Pressure is mounting on the federal government to remove so-called homeopathic "vaccines" from the market and for provincial regulatory colleges to clamp down on licensed health professionals who promote erroneous information about the dangers of vaccines.
Nosodes are products promoted by many homeopaths and naturopaths as safe, effective alternatives to vaccines. Health Canada has approved dozens for sale and states they should not be marketed as vaccines. But many natural health practitioners across Canada flout that rule, promoting nosodes to prevent measles, whooping cough, the flu and numerous other conditions, seemingly without consequence. As more measles cases continue to pop up across the country, leading health experts say nosodes risk undermining vaccination campaigns and they are demanding action from the federal government.
"There's no evidence anywhere that says [nosodes] are effective for anything," said Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s deputy provincial health officer. "I personally, and I think many of us in the public health community, think they should not be approved for use at all in Canada."
On Wednesday, the board of directors of Drugless Therapy – Naturopathy, which currently regulates Ontario naturopaths, issued a letter to its members warning them not to promote nosodes as vaccine alternatives or to give any misleading, false information about vaccination. The letter was sent after a report in The Globe and Mail this week that many licensed naturopaths and chiropractors across the country promote false information linking vaccines to autism, allergies and other health problems.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose's office has said the decision to approve nosodes rests with Health Canada scientists. In a letter to The Globe, Christine Gillis, director general of the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate, said the department requires nosodes to carry labels warning that they are not a replacement for vaccines.
"There is a big difference between authorizing nosodes for use in traditional homeopathic care and authorizing them as alternatives to vaccines," the letter states.
But experts such as Dr. Henry point out there is no other specified purpose for nosodes except as vaccine alternatives. The official Health Canada approval for various nosodes indicates that they are "homeopathic medicine" and they have no other use. Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society and advocate for evidence-based medicine, said it's just one more reason why they need to be taken off the market.
"It's a dangerous product," Dr. Schwarcz said. "It's snake oil."
Federal NDP health critic Murray Rankin said Health Canada has a responsibility to ensure that all products are "both safe and marketed properly," adding that "there needs to be better guidelines and enforcement of those guidelines" when it comes to nosodes and other natural health products.
Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, questions why the licensing bodies that regulate health professionals who promote nosodes and anti-vaccine views aren't doing more to crack down.
"There should be some kind of mechanism to ensure that if a practitioner is providing information that isn't evidence-based, that isn't based on science, that there should be some kind of sanction that should be imposed," he said.
Jo-Ann Willson, registrar and general counsel with the College of Chiropractors of Ontario, said that, primarily, the college is a reactive body that can respond to complaints or reports about individual chiropractors.
On Wednesday, a Waterloo, Ont.-based chiropractor cancelled a planned talk on measles after a complaint was issued to the college. The chiropractor has publicly expressed doubts about the efficacy and safety of vaccines in the past. Other chiropractors continue to promote unscientific views about vaccines online and to patients, which goes against the professional code of conduct, but the college does not appear to have plans to pro-actively crack down.
The board that regulates naturopaths declined requests for an interview. In the advisory letter sent to Ontario naturopaths, the organization says that naturopaths should make sure patients are informed about their health-care choice and the possible risks and benefits of any proposed treatment.