Anti-vaxxers storm Toronto City Hall to protest ban on vaccine exemptions
Toronto Public Health passed a controversial motion at City Hall on Monday in favour of asking the province to mandate vaccinations for all Ontario school children, save for those who have valid medical reasons for being exempted.
The move is one of eight strategies proposed in a comprehensive report aimed at addressing growing rates of "vaccine hesitancy" — a phenomenon described by Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa as "the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines."
Considered one of the top-ten threats to global health by the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is estimated to affect some 20 per cent of parents in Canada.
You may know these people in a colloquial sense as "anti-vaxxers."
Fantastic grassroots action against gov't control of vaccines in #Toronto today. Gov't wants to remove cultural & religious exemptions. They are doing everything they can to destroy parental rights Thanks to the incredible Mothers leading this work. A'ho 🙏 🦅 💫 #WWG1WGA 🇺🇲 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/4OQWNHFd1t— Bird Clan Messenger (@BirdClanMssengr) September 23, 2019
The actions (or lack thereof) of such parents have been linked to rising rates of preventable infectious diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, in both the U.S. and Canada.
Dozens of them were out in full force (and matching t-shirts) at Toronto City Hall on Monday to weigh in on a discussion about ending philosophical and religious exemptions for vaccines in Ontario.
"Vaccines are safe, effective and one of the most important contributors to improving health worldwide and preventing the spread of infectious diseases," reads the report presented by de Villa at today's board meeting.
"Over the last 13 years, among Toronto elementary and secondary school students, there has been a slow and small, but steady increase in philosophical and religious exemptions, from 0.8% for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the 2006/07 school year to 1.72% in the 2018/19 school year."
Vaccines work. Full stop. In the face of rising vaccine hesitancy, at Toronto Public Health we are scaling up our work to educate, promote, and defend vaccinations. Today, the Board of Health unanimously endorsed our vaccine hesitancy action plan to take this issue on.— Joe Cressy (@joe_cressy) September 23, 2019
Noting that Toronto's exemption rate is still low compared to what's been observed in the U.S., De Villa says that the trend could eventually threaten herd immunity in Ontario, causing serious harm to infants, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and others who are unable to receive vaccinations.
"Before philosophical and religious exemption rates reach dangerously high levels in Toronto, it is important and timely for the provincial Ministry of Health to consider removing philosophical and religious exemptions from its legislation," recommended de Villa in her report.
Local parents who don't believe in vaccines (or believe that they could be harmful to children) have become incensed by the idea of mandatory inoculations.
Crowd gathered in Toronto City Hall atrium to support speakers critical of vaccines. pic.twitter.com/yijEVPfNCn— Francine Kopun (@KopunF) September 23, 2019
"I do not consent to having myself or my children force-vaccinated in order to attend public schools," said one parent who was present for today's board meeting.
"We will not consent" shouted others, along with "shame!" and "garbage!" as the board of health voted on the measure.
It was a standing room-only-situation thanks to all of the extra attendees from the anti-vaccination group Vaccine Choice Canada, who argue that vaccines can cause neurodevelopmental disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD, asthma, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, anaphylactic food allergies and sudden death in children.
Shouts of “shame” and “genocide” from anti-vaccine crowd as Toronto’s board of health votes to support recommendations to address vaccine hesistancy, including one for province to consider ending non-medical exemptions for school kids. pic.twitter.com/ag04hRrxJl— Lauren Pelley (@LaurenPelley) September 23, 2019
The motion passed, either way, meaning that the city's board of health will officially ask the province to ban non-medical exemptions, as well as improve access to digital immunization records and crack down on "advertisements that contain false and misleading statements against vaccines," among other things.
"People have a right to their opinion and their beliefs," said de Villa to concerned anti-vaxxers following the vote.
"But we have an important responsibility as the local public health department to ensure that we're putting out the best available evidence."
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