Bernard and Lisa Selz have quietly donated to anti-vax groups for years. Picture: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images
Bernard and Lisa Selz have quietly donated to anti-vax groups for years. Picture: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Secret anti-vax millionaires revealed

Millionaires Bernard and Lisa Selz are known for their generous charitable donations - but for the past few years, they've quietly given a fortune to the anti-vaccination movement.

The wealthy New York couple's involvement in the controversial cause has been uncovered by the Washington Post following a lengthy investigation by reporters Lena Sun and Amy Brittain.

They revealed the couple had contributed through the Selz Foundation "more than $US3 million ($A4.3 million) in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunisations online and at live events".

It's a stark contrast to the sorts of causes the pair are known for supporting, including the arts, education and the environment.

According to the detailed report, the motivation behind the couple's anti-vax mission remains a mystery - but what is clear is that seven years ago, their private foundation began quietly handing over wads of cash to "groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines".

The Washington Post claimed the impact of their contributions have been "enormous", and helped to spread "doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent".

One of the beneficiaries of the Selz couple's cash is the Informed Consent Action Network, which campaigns on vaccine safety, personal choice and "the eradication of man-made disease".

The reporters claimed the Selz Foundation was behind three quarters of ICAN's funding, after tax filings allegedly revealed that in 2017 the Selz Foundation donated $1 million out of the organisation's total $1.4 million revenue.

After making such large donations, you might assume the couple would be happy to speak out about a cause that seems to be so close to their hearts.

But apparently, the reporters' attempts to secure on-the-record quotes from either the couple or those close to them were repeatedly thwarted.

For example, a woman who answered the couple's home phone allegedly refused to identify herself, claiming only that "there's nothing to say".

Their sons also would not comment, along with a number of other friends and relatives.

And after being contacted by the reporters, Lisa Selz's close friend Marilyn Skony Stamm said only: "This is a topic we don't discuss … We have differing opinions".

The Washington Post traced the pair's involvement in the anti-vax cause to 2012, when they donated $200,000 towards the legal bills of prominent anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield.

They also contributed a further $1.6 million to two groups Mr Wakefield founded, including the AMC Foundation.

AUSSIE ANTI-VAX HOT SPOT

The anti-vax movement has spread across the globe in recent years, and Australia is not immune.

While Australia has a high rate of vaccination overall, data shows that rate dips alarmingly in certain pockets of the country.

In northern NSW, for example, around one third of children are unvaccinated, compared with a national average of just over 5 per cent.

Over the years, a number of dedicated anti-vaccination groups have emerged, such as the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network (formerly known as the Australian Vaccination Network), Vaccine Information Service and Freedom of Choice against No Jab, No Pay/Play, which actively campaigns against enforced vaccinations.

Research has shown that anti-vax parents usually fall into one of two camps - people from wealthy inner-city suburbs or alternative regions, and those from less affluent areas who lack access to immunisations.

GLOBAL THREAT

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation named outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019 - alongside other terrifying risks such as ebola and antibiotic resistance.

The WHO website states that vaccine hesitancy - the reluctance to vaccinate even when vaccines are readily available - "threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases".

It argued that vaccination prevents up to three million deaths each year - a figure which could increase by 1.5 million preventable deaths if vaccinations were available worldwide.

However, many vaccine-preventable diseases are on the increase, including measles, which has increased by 30 per cent globally.

While the anti-vax movement is just one the factors in that statistic, the WHO says "some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence".

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au



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