Last night at 8.30 pm, SBS One featured the documentary “Jabbed – Love Fear and Vaccines.”  The writer, director and producer of the documentary, Sonya Pemberton wrote for The Hoopla on her hopes for her endeavour… 

When I set out to make a documentary about vaccination nearly 3 years ago, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. But this is a conversation – please note, not a ‘debate’ – I feel we need to have.  

More and more people seem to be expressing concerns about vaccines, worried about this additive, questioning that part of the schedule, arguing this report, yelling at that newspaper story. There is SO MUCH INFORMATION out there.

And in every family, in every group of friends, there seems to be someone who doesn’t have the same views as the rest – and great painful divides sometimes appear.

Surely I’m not alone in finding it all exhausting?

I think that when you come to a conversation knowing you have a different position to the other person it can be deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s tempting to (metaphorically) sit in the corner, eyes shut, fingers in ears, singing loudly… or, to just stay quiet and not engage.

But surely this is too important an issue to ignore? 

I am a supporter of vaccines. I think vaccines are vitally important and, for the most part, extremely safe.

My job as a scientific filmmaker is to follow the science, to learn from some of the most credible, experienced and highly informed experts in the world. I recognise that science continually adapts and changes as new information comes to light (this is a great strength!) and so, for me, it offers the best most logical path to follow.

It’s also my job as a documentary filmmaker to talk to people and to listen, best I can.

The more the conversations I have, the more I start to see that, when it comes to making decisions around risk, it’s an emotional, complex business. The key for me was to recognise that we all share common ground; we are all trying to protect the ones we love, best we can.

My understanding grew as I looked through a different window, the window of those who are concerned, or questioning vaccines. I discovered a new ability to listen, to judge people less quickly and to explain the science more respectfully. I also discovered that it is understandable to have concerns around vaccines, and listening to those concerns is important.

I remain passionately in favour of vaccines.

I understand that they are not perfect, ‘like anything made by humans’ as Dr Karl likes to say. I understand that sometimes things can go wrong and these rare events have much to teach us, we must pay attention. I also feel strongly that we have to keep asking questions of the doctors, the scientists, our government, and of course the vaccine makers and regulators. Importantly, we must also be open to listening to the answers.

Now after several years of hard work, my team and I have created something with layers and nuances that I hope can add to a new conversation.  Much of its ‘big picture’ approach came from talking openly, eyes open and without our fingers in our ears.

None of us are quite the same as when we started.

It has turned out to be an intriguing ride, this documentary and, I hope, a conversation starter.   

“A triumph! JABBED is a thoughtful, beautiful and powerful documentary on one of the most important punlic health issues of our time”. Sir Gustav Nossal (Key adviser to the WHO on immunisation. Australian of the Year 2000)




Science Says Vaccinate!


pemberton_sonya_web*Sonya Pemberton is the Emmy award-winning writer, director, producer JABBED – love, fear and vaccines.  You can read more here.


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  • Reply May 25, 2013

    The Huntress

    I am very impressed by what you’ve set out to achieve and how you’ve come about it. Much of my work these days is in vaccination and I work hard to break down the myths and false beliefs people have about vaccines. I find listening to concerns, empathy and responding with good evidence based information has been the most successful manner I’ve had so far. I also reassure parents that it is always their choice, but I also share that I am a mum too and that I choose to vaccinate my child fully. And funnily enough that’s usually the clincher.

    Respect, good information and empathy can go a long way. I really hope that many people watch your documentary and help absolve the many concerns and myths surrounding vaccination that are out there. You must be proud of your work 🙂

  • Reply May 25, 2013


    Well put Sonya. I am so glad that you have created this documentary. Also, you have put forward a voice of reason backed up by compelling evidence & your own credibility.

    I am pro-vaccination, but I understand why it is an delicate decision for many parents.

    I haven’t come across the anti-vax theories (I’d never even heard of the AVN until Mamamia kept writing & tweeting about them). I’d always just followed the immunisation schedule.

    But I have come across a lot of pushy pro-vaxxers and I have to say, it is a turn off. I understand that it’s a passionate issue. But is it an effective way of increasing immunisation rates? Of course not. Some pro-vaxxers make it their full time job to name, shame & harass people opposed to vaccination. Is harassment going to change their position, heck no! Is it going to galvanise their anti-vac position, quite probably!

    I just think we need to be smarter about this. I know it is not a “debate” in the sense that the science is in on the benefits & general safety of vaccines. But it completely normal to feel uneasy about purposely injecting your child with something most of us know very little about. And then watching their every breath that evening as they process that vaccine.

    Sonya, I hope that your documentary is the beginning of the change in the way we talk about immunisation. Well done.

  • Reply May 25, 2013


    As someone who doesn’t follow the Australian Vaccination schedule, I already feel like I am risking ridicule and worse posting here. We have been hassled and hounded by doctors, nurses (one of us is a nurse) and other parents. Blamed for the resurgence Whooping cough and related deaths, etc.
    Our stance is that we immunise based on our own needs and intelligence. As a for instance, we are not convinced that our children needed to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B at birth, especially given that the vaccine contained Thiomersal when it was recommended to us.
    I’m not sure how aware you are of the Japanese experience with the DTP vaccinations in the mid 1970’s, but as a result of many adverse reactions and over 30 deaths as a direct result of the vaccine, the schedule was altered and children were vaccinated later. I am aware that the vaccine is no longer a whole cell vaccine, however it is worth considering the delicate balance of the immune system in infants below 6 months of age.
    So we immunise roughly to the Japanese schedule. There is no Hep B or vericella. And MMR is given as MR and Mumps separately. We will make the call on Japanese when we visit next month.

    I note that the tone in the promotion of the doco appears to depict the non vaccination school as driven by emotion with the pro vaccination argument being driven by Science (which is a pretty broad concept). Our decision to vaccinate alternatively has been based on a lot of careful research and is based on risk mitigation considering that vaccinations do carry a percentage of risk, however small.
    We have the advantage of also being Japanese citizens, (myself a spouse resident) and can access the differently combined vaccines and scheduling.
    When recently discussing this on a facebook post I was branded an anti Vaccinator. Abused and blamed. My response is that I think there is a better way. A much better way. And the heavy handed pressure to Immunise to schedule, which then elicits a strong anti response from those who question, but are discouraged strongly and frowned upon for questioning, has created a climate of ‘for or against’, emotion or science, us against them. All pretty narrow reductive way to explore a whole collection of different diseases, risks, and vaccines (including their varieties of compositions, combinations and timing).

    So we have attempted to immunise the best way that we can ascertain. It’s a tricky time consuming task to get all the info on each different vaccine from the manufacturers, to research each and every disease to ascertain the risks of actually contracting it and then what the risks associated with the disease are, but it has been worthwhile. I think that the community could benefit from a less doctrinal approach to the current immunisation schedule and regular review of disease risks and the vaccination schedule response.

    • Reply May 25, 2013

      Wendy Harmer

      Thanks jack… a very interesting response and, from my communications with Sonya I think this is exactly the conversation she’s hoping for. Be very interested to hear your response after viewing the doco.

    • Reply May 26, 2013


      Agree with Misty that Jacdan should publish his research. The World Health Organisation has in relation to Thiomersal.

      Quite frankly, I don’t care what Jacdan does with his/her kids. It’s other people’s kids I worry about.

  • Reply May 25, 2013


    What a fabulously challenging topic. Jackdan, very well delivered argument. I’d love to see your research. Publish it!

    Sonya, I look forward to tomorrow night’s documentary. Thanks for taking (what sounds like) a rational approach.

  • Reply May 25, 2013

    Alice Smith

    Well put, and I hope to see your documentary. I hate the idea of vaccinations and believe they can be harmful individually but we are part of a community and as such, we have responsibilities to each other, so my son’a vaccinations are up to date.
    The reality is that no one knows what will happen to us or our children, whether we are talking about injury by vaccine, or injury by preventable disease, or running in a marathon where a terrorist is in wait, or getting in a car and being wiped out by a drunk driver. We all do what we can for our kids and we can try and protect them as much as we can – but none of us escape misfortune. I have a friend whose son has shocking tumours and a limited life span. My own son has a platelet disorder which means we have to be constantly vigilant that he doesn’t injure himself lest he bleed internally.
    Let’s do what we can for our own – but let’s not harm others in the process.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Sorry haven’t time this morning to read all comments. But wanting to add I recently read an article where it suggests that its not necessarily just the people that are not being vaccinated alone that are newly spreading the diseases. But the vaccinations are NOT lasting as long as the companies and doctors say? I will try and find the article and link it later on . In a rush right now. But still Food for thought.

    • Reply May 26, 2013


      Found it quickly Here is that article ; Its only speaking of Whooping cough

      • Reply May 26, 2013


        Hi DP, it may not be a case of laying blame on the basis of whether an individual has or has not been vaccinated.

        What the community does as a whole appears to be more important.

        It seems that the rate at which a disease spreads through a community is determined by the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated.

        The situation where most of the community are immune to an infection is apparently called ‘herd immunity’. ‘This situation provides some protection to any people who are not immune as there is less opportunity for the infection to spread.’ (;

        Apparently the level of ‘herd immunity’ (the proportion of the population this has immunity) required depends on the nature of the infectious disease and whether it is viral or bacterial.

        If you believe medical researchers, the herd immunity threshold for pertussis (whooping cough) requires 92-94% of the population to be immunised whereas measles requires 83-94% immunisation. (

        Reaching that level of immunisation is a big ask in today’s Australia.

        Alice Smith neatly encapsulates the dilemma:

        “I hate the idea of vaccinations and believe they can be harmful individually but we are part of a community and as such, we have responsibilities to each other, so my son’s vaccinations are up to date.

        I believe that immunisation benefits the community as a whole and am very thankful and full of admiration for the selfless contribution of Australians like Alice to the health of us all.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    My Daughter -in-Law believes in Naturopathy and has been told she does not need to vaccinate her children , they just need small doses of whatever ??? at the right times and all will be well. Does anyone have any info. regarding this.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Like other highly emotional topics (recovered memory, global warming, UFOs, religion etc) this should be an interesting discussion. It is not just the logic behind decisions we need to understand but also the underlying emotions, especially fear. And also the emotion tied up with taking one stance or the other and not budging as one has already invested so much time and emotion etc into taking a particular stance.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Carole/m sounds like your daughter in law has been told to homeopathically vaccinate which essentially is a misnomer and means paying good money for water, and no protection against disease. I’m very sorry to say she’s been given terrible advice by a person who is not qualified to provide information regarding vaccinations.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Thank you Sharon , you’ve confirmed what I thought , what a worry . I believe in immunisation and have tried , carefully , to convince her of the dreadful consequences of Polio , Hooping Cough and TB etc but she insists that her children are protected . Maybe I can convince her to watch tonights show .

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Interesting discussion. When one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer by age 85 and 125,000 cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year, surely the discussion must change.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.
    An informed decision on this topic should be based on scientifically tested and proven facts, not hocus pocus, unsubstantiated claims and outrageous scare mongering

    To all those who may NOT have vaccinated their children, may I suggest you sit beside a baby, too young to be immunised/vaccinated and so protected and watch as its tiny body struggles for every breath while turning blue in the face, because it has caught whooping cough.

    How any anti vaxxer can allow others suffering to justify their choice is beyond me.
    When I vaccinate my child, that is not harming your child, in fact the opposite occurs due to herd protection, but you who do not vaccinate put my child and numerous ppl at risk And in all age groups.

    I fail to see how that choice to not vaccinate is anything other than selfish and irresponsible.

    BTW those who do vaccinate also have an obligation to keep vaccinations up to date as if not that can be problematic especially in teenage and post school/ tafe/ work/ uni years

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Carole/m I hope you can convince her to watch the show tonight. Also see this article from the Guardian in the UK.

  • Reply May 26, 2013


    Also this one,

  • Reply May 27, 2013

    sue Bell

    And check out what the Cochran Report says about vaccinations and homeopathy, (how anyone can believe in water retaining memory is beyond me it seems belief in homeopathy is like a religion/cult ).

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    Thank you so much, Sharon , I am truly worried about my Grandchildren . When you see the appalling suffering that these diseases can cause , It’s impossible to understand why anyone would want to take such a risk with their Childs life.

  • Reply May 27, 2013

    Benison O'Reilly

    My husband is a GP with extra qualifications in paediatrics. Whenever he is confronted with a vaccine-doubting family, he makes them make an appointment for a long consultation, where he rationally discusses their concerns and the evidence then send them away to make their decision. In most cases they come back and vaccinate their children.

    The trouble is there is so much misinformation on the web, and without scientific training parents can easily be seduced by propaganda masquerading as science.

    For the record I have a child with autism and am completely pro-vax.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    I am not anti vaccines but like to remain open minded. Forty years ago I was at a gathering in Melbourne (nothing to do with vaccinations) and a mother was sitting next to me with her child in a wheel chair. We started to chat and I eventually found what had caused her child to be a virtual vegetable in a wheel chair. The medical profession had diagnosed the child’s condition a result of the Tripple Antigen needle. The child had been absolutely normal prior to the inoculation. After this meeting and further investigation, I took what felt like a very risky, painful decision and did not have my 2 children vaccinated when they came along. When they were at primary school there was a Whooping Cough outbreak in our area of Melbourne. Their friends in our street (4 from different families), who had been vaccinated all contracted Whooping Cough which amazed their mothers believing they were fully protected. Both my children avoided Whooping Cough even though they were in contact with it. My sister-in-law in America had her children vaccinated for measles and one of them had a way more severe case of measles after the injection than mine both had without the inoculation. I don’t deny the effectiveness of vaccinations and agonized over my decision. I had polio vaccine as a child and have also had hepatitis inoculation prior to traveling to third world countries as have my now adult children. I’m not against inoculations but believe that the cases like those I’ve personally witnessed are never brought to light and possibly not even recorded. I have not been able to speak about what happened I personally experienced for fear of ridicule and labeling as a poor irresponsible parent.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    I am pro vaccination for two reasons, all of my family have been vacinated and there have been no problems. I don’t believe the science perpetuated by the anti vaccination lobby.

    Secondly I have an immune disorder. I take tablets every day to suppress my immune system just so I can breathe as my disorder attacks my lungs. If I come into contact with someone who has whooping cough, it can kill me. That’s right, kill me.

    I have had your bog average cold caught from my granddaughter. I am now into week three of this thing and not getting over it. Imagine the devastation on my system from measles, whooping cough etc.

    It is just not babies you put at risk, do you have friends with MS or cancer or leukemia or lupis? Do you have elderly relatives with COPD or a weak heart? They are all at risk too.

    Please don’t go out in public if you refuse to be vaccinated because you are putting everyone else at risk.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    I’m seriously appalled by what you’ve done in making and promoting this documentary, for one reason.

    Vaccination saves lives. Of course it does. But…

    Vulnerable humans exist. Whether it’s vaccines, or environmental chemicals, or ingested allergens or whatever… these people exist, and they suffer devastating consequences from the actions we take BEFORE we know they are vulnerable.

    A number of people, mostly but not exclusively, children are damaged permanently by vaccination. It happens. And it happens for one simple reason – we don’t know why. We know injury happens to some people and yet we haven’t worked out who those people might be. We don’t test vaccines independently, we don’t test them in combination and it’s unethical to test toxins on children. Despite all of this, we choose to vaccinate at birth. By doing this, we choose to accept that there will be collateral damage.

    My son is one of those who was permanently disabled by vaccination. He is the collateral damage. His doctors agree. We agree. He had no choice in the matter, because we thought we were doing the ‘right’ thing.

    This is not a yes/no issue.

    This is a deeply complex issue of choice, clouded by the difficulty in understanding how to make an informed choice.

    I was vehemently pro-vaccination when my son was born. Now I am vehemently pro-choice. But the change required, in my mind, is to establish a method of making that choice an informed one.

    My only solution is to spend time and money understanding who is at risk. I and many parents of people with vaccine injury would be more than happy to participate in that research, and I think if my son could understand, he would consent.

    We can’t go on like this.

    RIght now, we all take a risk, whether we vaccinate or not, and instead of accepting that, we choose to villify and judge parents and fight among ourselves.

    Because that’s way easier.

    • Reply May 27, 2013


      Congratulations Valerie that was the most cogent and sensible anti-vaccination argument I have read ,,, the re-distribution of research funds towards the study of finding those children who ARE at risk makes a lot of sense to me. It actually seems so obvious yet I’d never approached it from that perspective. Its the 99% sweat 1 % inspiration thing isn’t it? Well done again.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    Thanks, Simon.
    Can I just clarify that I am not anti-vaccination. I am pro-vaccine safety. I think it’s important because it’s the polarity that’s killing the rationality of the debate.
    Documentaries like Jabbed explore why we SHOULD vaccinate, not why we should think about vaccination. Seems like a massively missed opportunity to think broadly in search of a safe solution.

  • Reply May 27, 2013

    Judy Mc

    Our collective memory of life before vaccinations is fading fast with only people in their 80’s and 90’s remembering how devastating epidemics could be. My mother (82) remembers kids in her class getting polio and dying or living in iron lungs.
    A very few people have been damaged by immunization, compared to the huge numbers of lives saved.

    • Reply May 27, 2013


      Judy Mc, my thoughts exactly. Few people in our society have actually seen someone with diphtheria, polio or tetanus. They are just ‘hypotheticals’. At a time when they are no longer part of our collective memory, the risk of a vaccine reaction could seem serious in comparison. I try to keep a balanced perspective, but my older sister had polio as a child. It almost killed her and she had lifelong complications. I can remember waiting with my mum for 4 hours in a queue to get vaccinated…..

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    Although educated and willing to be informed (doing my own research on lots of topics related to child rearing) this is one area where I concede that I could never hope to cover all the research. I’m simply not smart enough and it’s too importanat a topic for me to pretend to be so. I was happy to go with those who are smarter than me in this area. Simply not willing to risk my children’s lives (I have collective memories handed down from my parents) for the sake of my ego.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    I thought the story on SBS was brilliant and loved the analogy of a person is only protected by the dreadful disease if everyone around them are protected as in rings.
    It is not ok to not immunise for the sake of your child but we need to think of it as a protection for the whole community.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    My now ex-husband didn’t believe in paying for immunisations when our children were younger. When they were six and four they caught chickenpox, which at that point was not on the immunisation schedule, and therefore was not free. Luckily they recovered quickly and well, although both are left with a single scar. But I had to ring a friend and explain they we may have unwittingly exposed her child to the disease. This child has a compromised immune system and cannot have live vaccines. If you ever doubt the power of vaccine way it up against knowing you may have been the cause of a friend’s child dying. Luckily the child did not get the disease and this all ended well. And my children are now fully vaccinated.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    As the grandparent of a little girl who is on the Autism spectrum I am often involved in discussions about vaccination (thanks Jenny McCarthy!) with people who “read something on the net” about vaccination and autism.
    I had to stop reading another popular site because I became tired and fearful of the responses I was getting when I tried to introduce proper research and facts into discussions with people who were so sure that autism is caused by vaccination, despite barely knowing what autism was. Autism is not caused by vaccination and, of course, our autistic family member is vaccinated, she does need whooping cough on top of her other challenges!
    I would like to applaud gerri (above) for putting it so succinctly “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.” So well put!

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    My Dad was a gp. My mum was a physio who helped people with polio. I saw polio at my primary school~ late 50s early 60s. Cripples. I got whooping cough young ~ and could still reproduce this cough, years later, in moments of attention seeking behaviour. Vaccinate your kids.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    Medicine has come so far, you would be playing Russian roulette with your children’s lives if you didn’t vaccinate them. I can’t understand why people take such risks.

  • Reply May 27, 2013

    Annie Also

    Important topic. Interesting comments.
    I am pro vac so before our grandson was born we both had tests to see how our immunity was going. Our Whooping Cough cover was no longer ( we are both 59) we got a booster. Just thought I would mention it…get checked to see if you are still covered as several of our friends ended up with 10 days of terrible Whooping cough and it took them months to get over it totally.
    Also Immunise for the community please. For nearly 20 years my husband could not get his boosters as he was desperately ill with SLE. Thankfully it is ‘burning’ itself out ( but has left a lot of disability) so he can now catch up with his vaccinations. So when you don’t immunise your children you put people with compromised immune systems at risk.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    This is an interesting addition to the conversation for those who doubt Homeopathy.
    Homeopathic flu vaccines are effective, says health regulator
    email to friend printer friendly 22 May 2013
    Ten homeopathic flu vaccines have been licensed for use by Canada’s health regulator. They join a growing list of homeopathic vaccines available to Canadians, including ones to prevent polio, measles and pertussis (whooping cough). All of the vaccines have passed tests that deem them to be “safe and effective when used according to instructions on the label.”
    The latest licences have been granted to a range of homeopathic flu vaccines called Influenzinum, which have been manufactured by various companies, including BJ Pharmaceutical, Boiron and Homeocan.
    Health Canada’s decision has triggered protests from the pro-Pharma lobby of sceptics and self-styled ‘quack busters’. Leading the charge has been Lloyd Oppel, Canada’s leading ‘quack buster’ and chairman of the British Columbia Medical Association’s council on health promotion. He says: “Although real vaccines use low doses of part of an infectious agent to prevent disease, homeopathic preparations typically are diluted beyond the point where a single molecule remains.”
    (Source: British Columbia Medical Journal, 2013, 55: 201-2).

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    I am old enough to remember when almost every class in the primary school had a child with legs in calipers due to polio (and they were the lucky ones who survived) and when babies were born deaf and blind from parental rubella,
    A beautiful lively three-year-old girl I used to babysit as a teenager contracted measles and was dead within a week. A neighbour’s child was brain-damaged as a result of measles complications.
    Unfortunately the parents of today’s children have no experience of how devastating these diseases can be (and still are in some parts of the world.) I do not understand why they give more weight to the very small possibility that their child may be harmed by the vaccine than to the reality that they are putting their child and the community at risk by not vaccinating.
    Thank you for this program. I think we have been discussing vaccination for a long time now and all that has happened is that people have become more strident and more dismissive of scientific research.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    RIP my nephew Jake, killed by Meningoccocal disease aged 3 years. Would be 13 years old now, he contracted the disease before there was a vaccination available. I believe in vaccination.

  • Reply May 27, 2013


    People who have concerns about vaccines are being labelled as “antivaccers” or the “anti-vaccine lobby”. I would like to remind those using such terms that there are many Australian individuals who have had bad or questionable experiences with vaccines, who are justifiably concerned, and who discuss these matters with family, doctors, friends, work colleagues etc.

    One of the common questions that remains unanswered – why are there no follow up tests after vaccinating to help assess effectivenss or otherwise for individuals. Where is the duty of care with this particular medical intervention ? Surely if we get regularly assessed after medicating for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol etc – the same duty of care should apply with vaccines ?

  • Reply May 28, 2013


    I had my baby vaccinated against Measles years ago and guess what within two weeks he had Measles.he had major ear damage. I was not aware that Measles was going around anywhere so I only have to wonder about giving the disease to babies is a GOOD IDEA.

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