New Brunswick education minister warns against anti-vaccination message
FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick's education minister says people spreading misinformation about the effectiveness of vaccines are from the "far, far fringe."
A committee of the New Brunswick legislature began hearings Tuesday to hear from supporters and opponents of more stringent vaccine requirements for New Brunswick children.
The province's Tory government wants to pass legislation making vaccinations mandatory for children in schools and daycares unless they have a medical exemption. The new rules, to take effect Sept. 1, 2021, were introduced in June amid a measles outbreak in southern New Brunswick.
"This is a question about what is an appropriate step for the government of this province to take in protecting the citizens of this province. That is the discussion that we're having," Education Minister Dominic Cardy told the committee.
"What we can say, without hesitation, without qualification, and with a vast, multi-century wealth of evidence to support it, is that getting vaccinated is safer than not getting vaccinated."
Cardy spent much of his presentation cautioning the committee about false information being spread by vaccination opponents. He said he and other members of the government have received messages in an organized effort to spread misinformation and conspiracies about vaccines.
"People have written to me in the last few months telling me that when you see the contrails coming out behind an airplane flying overhead, that those contrails are actually chemical agents being released by the government in co-ordination with the honourable members around this table, to release poisons into the air that will interact with the vaccines that have been put into our bodies to develop cancer and kill us," Cardy said. "There is a substantial body of people who believe this."
A number of vocal opponents to vaccines are scheduled to appear before the committee this week, but Cardy said he's not concerned about giving them a forum to spread their views.
"In general, I think the people who are against science and against evidence undermine their own cause every time they open their own mouths," he said.
Among the opponents is former Nova Scotia chiropractor Dena Churchill, who was recently ordered to pay $100,000 after admitting professional misconduct for spreading vaccine skepticism.
Churchill said Tuesday the fine was an attempt to silence her and prevent her from "empowering parents" with the truth about vaccines. Churchill gave up a family practice and surrendered her licence to practice chiropractic medicine, but she says it was worth it to be able to speak on the vaccine issue.
Another opponent, pediatrician Bob Sears from California, called mandatory vaccination "the most restrictive and inappropriate use of police powers."
Under questioning, Sears said his trip from California was paid for by Vaccine Choice Canada, an advocacy group that is critical of vaccines. Sears acknowledged he has been placed on probation by the Medical Board of California for his views on vaccines.
Another doctor, from Maine, also said her expenses were being paid by Vaccine Choice Canada.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, was the final presenter of the day. She said she works with colleagues across Canada in promoting vaccination. She urged parents to seek credible information about the safety of vaccines.
"The risks of vaccine preventable diseases are many times greater than the risk of a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine. Such serious adverse reactions are rare," Russell said.
"Over the last 50 years immunization has saved more lives in Canada than any other other health intervention," she added.
The hearings before the committee continue Wednesday and Thursday.