The national association representing Canada's pediatricians is calling on the federal government to crack down on nosodes, which are ineffective homeopathic products frequently promoted as alternative vaccines.
In a position statement released Monday, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) warns that the vocal anti-vaccine movement is convincing some parents to seek alternatives to vaccines. The society also urges Health Canada to adopt stronger labels telling consumers that nosodes aren't proven to prevent infection.
"Parents need to understand that the evidence would not support the use of these to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases," said Dr. Michael Rieder, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research chair in pediatric clinical pharmacology and chair of the society's drug therapy committee.
Nosodes are made by taking bodily fluids from a person infected with a particular ailment and diluting them, often until there is no active ingredient left. While the resulting concoction might not be dangerous on its own, nosodes can falsely convince people that they have been protected against a virus. Across Canada, nosodes are falsely promoted as effective ways to prevent everything from the flu to tuberculosis to whooping cough. Arcanum Wholistic Clinic, based in Saint John, N.B., posted on its website last October that it can prevent and cure the Ebola virus with a nosode.
Across the country, vaccine-preventable diseases have been on the rise in recent years while the number of children getting needles has started to slip in some areas. Health Canada has approved 179 nosodes for sale, including 82 that carry labels stating they can help prevent common and important infections, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society. In 2013, the department added a disclaimer on nosode product labels stating they are not intended to be an alternative to vaccination. But that hasn't stopped some naturopaths and homeopaths from promoting them in that way.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose's office has so far resisted calls to take further action on nosodes, despite growing criticism from the medical community. She did not respond to questions from The Globe and Mail asking why Health Canada continues to give its seal of approval to nosodes.
In addition to strengthening warning labels, the CPS is urging the federal government to launch a public education campaign to inform people about the proven benefits of vaccines and the risks of avoiding them.
Action needs to go much further than stronger warning labels, said Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer in Nova Scotia. Nosodes should be taken off the market because they are dangerous and don't work, he said. In 2013, while he was head of the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health, Strang sent a letter to Health Canada asking for a ban on nosodes.
"As long as they're on the market legally, there will be alternative health-care providers who do promote these as an alternative to vaccines, regardless of what the warning says," Strang said. "The likelihood is that people will believe the practitioner and not what's on the label."