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GIFFORD-JONES: Exploring both sides of vaccine debate

The province’s chief public health office (CPHO) is actively engaging with Islanders to help boost immunization coverage. To learn what vaccines you need – and where they are offered – visit www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/adult-immunizations.
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Do you need excitement in your life?

If so, just write a column on the rewards and risks of vaccination. Then find a safe, secure, hideout. Pour yourself a drink and wait for those who want to boil you in oil. This scenario happened to me when an editor pulled my article, balanced I thought, after it was published, due to criticism. Some readers thought I’d been fired.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

A professor of medicine in Calgary writes, “I was horrified that you would publish these remarks for unsophisticated readers. (This implies newspaper readers are stupid!) Another reader wrote, ‘Your recent piece is a threat to public health. You should be ashamed for spreading lies and fear.”

These are damning comments that must be challenged.

I also received an overwhelming positive response from readers, the general reaction, “Thank God a doctor has finally had the courage to speak out about this matter.” A few predicted I’d be fired. Another wondered why I wasn’t stoned at my front door!

WD from Toronto replied, “I cannot believe your column on vaccines was removed. What is happening in this world? Big pharma has its teeth in everything and people blindly follow. Your column simply advised people to look at both sides of the coin.”

From the prairie provinces, “You are one of the brave. All of the momma’s out in the trenches are celebrating your article.” Another reader in Massachusetts claimed that, “dropping the column was an attack on free speech”.

MG writes, “With my first and only flu shot I developed Guillain Barre disease and became paralyzed. I’ve regained the ability to walk, but have permanent nerve damage. It’s so frustrating to hear that flu shots are safe as one nearly killed me. Thanks for speaking up.”

From Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, “I’m a registered nurse who worked in Toronto and never took a flu shot. Like you, I take a lot of vitamin C, and also B pollen and Manuka honey from New Zealand to increase immunity.”

A doctor from Mexico says, “I wasn’t taught about immunology and I was impressed and shocked to read about the dangers of vaccines in your column.”

But what have critics missed in denouncing this column? Investigators always counsel, “follow the money to find the answer.” This means following 3.6 billion dollars, awarded to families due to the complications of vaccines. It’s a huge pay out if nothing wrong ever happened!

Critics also make the error in ignoring the fact that no therapy in this world is 100 percent safe. I could never guarantee that my surgical patients would have an uncomplicated recovery. Every day people die of blood clots after surgery and prescription medication. Vaccines are no exception.

But some things like apple pie, motherhood and vaccines have become sacrosanct. And if doctors analyze them they’re immediately damned.

Some critics claim that large amounts of mercury are no longer used in vaccines. But mercury even in small quantities is dangerous. Good sense demands that something in the vaccine triggers occasional complications. To date, we regrettably do not have a utopian 100 per cent safe flu vaccine.

I’ve written often that vaccines, thankfully, have saved countless lives from infectious disease. Never have I ever counselled anyone to refuse vaccines. Rather, I urge that medical decisions should always be made by the patient and his/her doctor. Informed consent must include the possibility of an unexpected, minor or serious complication.

One thing I do know. I’m not related to the Almighty. I therefore can’t be infallible. I am also very aware that readers often request my column be discontinued when I write about controversial, social and medical issues.

In view of what happened should I have by-passed a column on flu vaccine? I hate hypocrisy so I’d be the world’s worst hypocrite if I followed the non-controversial path. Medicine is made up of many controversies.

An editor 45 years ago counselled me, “It’s the job of a journalist to make people think.” This has left me with scars. But if I get fired for writing what I believe should be said, it’s time to stop. After all, the motto of The Harvard Medical School is one word, “Truth”. I will live or die by it.


Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, Docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at info@docgiff.com. He can also be found at Twitter.com/GiffordJonesMD.

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