WADE BABINEAU EDITORIAL CARTOON: Saturday, March 28, 2020
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Let the anti-vaxxers have their film screening at the LeBrun Centre at the end of the month. It’s the media’s job, not the city’s, to daylight the facts and root out the quacks.
Questioning the safety of vaccines is far from wrong. It’s necessary.
History is rife with examples of skewed science: being gay was a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1987; medicinal leeches were a thing; masturbation was historically blamed for an array of woes.
I mean, I get why Bedford councillor Tim Outhit wants the city to yank the contract for the banquet room at the municipally run LeBrun Centre and give the anti-vaxxers back their $345. I understand why Alex Kronstein from Autistics United Nova Scotia wants to see this film shuttered. I hear the understated rage from Chief Medical Officer of Health Robert Strang, who’s trying to simultaneously stay in his lane and be unequivocal. His public mood this week has been: vaccines are safe, vaccines are effective, vaccines are necessary, oh, holy crackers, how can I be on the news saying all this again…?
Public Health Agency of Canada statistics suggest that none of Canada’s most recent goals for public vaccination coverage are being met. We are falling short across the board in protecting communities, generally, and vulnerable citizens in particular against preventable diseases with a free, safe, effective, easily accessible product. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow’s $100 vagina-scented candle is sold out on goop.com. (Strang should perhaps write Paltrow to let her know that if her vagina smells of geranium, citrusy bergamot and cedar, she should probably seek medical attention.)
Paltrow is a hawker of pseudoscience (jade vagina eggs, anyone?), much like Andrew Wakefield, whose research was a match to the wick of the vaccines-cause-autism movement. Wakefield’s findings are long discredited. It’s been a decade since medical journal the Lancet retracted the former gastroenterologist’s 1998 study.
For his sins, Wakefield is no longer a physician. Instead, he, again like Paltrow, proselytizes not merely unproven but disproven claims — at $3,000 a pop, according to a recent investigation by CBC’s Marketplace.
Halifax only refuses events in rented municipal spaces that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Some might call that a nod to free speech. I call it lazy.
The policy (short form: proven harm is A-Ok, but we draw the line at hate) is a convenient abdication of the task of weighing the relative risks and benefits to society of given events.
I’ll grant: that’s a nearly impossible undertaking. For the city, it would require setting up standards and then assembling a system to measure events against them. It would mean scrutinizing every meeting and fundraiser auction; every child’s birthday party rental. It would mean overcoming the inevitable bias of the folks making the decisions and the inevitable freak-outs by groups denied access. And that’s not even considering the obvious: people would lie about how they planned to use their rental time.
It’s epically challenging. It’s also important. And there’s a group already on it — the media.
Halifax has seen excellent reporting this week on the city’s screening decision, its justification and the impact, notably from Global News. That’s because reporters — just like the Sunday Times of London’s Brian Deer, who first ferreted out Wakefield’s scientific fraud in 2004 — are experienced at giving people the information they need to make intelligent decisions. Journalists point to data, scrutinize assertions, tell stories and gesture to things that don’t smell … quite right.
Lezlie Lowe is a freelance writer in Halifax. Follow her on Twitter @lezlielowe
- PAUL SCHNEIDEREIT: Society must inoculate itself against anti-vaxxers
- EDITORIAL: No vaccine, no school
- GAIL LETHBRIDGE: Stop treating vaccination as a matter of opinion
- PAUL W. BENNETT: Nova Scotia should stop vacillating on child vaccination
MORE ON VACCINES:
- ROLLING STONE: Survey shows increasing number of parents with young children don’t support vaccination
- CTV: National public health data finds vaccine rates for kids fall short
- CBC: Hidden cameras capture misinformation, fundraising tactics used by anti-vaxx movement