to get the staff to replace the people they either sack or reassign?” Mr Broadbent said this week.

“Like health care staff, there’s just not the trained people around to replace them.”

He said he doubted the government had prepared for the shortage of staff in aged care that their decision, to make vaccination mandatory by September 17, might lead to and claimed no one in the Health Department or the government was listening to him.

“I guess we’re just going to have to watch what happens,” he said.

But even more controversially, than questioning his own government’s policy of making vaccination mandatory in aged care, Mr Broadbent has questioned the government’s whole strategy on vaccination.

And dipping into the conspiracy-theory bucket for a moment, ‘Doctor’ Broadbent has characterised the vaccines in use in Australia at the moment as being simply “gene therapy” rather than an actual vaccine, in the same sense that the annual flu vaccine is a vaccine (more of that below).

Indicating that he has not yet received a jab himself, Mr Broadbent said in his weekly video this week that proposed Novavax vaccine, allegedly “coming in a few months’ time… will probably be more acceptable to people like myself”.

In fact, Novavax is unlikely to be available in Australia until next year, at the earliest, if it passes its present trials and is approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Where NSW and Victoria would be by then, if all Australians refused the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines until the promise of Novavax arrived is anyone’s guess.

With 840 COVID-positive patients already clogging Sydney’s hospitals, 137 in ICU and 48 on ventilators, and many thousands more sick at home and receiving support by Telehealth; one wonders where the state’s health system would be and how many staff would have been furloughed after exposure, if we sat back and waited until Novavax arrived.

Here’s what Mr Broadbent had to say on his weekly video broadcast this week:

“The distressing calls I have received from constituents who are about to lose their jobs because, for one reason or another, they choose not to accept the current vaccines available, are some of the worst calls I have taken in my life as a parliamentarian.

“I feel powerless in the face of government or employer directives.

“Some can afford to take a stand and leave their employment, others may be redeployed, or find work elsewhere. Most need the jobs that they love just to survive.

“Many are the only breadwinners in the household.

“Even the Americans have health and religious abstentions, but here it is discouraged or flatly refused by doctors. This is wrong.

“This is not in keeping with the freedom I claim to stand for as an elected representative.

“It is also heartbreaking to hear the anguish in the voices of those that have been given no choice.

“Where are we headed? A choice not to be vaccinated means you are out of the airline industry, out of health and aged care, and out of childcare. Where does this discrimination end?

“Will unvaccinated people be refused entry to sporting venues, hospitals, aged care centres? What will be next?

“Where are the civil libertarians that have stood in solidarity with me in the past?

“At the very least, you would expect people to be given the opportunity to have the Novavax vaccine that is coming in a few months’ time. Novavax will probably be more acceptable to people like myself.

“One of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world, Israel – they are now looking to booster shots as their number of cases rise in the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“We need to know what the experience of Israel, and the United Kingdom for that matter, is – given they are well ahead of us in this. What can we glean from their experiences?

“Australians have always been independent thinkers, questioning authority from our birth. But today, where are the people in Australia questioning our current approach to tackling the pandemic?

“Why is there only one view coming from the government and health officials? Why are we not looking to treatments that are proving effective in countries around the world as we would normally do?

“My heart aches for my people in distress through lockdowns, job losses and business destruction.

“It seems to me the upheaval causing anxiety, hopelessness, fear and incalculable economic repercussions may well be worse than the virus itself, with possible long term and deep consequences.

“That’s just as I see it.”

About Novavax

Here’s what Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist Jaimie Meyer, MD, MS had to say about Novavax.

“This vaccine has been shown to be highly effective in clinical trials. The Novavax vaccine is a protein adjuvant. It is simpler to make than some of the other vaccines and can be stored in a refrigerator, making it easier to distribute. Novovax has studied its vaccine in combination with the influenza vaccine with positive results.

Status: Not available in the U.S. at this time, but could become available in several other countries toward the end of this year and early next year.

Recommended for: The vaccine is being studied in people ages 12-84.

Dosage: 2 doses, three weeks apart.

Common side effects: Injection site tenderness, fatigue, headache, muscle pain.

“How it works: Unlike the mRNA and vector vaccines, this is a protein adjuvant (an adjuvant is an ingredient used to strengthen the immune response). While other vaccines trick the body’s cells into creating parts of the virus that can trigger the immune system, the Novavax vaccine takes a different approach. It contains the spike protein of the coronavirus itself, but formulated as a nanoparticle, which cannot cause disease. When the vaccine is injected, this stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies and T-cell immune responses.

“How well it works: 90% effective against lab-confirmed, symptomatic infection and 100% against moderate and severe disease in Phase 3 trial results released in a company statement in June. The company says the vaccine was 91% protective of people in high-risk populations such as people older than 65, those with health conditions that increase risk of complication, and those in situations where they are frequently exposed to the virus.

“How well it works on virus mutations: Novavax says the vaccine is 93% effective against “predominantly circulating variants of concern and variants of interest.” But it’s important to note that the study was conducted in the U.S. and Mexico, when Alpha was the predominant strain in the U.S., although other variants were on the rise. More data is needed to determine the effectiveness of Novavax against the Delta variant.

“Note: The COVID-19 vaccines do not change—or interact with—a recipient’s DNA.”

About Mr Broadbent’s ‘gene therapy’ claims

Under the heading: “COVID-19 vaccine ‘gene therapy’ suggestion diagnosed as false”, reputable Australian Associated Press “FactCheck”, a service which examines the veracity of news media statements presented as fact by political and public figures, effectively debunked the theory.

The Statement (April 2021): A social media post asserts that COVID-19 vaccines are “gene therapy”, presenting as evidence their apparent need to be approved by Australia’s gene technology authority.

The Instagram post, shared by an Australian user on April 19, includes the caption: “Please read this and circulate it to ANYONE who doesn’t believe that these experimental biological injections are gene therapy.”

“These injections needed to be approved as gene technology!” the caption adds.

The post features a screenshot of text relating to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and its responsibilities. The text states the authority “will be required to approve and license any COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Australia that use GMOs (genetically modified organisms)”.

The Instagram post, which had been viewed more than 10,000 times at the time of writing, is among several examples of users in Australia suggesting COVID-19 vaccines are “gene therapy”.

The analysis: The COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Australia do not constitute “gene therapy” as they do not alter humans’ genetic code, experts say. The false claim echoes misinformation, previously debunked by AAP FactCheck, that mRNA vaccines can change people’s DNA.

In addition, the involvement of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in approving some vaccines does not show the treatments involve gene therapy. Rather, its role is to assess the potential wider impact of genetically modified organisms incorporated into any of the immunisations.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which regulates medicines, vaccines and medical devices in Australia, has provisionally approved two COVID-19 vaccines for use: AstraZeneca’s adenovirus vaccine and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine.

However, neither of these vaccines could be considered a form of gene therapy, according to Professor Michael Wallach, an infectious diseases and vaccines expert from the University of Technology Sydney.

The federal government’s HealthDirect website defines gene therapy as the process of “replacing a person’s faulty genes or introducing new genes in order to treat diseases”.

Prof Wallach told AAP FactCheck the COVID-19 vaccines “do not modify the genome… they do not get incorporated into the genome in any way.”

“(These vaccines) are intended solely for the purpose of eliciting an immune response against the virus, and once the immune response is elicited, it disappears from our body,” he said in a phone interview.

The Pfizer vaccine uses an mRNA strand to train the body’s cells to produce a spike protein contained in SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. The body’s immune system then recognises the protein as a foreign body and produces antibodies in response, which helps protect the body from future infection.

In response to previous false claims that mRNA vaccines could alter recipients’ DNA or genomes, experts told AAP FactCheck this was a “biologicial impossiblity”. mRNA from vaccines never enters the nucleus of a cell, where DNA is kept, the CDC says. DNA sequences make up a person’s genes, the unique combination of which forms their genotype.

In contrast, the AstraZeneca vaccine involves the use of a weakened chimpanzee cold virus, or adenovirus, modified to contain a genetic sequence from a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This induces an immune response against the virus in recipients.

Oxford University’s Vaccine Knowledge Project says there is also no possibility of viral DNA from the AstraZeneca vaccine integrating with DNA due to cells’ natural protection measures, as well as the short-lived nature of the viral DNA and spike protein material from the vaccine.

The text relating to the OGTR included in the screenshot can be found in an Australian government COVID-19 vaccine policy document. Both the document and the screenshot include the caveat that its oversight extends to any vaccines that incorporate GMOs, including “all adenovirus vaccines and some of the mRNA vaccines”. Only the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines (search: “COVID”) are covered under this remit.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered a GMO because its adenovirus genes have been modified to stop it from replicating, and the spike protein sequence has been added.

Associate professor Karinne Ludlow, a biotechnology and genetic technologies researcher from Monash University, told AAP FactCheck the OGTR’s job is primarily to assess environmental risks from vaccines or other products that involve GMOs.

“In theory, there could be a risk a vial could drop, and it could get into the ground – (the regulator looks at) those sorts of risks for vaccines,” Dr Ludlow said in a phone interview.

Dr Ludlow added that the AstraZeneca vaccine is regulated as a GMO, however it wasn’t considered gene therapy.

In its assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the OGTR found there were “negligible” risks attached to the treatment. Its analysis focused on any dangers to the environment and people other than the intended vaccine recipient, the report’s summary said (page II).

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health also told AAP FactCheck that COVID-19 vaccines do not alter an individual’s DNA or genetics.

She said the OGTR’s role “does not include patient safety, efficacy or quality of the vaccine which are the aspects assessed by the TGA as part of the registration of the vaccines”.

THE VERDICT: The Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are not “gene therapy” as they do not change a person’s DNA or get incorporated into the genome, experts told AAP FactCheck. While the post suggests the involvement of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in approving some vaccines means they are “gene technology”, the regulator’s primary role is to assess the potential impact on non-recipients of GMOs in some vaccines. It does not monitor patient safety, vaccine efficacy or quality – all of which are the responsibility of the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Vaccine certificates

From the Sydney Morning Herald

A growing number of Coalition MPs are speaking out against the use of vaccine certificates for domestic travel and attendance at venues and events, with at least two threatening to cross the floor if the government brings on legislation.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Wednesday revealed the government’s expenditure review committee of cabinet last week backed a proposal for QR code vaccination certificates for international travel, linking people’s vaccination status on their MyGov accounts with new digital certificates.

Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent said while private companies were entitled to make whatever decisions they want, he felt many Australians would not support a mandatory system and he would not rule out voting against the measure in parliament.

“I have to say I feel uncomfortable, really uncomfortable, about the use of vaccine passports being made mandatory for domestic travel,” he said.

“Over the past few months, I’ve received passionate emails and calls from many constituents pleading with me to vote against any introduction of vaccine passports, but equally I know many people are supportive of the idea.”