Health Canada licenses homeopathic vaccines


Vaccines stand out as one of the most cost-effective health in­terventions in modern medicine. It is estimated that immunizations have saved more Canadian lives over the last 50 years than any other health program.1 Vaccines are credited with reducing the death rate from infections in Canada to only 5%—a far cry from the situation 100 years ago when infectious diseases were the leading cause of death.

But there is a downside to the near eradication of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Most Canadians were born too recently to see the night-and-day difference in public health brought about by immunizations—individuals who witnessed the horrors of the polio epidemics of the 1950s first hand are now well into old age, and many have passed away. Good health can be taken for granted when the public does not properly understand the link between that same good health and the measures that made it possible, and unfortunately, history and science cannot always conquer misinformation, mistrust, and fear.

Much of the current antivaccine sentiment in public discourse results from widely publicized (and now discredited) pseudo-scientific reports of adverse outcomes. The 1998 claim by UK physician Dr Andrew Wakefield that the MMR vaccine caused autism contributed to a collapse in uptake of MMR vaccine in the UK and a subsequent surge in rubella cases in unimmunized children.

Experts estimate that herd immunity is achieved when 95% of a population has been immunized. Canadian immunization rates have fallen in recent years to levels well below this threshold. Canada’s Public Health Agency estimates that only 62% of 2-year-olds are up to date with their shots.

It is disheartening enough that mis­information about vaccines is spread by voices ranging from outspoken celebrities like Jennifer MacCarthy to various alternative medicine trades, but it is cause for urgent concern when public institutions entrusted with the health of Canadians enable misinformation about endemic communicable diseases to go forward with the imprimatur of science.

Written By: Lloyd Oppel, MD
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  1. Anti-vaccine people need to walk around an old graveyard and read the ages on the grave stones. I did this recently and it was a reminder of just how lucky we are to have modern medicine and of how easily people – often including multiple children per family – died of things we don’t expect to die of today. The graves were only 100-150 years old but there were children who’d died of ‘a fever’ and families in which 3 children died in a row under the age of 2. We are SO lucky to have vaccination (and antibiotics and the rest of modern medicine). Governments should be doing everything they can to keep people’s confidence in the safety, efficacy and necessity of vaccination. They need to really educate people on how we know that vaccination is safe and effective, and definitely not endorse any homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to vaccination.

    • In 1976, when I was thirteen, I used to take a shortcut through the one of the local cemeteries to get to school. Walking home in the afternoon, I remember beginning to wonder why such a small town had such huge cemeteries. This was a tiny mining town in Colorado, only about 100 years old. Then I began to really look at the headstones. Then I began to notice the ages and dates. Hundreds of infants, children and young people under the age of twenty. All of them died in a single year – 1918.

      All of them died of influenza.

      That year, 1976, was the year of the infamous “Swine” flu scare, when the specter of another pandemic on the scale of the 20th century’s greatest killer was looming. It was the realization of the scale of mortality of such a seemingly simple, common illness – the realization of what the flu could do – that propelled me into the field of medicine and my career as a nurse. It was then that I realized the fact that only luck had allowed my grandparents to survive the 1918 flu so that I could exist. Today we don’t have to rely on luck – we have vaccinations; one of medicine’s greatest humanitarian achievements. I only wish more parents could understand this.
      In reply to #2 by green and dying:

      Anti-vaccine people need to walk around an old graveyard and read the ages on the grave stones. I did this recently and it was a reminder of just how lucky we are to have modern medicine and of how easily people – often including multiple children per family – died of things we don’t expect to die o…

  2. This, I submit, is as a result of “free market falsehoods”; sorry “forces”.

    An expression which needs to be delivered in a manner sounding as if you’ve got a bottle brush stuffed down your throat, a la M H Thatcher.

    We need streets wise politicians again like Atlee and others of his character, because business people see the current crop of no hopers coming a mile off.

    It’s the children stupid!

    • In reply to #3 by Stafford Gordon:

      This, I submit, is as a result of “free market falsehoods”; sorry “forces”.

      An expression which needs to be delivered in a manner sounding as if you’ve got a bottle brush stuffed down your throat, a la M H Thatcher.

      We need streets wise politicians again like Atlee and others of his character, bec…

      I agree with everything you say. The fact that there’s no proof of the efficacy of most alternative medicines, doesn’t matter to politicians if there’s a vote in it, and faced with the marketing power of the quackery industry, I suppose that there’s little hope of changing the situation.

      For some reason those who advocate the virtues of fair and open competition in the free market, don’t seem to mind at all about the market distorting effects of advertising. The advertising industry is very expert at telling lies, without actually doing so: “Snake oil could improve your arthritis.” Funny that.

      Just one point. Homeopathy was actually included in the original NHS by the Atlee government, because, it is said, the King believed in it and wanted it in.

  3. This is absolutely the equivalent of selling fake bomb detecting equipment. It clearly isn’t possible to test the efficacy of such products, as we can’t ethically expose the recipient to the disease and see if they catch it, so these purveyors of impossibly unscientific potions can get away with it. We could say that they won’t do any harm, but people take homeopathic vaccines for malaria, and travel on the mistaken belief that they will be protected. On their own heads be it, until it affects their children, and allows epidemics of preventable diseases to occur. All in the cause of making money from the vulnerable/gullible.

  4. Two could play at that game… “these are “homoeopathic vaccines” they are simply a mixture of live attenuated viruses of the three diseases – diluted, so that you won’t actually contract the virus.” Do you think that would make more people actually allow their children to take them then? No?

    • _In reply to #7 How does a placebo work on infants?

      Observer bias. If you believe a product helps your child, or makes your dog’s coat more silky, or your plants grow stronger, then this is what you observe. This is why all effective trials should be double blind placebo tests, ie neither the patient, nor the administrator of the drug/placebo knows which is which. When homeopathic remedies are subjected to these trials, there is never any difference between the ‘remedy’ and a placebo.

  5. Holy shit,??? This is outrageous off the scale! I call on all my Canadian friends to march in the streets over this. It is the health of your children at stake. Don’t wait (Canadian politeness), get out there and make your voice heard!

  6. Yep…. Canadians are more and more secular and religious belief/observance is dying in our country but unfortunately, the void left by religion seems to be more and more filled by pseudo-scientific, superstitious mumbo jumbo like astrology, tarot and “alternative medicine”. It’s very disheartening to witness (especially when even one’s own family subscribes to this rubbish).

    It seems that wishful thinking is inextricable from people’s minds unless they’ve had a robust scientific education or if they have learned to exercise critical thinking. It seems to operate a bit like drug addiction. Addicts who try to get sober from one drug will tend to substitute for another drug.

    The opium of the people…. old habits die hard.

  7. Mr Wakefield has a lot to answer for. It’s rather alarming that Canada is beginning to sound like the US when it comes to science and religion: a fundamentalist Prime Minister, a growing amount of creationism in schools and now this woo. Homeopathic vaccines? Now that’s a contradiction in terms.

  8. You have to understand that our prime minister Stephen Harper is a fundamentalist Christian. He denies all science. He is a climate change denier. He has muzzled all government scientists. They must get permission from his office to speak publicly and submit what they are going to say for censorship. He just announced the National Research Council will no longer do research, but will develop products for industry to market. He announces the results of environmental studies before they are done. Every week he fires ever more scientists. I figure he is going to do more harm to the planet with by blocking all efforts at dealing with climate change than even Hitler managed to pull off.

    I went to a rally where a famous scientist appeared in a disguise because scientists are barred from speaking to rallies.

      • In reply to #19 by Roedy:

        Shots of holy water administered with prayer, and sold as if they were medicines.

        Really? Wow, I had no idea people were that stupid. Faith is one thing, but that just screams snake oil. If they believe in magic, why bother vaccinating the kids, then? Kids hate needles, make them drink the “holy” water instead for all the good it will do.

  9. I confess I laughed when I first saw the title of this article, until the seriousness of the situation it implied hit me: “homeopathic vaccines” – could a phrase be any more oxymoronic?

  10. How you can you market something that has no evidence of effectiveness? Surely if any child gets diptheria, there could be a class action suit. I ‘m sure there would be no problem getting witnesses.

  11. First I have heard of this, but I cannot say I am all that surprised. As a Canadian, we have seen our current federal Government that has a pattern of cutting funds to a wide range of science programs across a wide swatch of departments. Heath Canada is no different. Do more with less is the constant mantra from our Conservative party. What a great sound bite. But to do the work requires resources (staff AND money). And both are diminishing. Why they would license homeopathic ‘vaccines’ though causes me to wonder are they asleep at the wheel. Not impressed.

  12. Pity they can’t use something other than water for dilution. Like, say, another vaccine.
    Drug A has been diluted 10^100 times in Drug B.
    Drug B has been diluted 10^100 times in Drug A.
    Effective homeopathic medicines. Problem solved. Now where’s that patent form…

  13. So the national health agency is saying that homeopathy is safe and effective.

    Considering that there is no evidence for that effectiveness, it follows that they are, either through ignorance, malice or negligence, guilty of endangering the lives of those that they are supposed to be helping.

    Outrage is called for, as Quine says; and so is legal action.

  14. We release sex hormone mimetics into the environment sufficient to cause frogs to change sex, and blindly assume these will not harm humans. These same chemicals are implicated in autism. Could these loons be conscripted to demand testing of these chemicals?

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