56th Annual Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism
Natasha Bita, The Australian,
“Virus in the system”
Last year, the federal government suspended the seasonal flu vaccine for
young children after it triggered febrile convulsions in one per cent, resulting in
dozens of hospitalisations and a possible death.
This suspension may not have taken place if not for Natasha Bita’s reporting of
the health scandal and the flaws in the country’s system of approving and
monitoring new medicines.
Government inquiries have since recommended major reform.
In a series of 23 articles for The Australian, including a 4600-word cover story
in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Bita exposed manufacturing flaws at
Australia’s biggest pharmaceutical company, CSL, as well as potential conflicts
of interest between the government’s key immunisation advisers, and wastage
at a cost to taxpayers of $65 million.
These articles were published in the face of hostility and stonewalling from the
federal health department and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
After Bita’s front-page interview with a boy who contracted polio from a
vaccine, the federal health minister said she was open to the idea of a
compensation scheme for people suffering the side-effects of immunisation.
Bita is the consumer editor of The Australian, where she has worked since
1990. In 2007 she transferred to Europe, working as the London-based
Olympics correspondent for the News Limited group of newspapers, and then as
Italy correspondent for The Australian until her return to Brisbane in 2008.
"Natasha Bita chipped away methodically and professionally at Australia’s
questionable vaccine policy. Beginning with a story about an adverse reaction
to the flu vaccine, she realised she was onto a bigger story. Her series was not
only newsworthy, but of significant public benefit, and revealed the personal
traumas behind the statistics."