Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters

The Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters (NRVS) is a vaccination advocacy group formed in 2013 by people who were concerned about low vaccination rates in the Northern Rivers region of the Australian state of New South Wales.[1][2] Rachel Heap, one of the group's core administrators, has said the organization's primary goal is to spread the word that people shouldn't be afraid of vaccines, but instead, "you should be amazed at how extraordinary they are as a public health measure".[4]

The Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters
The logo for The Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters
TypeNon-governmental advocacy group
FocusRaising awareness of the importance of vaccination in the Northern Rivers region of the New South Wales state of Australia
Membership (2019)
Core Administrators
Dr Rachel Heap and Heidi Robertson

In 2014, the group was presented the Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason by the Australian Skeptics. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the NRVS website as a reliable source of information about vaccines and vaccine safety.[5]


The Northern Rivers region of the Australian state of New South Wales has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Australia.[2] As of 2013, the Northern Rivers town of Mullumbimby had the lowest rate of childhood vaccinations in Australia, with under 50% of one, two and five year-old children fully vaccinated.[6][7][8] Rachel Heap has described the Northern Rivers region as a place where "it is not only socially acceptable to refuse vaccination, but supporting vaccination carries the risk of being ostracised".[2]

The NRVS was formed in 2013 by people who were concerned about these low vaccination rates.[1][2]

Alison Gaylard helped start the group after her two daughters became ill with whooping cough.[9] She says "We're trying to get the correct, factual information out there... And so if people out there are sourcing their information from the correct place, they won't be fed misinformation to make them think they don't have to vaccinate, or that it's scary, or anything like that." And "I would request people check their source of information. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. And science is factual"[9] In response to her stance on vaccination, Gaylard has received hateful phone calls, much anti-vaccine material by post and has had her daughter approached by a stranger in a supermarket asking if Gaylard was her mother.[10]

Heidi Robertson contracted whooping cough whilst six months pregnant in 2008 and feared she would lose her baby.[11] The experience motivated her to join with others who shared her concerns about low vaccination rates to found the NRVS.[12]


NRVS members have made television appearances on both ABC Australia[12] and Today on the Nine Network.[13] Heidi Robertson featured on ABC TV discussing the Australian governments new 'no jab, no play' policy, which denied certain benefits to families who refuse vaccination.[12] NRVS welcomed the policy.[9] In late 2018 the ABC's 7:30 Report revisited the Northern Rivers to look at the impact of the "no jab, no play" policy.[14] This report noted that enrollments in some pre-schools were showing large drops due to the policy and they would drop further in 2020. Early learning educators said that unintended consequences of the policy would disadvantage young unvaccinated children as they could not attend pre-school. NRVS said that this policy seemed to be one of the few ways vaccination rates were increasing and the NewDaily indicated that this was what the policy was designed to do and not putting children's lives at risk was more important than attending pre-school.[15]

In June 2014 the NRVS presented a poster at the 14th National Immunisation Conference held in Melbourne.[16]

In January 2015, Gaylard appeared on The Project TV show discussing calls to ban prominent anti-vaccination activist Dr Sherri Tenpenny from entering Australia, arguing that she poses a danger to public health.[17]

Rachel Heap, a specialist in adult Intensive Care Medicine[2] and Dave Hawkes of Stop the AVN, a virologist and science communicator,[2][18] represented NRVS on a panel 'Strategic advocacy to reach vaccine hesitant parents' at an Immunisation Advocacy Workshop held in Sydney April 2015.[2][18]

Gaylard appeared on episode 341 of The Skeptic Zone podcast in May 2015 in which she discussed the workshop. The episode also included interviews with Heidi Robertson and Rachel Heap.[18]

In August 2015, Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard appeared on Inside Story defending vaccinations from claims made by anti-vaccine campaigner Maha Al Musa.[10]

In 2018 a photo of a pro-vaccine poster at an Australian doctor's office that was inspired by a posting on the NRVS Facebook page by Dr. Rachel Heap went viral. It reads in part, "And what do you say when he gives influenza to his grandma? How do you explain she won't be coming home from hospital? Not ever.", and continues: "Do you tell them you didn't think these diseases were that serious? That you thought that your organic, home cooked food was enough to protect them? Do you say sorry?" The post drew worldwide attention from pro-vaccine groups, anti-vaccine groups and others.[19]

Heap was asked why she wrote that Facebook post in a 2018 interview on breakfast television show Sunrise. She replied, "I was actually tired, and emotional, and frustrated. I had come off a pretty rough run at work looking after people suffering from stuff that should have been avoidable, and when I was listening to the conversations we were having about vaccination it seemed that something was missing, and that was the voices of their kids. Those kids have no choice, and if children are left vulnerable to preventable disease and they contract those diseases and the impact, the injury of those diseases, that can have a lifelong impact on them, and it seemed somebody needed to speak up for them."[20]

Awards and recognitionEdit

Alison Gaylard holding the Thornett Award for the promotion of reason, presented to NRVS at the 2014 Australian Skeptics National Conference

In 2014, the NRVS was awarded the Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason at The Australian Skeptics 30th annual convention held in Sydney, Australia.[21] The award was collected by Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard.[22] The award, known colloquially known as "The Fred," acknowledges "a member of the public or a public figure who has made a significant contribution to educating or informing the public regarding issues of science and reason."[22]

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the website, describing it as "a reliable source of information about vaccines and vaccine safety."[23][24][25] The website now forms part of the Vaccine Safety Net Project (VSN) within the WHO's Global Vaccine Safety Initiative, and is evaluated by the WHO for credibility, content and accessibility/design every two years.[23][26]

In 2017, the NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord, praised NRVS for their "principled stand" in opposing the "dangerous views" of a touring anti-vaccination campaigner, and called for a "united approach" to increase NSW North Coast vaccination rates.[27]

Further readingEdit


  1. ^ a b c Stephenson, Niamh; Chaukra, Shefali; Katz, Ilan; Heywood, Anita (7 March 2018). "Newspaper coverage of childhood immunisation in Australia: a lens into conflicts within public health". Critical Public Health. Informa UK Limited. 28 (4): 472–483. doi:10.1080/09581596.2018.1446510. ISSN 0958-1596.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Immunisation Advocacy Workshop" (PDF). Public Health Association Australia. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  3. ^ Elliott, Tim (7 June 2019). "How one hippie town became the anti-vaxxer capital of Australia". The Age. Fairfax. Archived from the original on 8 March 2020. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  4. ^ "Why you 'shouldn't be afraid' of vaccines: Group".
  5. ^ "Why you 'shouldn't be afraid' of vaccines: Group". Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  6. ^ "Mullumbimby vaccination rate below 50 per cent". ABC News. ABC. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  7. ^ "Low vaccination rates make Northern Rivers most "dangerous" place to raise children: State Opposition". ABC North Coast NSW. ABC. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  8. ^ McCutcheon, Peter (14 April 2015). "Visit the town with Australia's lowest rate of child vaccination". ABC. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Mortimer, Luke (11 April 2015). "Vaccination supporters welcome government crack down". The Northern Star. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  10. ^ a b Le Marquand, Sarrah (6 August 2015). "Mother Knows Best". Inside Story. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  11. ^ Heidi Robertson. "Heidi Robertson". NRVS. Retrieved 26 June 2015.
  12. ^ a b c McCutcheon, Peter (14 April 2015). "Visit the town with Australia's lowest rate of child vaccination". ABC. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  13. ^ Tancred, Jessica (17 April 2015). "Anti-vax capital Mullumbimby". Today. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  14. ^ ABC 7:30 Report, Anne Blake, Antivax hotspot childcare, retrieved 20 December 2018
  15. ^ "'No jab, no play' saves lives: Anti-vaxxers don't deserve a platform on this". The New Daily. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  16. ^ "14th National Immunisation Conference". Public Health Association Australia. 2014. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  17. ^ Rizvi, Jamila (6 January 2015). "Ms Information". The Project. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  18. ^ a b c Saunders, Richard (3 May 2015). "The Skeptic Zone #341". The Skeptic Zone. Episode 341. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  19. ^ Anderson, Jenny. "An Australian doctor's stark note to parents is a devastating blow against anti-vaxxers". Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  20. ^ "Pro-Vax Sign Goes Viral". Seven Network. 11 August 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  21. ^ "2014 Skeptics Convention in Retrospect". Australian Skeptics. 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  22. ^ a b "Merit Awards". Australian Skeptics. 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  23. ^ a b "WHO Vaccine safety Net! - Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters". World Health Organization. 27 October 2016. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  24. ^ "NRVS website endorsed by the World Health Organisation". NRVS. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  25. ^ Saunders, Richard (6 November 2016). "The Skeptic Zone #420". The Skeptic Zone (Podcast). Event occurs at 21:00-26:30. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  26. ^ "Vaccine Safety Net - VSN objective and general information". World Health Organization. 16 March 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  27. ^ Rylko, Alina (1 March 2017). "MP calls for anti-vaxxer boycott". Northern Star. Retrieved 23 March 2017.

External linksEdit