Anti-vaccination off the air(line)

In what can be seen as a victory for common sense, American Airlines has reversed a decision to play an interview with anti-vaccine campaigner Meryl Dorey on its in-flight entertainment service.

In a Twitter message, the airline said that “This interview has not been submitted to AA yet. We have decided not to air this audio. We thank those who shared their opinions. @AmericanAir”.

The item will also not appear in its on-board print publication.

This comes less than a week after the skeptical world was alerted to the news of the interview via the Australian Vaccination Network’s own website: “The following interview with Meryl Dorey, President of the Australian Vaccination Network, will be aired on all American Airlines flights both in the United States and overseas during the months of July and August this year. This will reach 8.4 million travellers on over 58,000 American Airlines flights and will be featured on their Executive Report business channel as well as in the American Way in-flight magazine during both months.”

In the interview, among other statements, Dorey once again invokes the now discredited vaccine/autism link: “We’ve had an increase of autism from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 88, and the only common denominator seems to be the increasing use of vaccinations.”

A transcript of the interview can be found online at the Vaccination Awareness and Information Service.

The reaction from the worldwide skeptical and scientific community to the pending interview was swift, with hundreds of ‘tweets’, blog items and emails directed to American Airlines (including from Australian Skeptics). The Australian media also followed up with the American company.

Dr Phil Plait’s popular blog ‘Bad Astronomy‘ on Discover Magazine added to the chorus of concern.

As did Jason Loxton, a lecturer at Central Michigan University, who wrote: “I have just learned that you will be presenting an interview containing the misleading and dangerous medical claims of the anti-vaccine pressure group, the Australian Vaccination Network.

“I respect the right of all individuals to free speech, but your decision to actively seek out and publish an interview with a purveyor of misinformation like the AVN is baffling and irresponsible.

“I write to you as a recent first time customer (flight 1099: Detroit to Calgary, return) and a frequent flyer. Although people make threats like this all the time, mine is legitimate: I cannot in good faith support a company that is complicit in a campaign of misinformation that has already cost the lives of children in the US, and which puts my loved ones at risk. I will be booking a flight to Little Rock, AR, in the next few days. I will hold off on that decision until I hear back from you. Please do not give the AVN a platform to mislead.”

The negative response to its proposed airing of Dorey’s anti-vaccination message obviously had a strong and immediate effect.

Dr Rachael Dunlop, a vice president of Australian Skeptics, said “The cancelling of this interview is a most welcome decision by American Airlines. It also goes to show the power of social media such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook to bring about change for the better.”

Australian Skeptics cannot help wonder if the Australian Vaccination Network will now brand American Airlines as being part of the so-called ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy.