Vaccine Choice Canada
|Type||Non-profit advocacy organization|
|Gisele Baribeau, Cheryl Yakem, Edda West, Christine Colebeck, Rita Hoffman|
|Vaccination Risk Awareness Network (VRAN)|
|This article is part of a series on|
|Alternative and pseudo‑medicine|
Vaccine Choice Canada (VCC) is Canada's main anti-vaccination group. It was founded in the 1980s under the name Vaccination Risk Awareness Network (VRAN) and adopted its current name in 2014. The group has been contributing to vaccine hesitancy in Canada, encouraging citizens to forego immunization and legislators to support anti-vaccine regulations and legislation.
VCC spreads the discredited theory that vaccination causes autism and denies that the introduction of vaccines led to a decline of the targeted diseases. They blame vaccination for a variety of ailments, including autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD, allergies, and asthma.
Although a small fraction of vaccine doses provoke serious adverse reactions, health professionals agree the benefits of being protected against a wide range of infectious diseases far outweigh the risks. Responding directly to communications from Vaccine Choice Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada stated that the science on vaccines is unequivocal, but laments the actions of "a small but vocal anti-vaccination community that spreads false information. They use powerful emotional images and misinformation with their message. This creates confusion and fear for parents who are trying to make the best decisions for the health and wellbeing of their children." Timothy Caulfield estimates the proportion of Canadians who exhibit vaccine hesitancy between 20 and 30 percent, connecting the anti-vaccination movement to a rise in populism and a mistrust in expertise.
The World Health organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of 2019's ten global health threats to watch.
Vaccine Choice Canada reaches the Canadian public mainline through the internet, with its website and social media channels. However, it has recently experimented with other forms of public outreach.
In February 2019, Vaccine Choice bought space on 50 billboards in the Toronto area to broadcast anti-vaccine messages, such as one inviting parents to learn how to get around the obligation to vaccinate children in order to have them attend public schools. The messages displayed on the billboards were characterized as "half-truths" by Toronto's Associate Medical Officer of Health. The campaign was discontinued by Outfront Media after a request from Toronto City Council. The campaign was denounced by Ontario health Minister Christine Elliott, who encouraged Ontarians to get inoculated.
In August 2019, Vaccine Choice Canada admitted it had paid the expenses of American anti-vaccination activists coming to participate in parliamentary committee hearings on vaccine exemptions for school children in New Brunswick, including Bob Sears. During the hearings, VCC spokesperson Ted Kuntz indicated the group intended to take the province's government to court if it decided to eliminate non-medical exemptions. New Brunswick's Education Minister Dominic Cardy denounced the conspiracy theories presented by the witnesses: "If you believe in evidence-based decision-making, you have to look at the evidence, and the evidence is incontrovertible."
Also in early 2019, Vaccine Choice wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to oppose upcoming changes that would make anti-vaccine messages less likely to be propagated by the social media platform, such as not sharing them as automatic recommendations. Speaking for VCC, Ted Kuntz equated these proposed changes in programming with censorship. A representative of the group also participated to a panel of anti-vaccination activists in Toronto, in April 2019.
In October 2019, Vaccine Choice Canada held a rally in Toronto in support of a court case the group launched jointly with five parents against Ontario's Immunization of School Pupils Act, which requires that pupils must have received certain vaccines to attend the public school system. While legal experts believe the court challenge is unlikely to be successful, President of the Ontario Medical Association Sohail Gandhi is concerned the increased visibility gained by the group may result in more disinformation about vaccines being disseminated in the public.
Vaccine Choice issued "Adding Insult To Injury Awards" in 2016 and 2017 to media outlets that produced news reports it disliked. The host of one program thus targeted, The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright, sarcastically accepted the award with pride, on behalf of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He took the opportunity to talk about pediatrician Peter Hotez's warning that anti-vaccine campaigns will lead to serious outbreaks of measles. The segment of the program VCC was reacting to was an interview with Brendan Nyhan about the "backfire effect".
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