On Simon Thornley exploiting miscarriages to save his ego

On Simon Thornley exploiting miscarriages to save his ego

Stop me if this sounds like a broken record – or don’t.

If you’re pregnant/hapū or breastfeeding, one of the best things you can do to keep your baby safe from COVID 19 is get vaccinated. The antibodies your immune system makes get passed to baby through your placenta and breastmilk, and give them protection while they’re too little to be vaccinated themselves.

Babies can get COVID. And it can get really serious. But there’s been a lot of disinformation spread around about the vaccine, and especially how it (DOES NOT) impact pregnancy, miscarriage, and fertility.

On the fertility side of things: here’s an excellent article from the Herald about the vaccine being safe for fertility, IVF and pregnancy. Please share it widely to counter the disinformation.

On the miscarriage side of things, and to get to the point of this post: I am so, incredibly, angry at Dr Simon Thornley.

Thornley, who is somehow still a senior lecturer in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, has been a critic of New Zealand’s response to the COVID pandemic and a member of Plan B, the weirdo lobby group who declared (I’m not linking to their website) “New Zealand’s attempt in 2020-21 to eliminate Sars-Cov2 was unnecessary, and would cause more health, social and economic harm than the virus itself.”

If anyone needs me I’ll be over here looking at NZ having some of the strongest economic stats in the world AND not thousands of people dead.

After been proven wrong on every point for a year and a half, Thornley (and others) decided to stage a defence of their position by “reanalysing” a study published by the US CDC on the safety of mRNA vaccines in pregnancy.

Stuff have an excellent piece outlining all the different ways in which this “reanalysis” is complete bunkum. This is the big one:

Many of its promoters focused on one specific aspect. The paper recalculated the reported miscarriage rate to only include people who were pregnant in their first or second trimester when they were vaccinated. Doing so increased the miscarriage rate to between 82 and 91 per cent, a shockingly high figure.

Doing so, however, makes no mathematical sense. Because the study lasted three months, the only way for a person to complete pregnancy in that timeframe is to have a miscarriage (unless they were late in their second trimester).

This is like studying the safety of the vaccine in Formula 1 drivers and coming to the conclusion it’s dangerous because, of the drivers who finished the race after only 20 laps, 91% had a crash.

No shit. The race wasn’t finished yet. There aren’t many other ways to retire in the first 20 laps!

In very weaselly style, the authors of the paper claim they only did this math to prove that the CDC study was insufficient. Except you don’t need to do the math to explain that – you just say “the study was only three months long so we don’t have full data on all the pregnancies recorded.” And Thornley has gone on to say things like “vaccination early in pregnancy “indicates a substantially increased risk from background””. The paper itself recommends withdrawing the vaccine not just from pregnant people, but also children and people of “child bearing age”.

(I have a whole other post or two in me about the sexist smugness of people who want to treat everyone with a uterus between the ages of 16 and 50 as though we’re automatically pregnant at all times. Another day!)

This whole situation made me deeply angry. Miscarriage is an incredibly traumatic experience. When it occurs there’s a huge question hanging in the air: what did I do wrong? There is so much pressure and anxiety on pregnant people to make the right medical choices for themselves and their baby, so much risk and so many unknowns, and as I wrote in my last post, it’s impossible not to hold yourself responsible if something goes wrong.

And Simon Thornley et al, in a desperate, cynical attempt to scrape back a bit of credibility, seem to have deliberately exploited that anxiety by essentially telling all those people who had miscarriages after getting the COVID vaccine: it was your fault. You made the wrong choice. You harmed your baby. And by telling everyone who is pregnant and has had the vaccine: your baby’s going to die and it’s your fault.

That is simply unforgiveable to me.

(It’s been suggested that of course we cannot know for certain if Simon Thornley did all this on purpose. The alternative is that he’s completely incompetent, so it’s still baffling he can hold a senior academic position.)

I thought my rage was subsiding a bit over the past day, and then yesterday afternoon I was driving home listening to Checkpoint’s story on the new community cases in Rotorua. And I heard a young woman say she was going to get the vaccine – after her baby is born. Why? “I’ve just heard too much things, ay.”

“Things” like a senior lecturer in epidemiology insisting that pregnant people (in fact, anyone “of child-bearing age”) shouldn’t be allowed to get the vaccine because it increases the risk of miscarriage, maybe?

This isn’t some high-minded, good-faith academic debate. This is people – scientists – manipulating data to create fear and anxiety and to dissuade people from getting vaccinated. Which, again, is the single best thing you can do to protect your baby in pregnancy or infancy. This kind of disinformation directly contributes to low vaccination rates and they’re using the credibility of their doctorates and institutions to do it.

These unscientific thought experiments are having serious, real-world impacts, affecting pregnant people and their babies and making it even more difficult to persuade hesitant people. I don’t know what to say except how appalling it all is.

And please, get vaccinated.

Photo by Sebastian Pociecha on Unsplash

Moving house with a newborn

Moving house with a newborn

This is one of those swerves I was talking about in my last post. A jump ahead to the present day, where baby is born and bonny and presenting all kinds of fun new challenges on a daily basis.

Due to her arrival, we decided we needed more room. Our first home wasn’t tiny by any means – but we are people who collect lots of stuff, and my partner’s side hustle as a YouTube board game reviewer involved a lot of shelf space and filming equipment. With a tiny person on the way, we needed a whole new room (for her) and a new setup (for the gear, which could be locked away out of reach of tiny hands and mouths).

So we sold our house, and bought a new one, and I won’t bore you with the stressful saga that is trying to buy and sell property as the country leaps into level 4 and 3 lockdowns. Suffice it to say that despite recent changes by the government, it’s still an investors’ game out there, especially if you’re looking at places with sleepouts or separate living areas which can be flipped into additional rentals.

But we got very lucky. One acceptable offer came through on our house, and a perfect candidate cropped up a few weeks (filled with nightmarish dreams of temporary homelessness) later, and we made a (slightly padded) offer, and were accepted.

Throughout this process we had a lot of our stuff in boxes – some in a storage unit and the rest packing out our garage, so the house itself could be staged (made to look like no house anyone actually lives in, but people might aspire to) and kept super-duper clean.

That was the first challenge. Babies come with a lot of stuff, and we couldn’t exactly ask her to tighten her belt and only throw up on 50% as many outfits as normal to save us shelf space. There was no wiggle room to let the laundry pile up just a little – everything got done the day it got dirty. And once we got to the point of moving, well – it’s easy enough for adults to say “I’m going to live out of this single suitcase for a week”. For a baby, everything pretty much has to remain available to hand right up until the last minute.

The move itself, that’s where the logistical nightmare kicks in. The movers are going to arrive at a certain time and for a big block of it, you need to be there, amongst increasingly decreasing furniture, in order to advise on any tricky items (our sofa simply would not fit out the door without the legs being screwed off) and lock up after them before driving to the new place for the unpacking.

I ended up breastfeeding baby at one point cross-legged on the floor and I’m just glad she decided to cooperate with that.

The baby simply takes up space, as well. If you’ve got delicate items to move, or ran out of time and threw a lot of things into unclosed boxes or reusable shopping bags (purely hypothetically, asking for a friend) having to ferry the little one in their capsule to and from the new house cuts a whole car seat’s worth of space out of your capacity. By the time you’ve spent eight hours shuttling things back and forth and trying to figure out how it all fits in a new space, you really, really don’t want to have to do just one more trip.

What saved us was whānau. Specifically, my mother. She rocked up early the day of the move, and became primary Baby Wrangler for the day, except for feeding times. She was also able to ferry my partner – a non-driver – to the new house so he could be there to direct the movers bringing everything in.

(She also took it upon herself to thoroughly re-clean the entire kitchen and dismantle the broken cutlery drawer but that’s more of a bonus feature, as was her partner doing some unschedule carpentry work to make sure our fridge would fit in the cabinets.)

The thing is, we have a “good” baby. She’ll amuse herself most of the time, grizzles only when she’s hungry or tired or wet, and for long stints doesn’t necessarily need us to be around (unless her social meter is getting low). She even gives me enough breaks – short and unpredictable as they might be – to write a few blog posts. But when you’re going through a massive process like house moving, a baby, no matter how “good”* they are, is just another potential stress point to divide your attention, on top of a dozen other potential stress points. Having another adult around who can just be The One Looking After Baby, who will let you know when you are needed, was a huge mental relief.

The TLDR: it’s always handy to have an extra pair of hands around to take care of baby, and this is never truer than during a massive process like house moving. It’s not revolutionary, but the past couple of weeks have really made me appreciate how much of a difference it makes.

Oh, and pack the nappy bag as though you were going out for a long trip – so you’re not panicking about where the wipes or the baby balm are after a very tiring day!


*I hate the way we talk about “good” babies versus “fussy” or “naughty” babies but it’s a useful shorthand.

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

Please. Get vaccinated.

Please. Get vaccinated.

This week, a parent with a baby in the NICU at Auckland City Hospital tested positive for COVID 19. The next day, a newborn tested positive at North Shore hospital after being visited by their father, who then tested positive.

It’s pretty much every family’s nightmare.

I don’t think I have to tell anyone what COVID 19 is. It’s serious. It’s killed over four and a half million people across the world – and that’s likely to be an undercount – and caused ongoing health issues even for people who survive. It impacts everyone who needs healthcare because if the hospitals are full of COVID patients, other people aren’t able to get care.

Our littlest ones can’t get vaccinated against COVID 19 (and a lot of adults either can’t, because of severe allergic reactions, or if they can, aren’t able to build as strong an immune response). That’s one reason it’s our responsibility as parents to get vaccinated: for them. The more people in their community who are vaccinated, the less likely it is COVID can get a foothold and break out in that community.

If you’re pregnant, or breastfeeding baby (or feeding them your expressed milk via bottle) the other reasons are really practical: there’s evidence that getting vaccinated means your immune system creates antibodies which pass on to baby either in the womb or through breastmilk. It’s not going to be as strong as vaccination, but every little bit helps.

And circling back to the first reason: getting immunized, in turn, makes it safer for babies whose parents aren’t able to breastfeed.

Vaccines are the reason we don’t have smallpox any more. We’ve all but eradicated polio in most countries, because of vaccination. In Aotearoa, we already immunise our babies against a lot of things like measles, whooping cough and pneumococcal disease, to stop them getting sick and to stop those diseases spreading in our communities and whānau. We’ve been really, really good at locking down and staying home and washing our hands to stop COVID running rampant through our neighbourhoods; getting vaccinated is another sensible, important step, to take care of each other and to be able to relax our public health measures.

Please. Get vaccinated.


After I drafted this post, Marama Davidson (queen, icon, wahine toa) made a really important Twitter thread about convincing members of her whānau to get vaccinated. If you think that thread, or even this post, might help convince someone – share it far and wide.

Photo by Marisol Benitez on Unsplash