FREDERICTON -- Supporters and opponents of more stringent vaccination requirements for New Brunswick children will get a chance to air their opinions next week.
Three days of presentations are scheduled before a legislature committee examining a bill that would make vaccinations mandatory for children in daycares and schools unless they have a medical exemption.
The new rules, to take effect Sept. 1, 2021, were introduced by the province's Tory government in June amid a measles outbreak in southern New Brunswick that produced 12 confirmed cases.
The proposed amendments to the Education Act and Public Health Act would mean children must either show proof of immunization or a doctor's letter exempting them from vaccination.
Dominic Cardy, the province's minister of education and early childhood development, says it's important for members of the legislature to hear the facts.
"I'm hoping they hear the clear scientific evidence around the incredible benefits vaccines have brought and continue to bring. They are the safest way to protect a population, especially school kids, against dangerous diseases," he said Tuesday.
"I guess we'll also hear from some folks who are less informed, misinformed and actively engaged in misinformation. That's their democratic right, as long as we make the right decision in the best interests of school children," he said.
One group critical of vaccines that is set to appear at the hearings is Vaccine Choice Canada. In a statement addressed to New Brunswick parents and residents, the group has called mandatory vaccines "the largest and most important civil rights issue since the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, and the movement to give women the right to vote."
The group says non-violent civil disobedience may be needed to show opposition.
Also on the list of presenters is Dena Churchill who has come under fire for her views on vaccination.
The Nova Scotia chiropractor was ordered to pay $100,000 after admitting professional misconduct for spreading vaccine skepticism on her blog, "Dr. Sexy Mom."
Churchill has written about vaccinations on her blog and on Facebook and refused to delete the posts despite orders from the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors.
But she ultimately surrendered her licence to practice chiropractic medicine, and admitted earlier this year to being professionally incompetent because of mental incapacity. The college then ordered Churchill to pay $100,000 to partially cover the costs of its $180,000 investigation.
"Some of the people on the list are notorious for peddling lies and misinformation. There are certainly some folks out there who are pursuing publicity rather than facts. That's their right," Cardy said.
"The facts are clear, the public is onside, and we've got to make sure we protect our kids," he said.
Groups including the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association have thrown their support behind the bill.
Paul Blanchard, the association's executive director, said immunization rates have dropped because of the anti-vaccine movement and a more relaxed view of vaccines generally.
"Vaccines have been probably the most significant accomplishment over the last generation, and now many people are taking it for granted," he said in an interview last month.
He said 76 per cent of children entering kindergarten met immunization requirements in 2017-18. Some pharmacies have placed petitions calling for stricter immunization requirements.
The list of presenters also includes other doctors, the New Brunswick Medical Society, and the province's child, youth and seniors' advocate.