Anti-vaccine advocates present on Bill 87: Torrents of misinformation

Bill 87 has been controversial for a number of reasons. One of the only pieces of the bill that everyone has seemingly agreed on is the requirement that any parent refusing vaccines for their child based on conscience of religious belief must attend a mandatory education session held by public health.

Reasonable, no? Who could possibly disagree with this?

The anti-vaccine crowd, of course. Each of the first three committee meetings of the Standing Committee on Bill 87 has featured a speaker delivering an oral submission rife with myths and misinformation on vaccines, aimed at swaying the legislature to remove the amendment.

Before I get into the specifics of their presentations, I want to deliver a very clear message to the members of this Standing Committee and to all of our political leaders. Your roles as elected officials involve seeking out expertise and using their information to guide public policy. Public health officials, physicians, and other health professionals have specific expertise that must be utilized, and decisions cannot be influenced by those who push misinformation, conspiracies, and who adhere to no scientific or academic standards.

Here are the presentations from April 12 and April 26. Those who spoke out against vaccines were Elisabeth Hall, Gisele Baribeau (Concerned Parents of London and Area – on Vaccines), and Heather Fraser (Vaccine Choice Canada).

Ms. Hall told her story of her two daughters with chronic eczema, psoriasis, asthma, allergies, tics, IBS and “chronic breathing issues”. She described (in her own words) “starting down the rabbit hole” of researching vaccines and “began to understand that vaccine injury is real”. She stated that “parents who are choosing to follow a different schedule than the recommended schedule are very well educated individuals with a high level of education”.

Let quote Tom Nichols’ from his terrific book “The Death of Expertise”:

The parents most likely to resist vaccines, as it turns out, are found among educated San Francisco suburbanites in Marin County. While these mothers and fathers are not doctors, they are educated just enough to believe they have the background to challenge establish medical science. Thus, in a counterintuitive irony, educated parents are actually making worse decisions than those with far less schooling, and they are putting everyone’s children at risk.

She adds “It appears the purpose for these education sessions could have an ulterior motive behind it.” Yes, the motive is to improve the health literacy of the population and to increase vaccine coverage in our community. No one is hiding this. She likely believes that any actual facts presented at these sessions are “coercion”, while in reality they would be providing citizens with high-quality medical information as is our duty as health educators.

She then engages in a horrifying back and forth with NDP Health Critic and MPP France Gelinas about checking for antibody titres. Warning to immunologists, infectious diseases experts, and frankly anyone with any expertise in this field. You will need a good dose of Gravol to get through this…

Mme France Gélinas: This is an interesting concept. Frankly, I never thought about that, that somebody would already have the immunity through some of the mandatory vaccines. Do you know of any other jurisdictions that do that, that test people before they have a universal vaccination program?

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: No. Nobody does a routine titre test, something where it’s a regular test, like you go to the doctor’s and you do a pap smear or something. You know you’re supposed to do that every couple of years at a certain age. We’re not routinely checking at all. In fact, I called OHIP and I asked them if the titre test was covered by OHIP, because I wanted to know if it was free and covered or if I had to pay for it. They did not know what a titre test was, so then they told me to call my doctor.

That’s how rare this test is. As you can see, not many people know about it. But if we are routinely checking for titres, we can see if the vaccine is working, because we know that sometimes vaccine manufacturers have maybe set an efficacy of 95% but then they came back and said a couple of years later, “Oh, sorry, it was only 60%.”

We can see that titre tests would be very important if you want to actually protect a community and protect individuals, because antibodies can transfer through breast milk. They can also come into contact—there have been people who have had titre tests who have never actually experienced the symptoms of the disease and had the antibodies for the disease.

Mme France Gélinas: Did you go to your family physician? Did you ask—if you were to be referred, is it covered?

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: Yes, it is covered.

Mme France Gélinas: But we’re not using it because nobody knows about it.

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: Exactly.

Mme France Gélinas: How did you come to know about that?

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: I’ve been researching for a year and a half consistently, almost every day for, like, three hours.

Mme France Gélinas: It took a lot of work.

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: Yes, many sleepless nights.

Mme France Gélinas: Did you have such a test done on your children?

Ms. Elisabeth Hall: I haven’t done a test, no, because they’re fully vaccinated—and they were injured by vaccines. So I haven’t done a test yet, but I probably will, just to see if the vaccines actually even worked.

Mme France Gélinas: Very interesting. Thank you.

“Nobody does a routine titre test”. Yes we do. Regularly. She called OHIP and they didn’t know what a titre test was. Who was she speaking to? A secretary? The janitor? What is that supposed to prove? “Not many people know about it”. This is a straw man fallacy to end all straw man fallacies. Everyone knows about titres. Everyone orders titres. This is not a new thing. But here’s where she is totally off base. She is subtly implying that we should order titres on children before giving them vaccines. Here’s the problem with that. If you check a titre after giving one dose of MMR, you may see a positive titre and be falsely led into thinking that you don’t need a booster. Your immunity will quickly drop off and you will soon be left unprotected. We check them in certain cases in adults to avoid immunizing if not necessary, but this is not applicable to children.

“I’ve been researching for a year and a half consistently, almost every day for, like, three hours.” Googling frantically and looking for information that specifically supports your prior belief system is not researching. It’s confirmation bias. And I must say that I am incredibly disappointed in MPP Gelinas for feeding directly into the conspiratorial narrative that Ms. Hall was creating.

MPP John Fraser gave Ms. Hall the most opposition, defending the need for health protection. Ms. Hall then adds “If someone wants an exemption, they have to have maybe had an injured child that’s—maybe their family history has the MTHFR gene that enables them to detox from toxins. They might have this gene, and they might want a medical exemption.” Someone bringing up the MTHFR is a big pseudoscience flag, as it’s being used by the alternative medicine community to explain away just about any health concern. Here’s a terrific summary of the MTHFR issue from Skeptical Raptor.

Heather Fraser from Vaccine Choice Canada spoke about her experiences with her son with eczema, asthma, and peanut allergies, and attributed them to vaccines. She authored a book, The Peanut Allergy Epidemic where she “explains that vaccination is the precipitating cause of this pediatric epidemic” (again, there is no evidence to support this claim). She holds an MA in Art History, BA in Art History & Criticism and a degree in Education, Visual Art & English. No expertise in medicine, public health, immunology, or infectious diseases. But here is the pièce de résistance. Her book’s foreword was written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Yes, the same Robert F. Kennedy who was recently announced by Donald Trump to coordinate a vaccine safety commission for the president. RFK Jr. has long been criticized for his anti-vaccine views, including continuing to push the disproven claim that MMR is linked to autism. Here is a great article from Scientific American detailing RFK Jr’s questionable past.

She cites Dr. Peter Vadas to support her position that vaccines can lead to allergy. She is likely referring to this video from 2001. What she conveniently omits is that Dr. Vadas has since been very clear on his position of the safety of vaccines, and his comments have been repeatedly taken out of their context.

 

She goes into detail about adverse event reports that has seen, listing all of the reported conditions in an attempt to strike fear into the legislators. There are significant problems with using reporting systems as a measure of vaccine safety, as Scott Gavura details in this article. Most of the cases of vaccine injury she cites are likely an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which states “states “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” e.g. The rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.

It is easy for me to go through their presentations line by line and point out their scientific and logical flaws, but my hope is that politicians and the public can familiarize themselves with the patterns and techniques used by the anti-vaccination movement to be able to quickly recognize these fallacious arguments. None of their arguments are new, they simply recycle the same talking points that have been corrected and disproven time after time.

So again, a message to our elected officials. I understand that you are trying to remain diplomatic during these types of proceedings, but you cannot allow blatant misinformation to go unchallenged in a public forum. You must stand up for facts, science, and intellectualism.

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