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LETTER: Misinformation may hinder vaccination efforts

From reader Ryan Lengsfeld

I wonder what overall impact a reliable COVID vaccine is going to have. Provincial records indicate that roughly 75 per cent of Grade 9 students have up-to-date immunization records. It is not a stretch to extrapolate that adult immunization is roughly the same. In stark terms one in four people remain as a possible contagion to those who are immunocompromised or unable to receive vaccinations.

Recent vaccine hesitancy can be traced to Dr. Andrew Wakefield who in 1998 published a fraudulent study declaring a causation between vaccines and autism. Despite a retraction by the Lancet and his being struck off the UK medical register as well as being barred from practicing medicine, his misinformation gained traction and led to a sharp decline in vaccination uptake, leading to a number of measles outbreaks around the world.

Some groups with a historical aversion to vaccination have added to this continuum of doubt. Although the National Centre for Homeopathy’s advice on immunization states that they “believe vaccinations represent the only long term relatively effective method of preventing these very serious diseases” they almost immediately digress into information about religious and philosophical reasons that can be used to forgo vaccination. Homeopathy also offers vaccines for various childhood and other diseases that have proven to be no better than sugar pills in randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Naturopathy is another group with historical disdain of vaccination. Benedict Lust, who introduced naturopathy to America during the early 20th century, was strongly opposed to vaccination. As recently as 2006 naturopathy’s most authoritative text included a chapter called “Vaccinations and Immune Malfunction,” by Harold E. Buttram, M.D., who claimed that vaccination harmed the immune system and might be “precipitating aberrant immunologic effects such as allergies, infant sudden death syndrome, and AIDS.” Antipathy to vaccination is also found in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine.

Vaccine Choice Canada has gobbled up much of the aforementioned misinformation. In a suit brought to the Ontario Supreme Court they are litigating for “rights” they feel are threatened by government strategies during the COVID pandemic. It appears focused more on civil rights than vaccine efficacy. This small vocal group seems outsized in their determination to thwart advantages offered by vaccination.

The existing vaccine hesitancy and the lingering doubts created by these groups leads me to speculate that the COVID vaccination effort will falter because of their misinformation. It is discouraging for a former science educator to see how the lack of science literacy has had such a huge impact on the future of us all. I personally will follow the advice of public health experts rather than the vocal, biased rhetoric of a misguided minority.

Ryan Lengsfeld

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