Dr Kerryn Phelps has called for greater funding for research into Covid vaccine injuries, warning doctors have until now been scared to “speak out” about the issue.
The former MP and Australian Medical Association (AMA) president revealed in a bombshell submission to parliament’s Long Covid inquiry this week that she and her wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps had both suffered serious reactions to the Pfizer shot.
Breaking her silence about the “devastating” experience, Dr Phelps took aim at both the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for failing to adequately follow up vaccine injuries, and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for threatening doctors against speaking out.
“Regulators of the medical profession have censored public discussion about adverse events following immunisation, with threats to doctors not to make any public statements about anything that ‘might undermine the government’s vaccine rollout’ or risk suspension or loss of their registration,” she wrote in the submission, as first reported by news.com.au.
Dr Phelps, who is one of the country’s most well known public health campaigners and an executive member of the independent OzSAGE group, later said she hoped her submission would “spark the conversations we need to have” about both Long Covid and vaccine injury.
“Inspired by [Dr Kerryn Phelps] today I want to say I too have been in a living hell with pericarditis because of the Covid vaccine,” ABC News presenter Eleni Roussos wrote on Twitter. “Vaccine injuries are real and serious and I sincerely hope more people will speak up.”
Appearing on Nine’s Today program on Wednesday morning, Dr Phelps described the injuries she and her wife had experienced, and how doctors were silenced.
“We obviously did a lot of homework about the vaccines and went along to have the vaccines because we believed that on the balance of risks and benefits that was the best thing to do,” she said.
“Within minutes of having the vaccine, [Jackie] had a quite severe reaction with numbness of the hands and feet, tingling all over her body, her head feeling like it was going to explode [with] pain. And then over the weeks and months following that, the condition continued.”
Dr Phelps said after seeing a number of specialists, “the conclusion was that she had had an injury related to the vaccine”.
“I went back and had the second vaccine thinking that, you know, it is a rare reaction and again on the balance of risks and benefits [it was worth it]. And in my case I developed a reaction where my blood pressure, my pulse rate and my temperature was going up and down all over the place, with some quite distressing symptoms and persisting for quite some time over a period of many months.”
Dr Phelps was eventually diagnosed with vaccine-related dysautonomia.
“Over the process of the last one-a-half years or so, I have also spoken to a number of colleagues who have had vaccine adverse events themselves, patients who have had vaccine adverse events,” she said.
In the context of the parliamentary inquiry, Dr Phelps said people who have suffered vaccine injury need “special consideration when it comes to prevention of Long Covid”.
Asked why the medical regulator warned doctors not to speak out about vaccine side effects, Dr Phelps said, “You have to ask AHPRA themselves about their motivation. But certainly quite a number of doctors that I’ve spoken to have felt impeded in speaking out about their concerns about vaccine adverse events because of the statement made by AHPRA that doctors shouldn’t say anything that was going to impede the government’s vaccine rollout. They took that to mean not to publicly raise their concerns.”
In March 2021, the regulator warned that anyone who sought to “undermine” the national Covid vaccine rollout could face deregistration or even prosecution.
AHPRA’s position statement said that “any promotion of anti-vaccination statements or health advice which contradicts the best available scientific evidence or seeks to actively undermine the national immunisation campaign (including via social media) is not supported by National Boards and may be in breach of the codes of conduct and subject to investigation and possible regulatory action”.
In a statement on Tuesday, the regulator said it had “been clear in all of our guidance about Covid-19 vaccinations that we expect medical practitioners to use their professional judgment and the best available evidence in their practice”.
“This includes keeping up to date with public health advice from Commonwealth, state and territory authorities,” a spokeswoman told news.com.au.
“Legitimate discussion and debate, based on science is appropriate and necessary to progress our understanding and knowledge. The [March 9, 2021 position] statement does not prevent practitioners from having these discussions.”
She added that as of June 2022, only 11 practitioners had been suspended “in relation to concerns raised about Covid-19”.
“The concerns raised about the practitioners related to the spreading of misinformation about Covid-19 or vaccination advice, including that the Covid-19 pandemic was fake, that the vaccination program was about government led mind control or in some instances representing that patients would develop cancer by having a vaccination administered,” she said.
Speaking on Today, Dr Phelps said it important to balance the benefits from reducing hospitalisations and deaths from Covid “against the fact that with any medication, any vaccine, there are going to be some people who have adverse events”.
“But I think it’s very important with this new vaccine, it’s only been around for less than two years, that it’s time that we put some research funding and some real effort into looking at the causes for the vaccine adverse events that people are experiencing,” she said.
“And they’re experiencing a whole range of different types of vaccine events. They’re experiencing things like cardiovascular events, with myocarditis and pericarditis. That’s not just confined to young males — I’ve spoken to middle-aged female doctors who have had this effect. People who have neurological side effects, have musculoskeletal and joint pain. We’re looking at immune system problems with reactivation of auto-immune disease.”
She noted this “large spectrum of side effects” had “quite similar symptoms” to Long Covid. “So there could be some common factors there which needs research, needs funding and needs a big effort,” she said.
On Tuesday night, former Speaker of the House Bronywn Bishop said people were entitled to be “informed” about the risks of Covid vaccines.
“The failure to discuss the fact that there were difficulties with these vaccines for various people, there seems to be a mantra that comes out that it’s all OK if it’s a very low percentage who suffer, it doesn’t matter,” Ms Bishop told Sky News host Rita Panahi.
“Well, it does matter.”
Originally published as ‘Ask AHPRA’: Dr Kerryn Phelps doesn’t know why regulator silenced doctors on vaccine injuries
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