A petition sponsored by a Conservative MP that casts doubt on the safety of potential COVID-19 vaccines contains misleading and false statements that could hurt the public trust at a crucial point in the coronavirus pandemic, health experts say.
While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has criticized Ottawa for not moving fast enough to roll out a mass vaccination campaign, his Ontario colleague Derek Sloan, a former leadership contender, is sponsoring a petition that alleges the development of the vaccines does not have enough checks and balances.
One of the petition’s requests is that the government establish a committee that includes “citizen vaccine-safety advocates” to review all vaccine approval applications. As of Wednesday, it had more than 22,000 signatures.
People who want petitions presented to the House of Commons for consideration can ask Members of Parliament to sponsor them. If the MPs agree, and the petition meets House of Commons rules, they can be placed on the House’s website for signatures and later be tabled in the House.
The petition creates the impression that “something nefarious is happening. It ignores the fact that there have been clinical trials and regulatory oversight,” said Timothy Caulfield, a University of Alberta professor and Canada Research Chair in Health Law Policy.
Senior public health officials say the scientific review system ensures vaccine safety. “While developing a vaccine, scientists collect evidence to show that it’s safe, effective and manufactured to the highest quality,” Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said last week. “This evidence comes from the review of manufacturing processes and human clinical trials. Health Canada’s reviewers thoroughly review the submissions to confirm that there are no significant safety concerns.”
The petition says regulators are “bypassing proper safety protocols,” meaning that the “COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.”
Asked whether he supports the petition, which is from Gisele Baribeau of Ontario, Mr. Sloan told reporters on Wednesday: “I think there’s some good points in there. I’d obviously have to look at every single point to tell you if I agree or disagree.
“I’m not an expert on this subject matter, so I can’t say one way or the other whether certain protocols are being followed, but I believe these people seem to have concerns and I have no problem allowing them to raise those through a petition in the House of Commons.”
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, he said he’s heard concerns about the contents of the petition’s preamble, but not about what it calls for.
“The petition lists a number of arguments against vaccines that are likely to raise some people’s concerns about the safety of the vaccine, and most of them are not true,” said Ève Dubé, a medical anthropologist at Laval University who studies vaccine hesitancy.
She said it features “typical anti-vaccine claims” that are misleading, and includes the kind of powerful rhetoric that decreases public trust. She said Mr. Sloan’s decision to associate with it is “even more damaging” because of the position he holds.
The petition, which was first posted online in November, was criticized by politicians in other parties on Wednesday. Mr. O’Toole released a statement reiterating the importance of vaccines, but his office didn’t directly answer questions about the petition.
“A COVID-19 vaccine will be extremely important in the ongoing fight against the virus,” Mr. O’Toole said.
Mr. Sloan has also disputed the science presented by public health agencies that say masks are an important tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and he was accused of racism in the spring after he questioned the loyalties of Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.
At a conference on Wednesday, Dr. Tam appealed to medical experts to help combat the rhetoric that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t safe.
She said the Public Health Agency of Canada is developing webinars about the vaccines, how the regulatory and approval process works, and how the different types of vaccines work, so that medical professionals can become influencers in their communities.
With reports from The Canadian Press
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