Prof Tim Noakes. Picture: The Noakes Foundation

By Marika Sboros

When some doctors run out of science or nasty things to say about Prof Tim Noakes, they resort to a canard. They claim that Noakes is “anti-vax”. Or “anti-vaxx” as it more commonly appears.

Anti-vaxx is a loaded, pejorative term. It should be used for anyone who, as the name suggests, opposes vaccinations for whatever reason. Instead, critics use it as an attack term to silence anyone who even mentions the word vaccines, unless in unqualified, glowing terms.

It’s pretty serious stuff for a doctor to be accused of being anti-vaxx. The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) could charge such a doctor with unprofessional conduct. It could strip that person of the licence needed to practise medicine.

Thus, say legal experts, and depending on the context, calling a doctor anti-vaxx can be highly defamatory. Or slanderous, if anyone says it publicly as some doctors do. Of course, it’s really only defamatory if the claim is untrue or malicious. That is, if there is a deliberate intention to denigrate and damage the doctor’s standing and reputation.

Yet Noakes has made it clear that he is not anti-vaxx. He has stated publicly that vaccination is one of modern medicine’s greatest life-saving achievements. He had vaccinations, as his children and grandchildren have had.

Despite that, some doctors and academics continue to claim otherwise. Many, if not most, are from Noakes’s alma mater, the University of Cape Town.

Leading the latest charge these days is Cape Town paediatrician and UCT graduate Alastair McAlpine, a long-time troll of Noakes on Twitter. McAlpine regularly attacks Noakes’s medical and scientific credibility and knowledge in inflammatory, defamatory terms.

He also recently acquired a new vehicle from which to launch attacks on Noakes: the Medical Brief website. Of six columns he has written since January, McAlpine devotes four to attacking Noakes. (One is an attack on me but includes  Noakes.)

His latest column repeats his claim that Noakes is “anti-vaxx”. (Click here for Noakes’s full response.)