An Alberta Conservative MP posted false information about vaccines and their efficacy as she defended people who choose not to be vaccinated and said they’re being “demonized.”
Rachael Thomas, the member of Parliament for Lethbridge, made the comments in a video posted to Facebook on Dec. 16, which is still online. In the post she makes claims that are not backed by readily available information from public-health agencies.
Timothy Caulfield, who researches misinformation on health and science policy and is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said Ms. Thomas’s comments cause “great harm” and use misinformation to try to normalize or justify not getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
About the unvaccinated, Ms. Thomas said, “They are being portrayed as evil, as if they are deserving of the contempt that we have for them, as if they should be the ones that are blamed or used as the scapegoat for the fact that life isn’t normal right now.”
The comments from Ms. Thomas, formerly Rachael Harder, come at the end of a difficult few months for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. He struggled during the federal election to explain his party’s position on vaccines and the issue has continued to dog him since then. In the fall, MP Marilyn Gladu announced she was forming a mini-caucus to advocate for people who are concerned about vaccine mandates.
On Tuesday, neither Mr. O’Toole’s office nor Ms. Thomas responded to request for comment. Mr. O’Toole has frequently urged Canadians to get vaccinated.
In the video, Ms. Thomas, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015, said she has heard from unvaccinated residents of her constituency who say they are losing their jobs and other opportunities because they are not vaccinated.
“These people are sharing with me that they are losing their voice and their credibility. They are losing any sort of respect or appreciation within the community.
“Those who are choosing not to be vaccinated. They’re not trying to perpetuate the virus. They’re not trying to purposely complicate life. They have good reasons,” she said.
The entire video is infuriating to Prof. Caulfield.
”Her messaging is doing great harm and isn’t noble at all. On the contrary, she’s hurting her country,” he said.
“It does harm because I think it invites people not to get vaccinated and we know that misinformation can result in hesitancy.”
In the video, Ms. Harder says there are more vaccinated people in hospital than unvaccinated people. That’s not correct according to the latest data from Alberta Health Services, which show that 62 per cent of people hospitalized are unvaccinated.
“She’s spreading misinformation about the variant and vaccines,” Prof. Caulfield said.
While the onset of the Omicron variant has led to many more breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, the data show that vaccination is still protecting people against severe illness.
For example, the most recent data from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that among younger age groups, unvaccinated people are 31 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and for people over 60, those who are unvaccinated are 15 times more likely to be hospitalized.
That shot is the “single most important thing that you can do,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday.
In her video, Ms. Thomas also says people who are unvaccinated but take a daily rapid test “are the safest individuals” to enter public spaces and work in emergency services. That’s also wrong, Prof. Caulfield said, saying Ms. Thomas makes it sound as though rapid tests are better than vaccines.
“Vaccines are undoubtedly the most powerful of those tools,” he said.
Ms. Thomas also said in the video that during the pandemic Canadians have stopped respecting freedom and personal choice. That’s a misunderstanding of rights and freedoms in a liberal democracy, where “choices can have consequences,” Prof. Caulfield said.
“She makes it sound like her perspective is scientifically definitive and she makes it sound like the science is on her side and that’s just wrong. Science is not on her side,” Prof. Caulfield said.
Edmonton Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, the federal Tourism Minister, said in a statement that he encourages Ms. Thomas “to show leadership and stop spreading disinformation.”
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