Doctors worry about increasing anti-vaccination messages, from disinformation from social media to personal threats



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While anti-vaccination groups struggle with public health campaigns to promote immunization in the face of measles outbreaks, some Canadian doctors say the battle went beyond social media platforms to threats and personal attacks.

"The forks are coming out," said Dr. Anna Wolak, a Vancouver family doctor who spoke publicly on social media about the importance of vaccination – both as a physician and as a mother of three children.

Although most patients and many people in the community have supported, Wolak said he has also been subjected to furious comments – both personally and through social media.

"The patients came and told me they can not believe that I would deliberately poison my children," Wolak said in an email to CBC News.

"Some of them threatened to denounce me [provincial regulatory] because they consider me a threat to children. "

Promoting false statements

Anti-vaccination groups promote false claims linking vaccines to illness or injury in childhood. Some of these beliefs stem from a research paper in the 1990s that erroneously suggested that vaccines could cause autism. This study was unmasked years ago and the author took out his medical license. Other adverse reactions to vaccines have been found to be very rare.

Wolak worries about what people with anti-vaccination vision will say in front of their children. She remembers an especially hateful comment someone made on an event she was attending.

"[They said] I really hope your kids get a vaccine injury and then you'll know exactly what kind of poison you're talking about, "she recalled.

Although these interactions were damaging, Wolak said he received no "obvious threat" of physical damage – something that has happened in recent months to at least two other Canadian doctors.

I'll make sure I NEVER support the vaccines again!– Email Threatens Two Canadian Doctors

One of the recipients of the threats is in Toronto. The other is in eastern Canada. They say they both received a steady stream of emails ranging from harassment to threats – about 200 of them came from the same e-mail address – since the fall.

CBC News has agreed to protect the identities of both doctors because they fear they will be the target of new threats.

An email sent to both of them said, "Come to my son with another vaccine and I will NEVER make sure I NEVER give support to the vaccines! This email is NEITHER NEITHER LISTEN TO ME IN PERSON!"

"Signed, A Mom With claws out!

The doctor from eastern Canada has received additional emails and voice mails. The doctor said they included death threats and dismemberment.

"Great location"

This doctor received angry emails before the advocates of the vaccination and ignored them, but said that those were different.

"These were not trivial threats," the doctor said. "I can not change science … and being unable to stand up and say what science is and not having someone threatening you in a very unpleasant way is deeply unpleasant."

The Toronto public health doctor said the e-mails he received were disturbing – but the fact that people are trying to silence those who promote lifesaving immunization is even more worrying.

"It's not about me," she said. "It's emblematic of the larger system under attack, which is putting children at risk."

Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says threats against physicians by people opposed to vaccination are "unacceptable" and that it is vital that doctors in Canada continue to educate people about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. (Dennis Cleary / CBC)

The threats to the two doctors were reported to the police.

Both doctors said the police told them the IP addresses for the emails were in the usa

CBC The news came in contact with the Toronto Police – which upheld the complaint – as well as RCMP and the municipal police in eastern Canada, where death threats occurred. None would confirm whether an investigation was in progress or provide details.

There are more anti-vaccination groups established in the US than in Canada. The most prominent organizations are advocating "vaccine choice" or representing people who have been "vaccinated wounds," rather than against vaccines.

Recently, outbreaks of measles have prompted some US government officials to seek mandatory vaccines, which has infuriated anti-vaccination groups, provoking rallies and increasing shouting in social media.

Protesters at the March for Medical Freedom in February protested a bill that would eliminate non-medical exemptions from vaccination in Washington state. (Lindsey Wasson / Reuters)

US physicians, including pediatricians, have received threats from anti-vaccination believers, although the American Academy of Pediatrics has failed to confirm how many cases they are aware of.

The goal is to shut you up.– Dr. Paul Offit, pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Center for Vaccine Education at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said he had received threatening emails for years from messages that call him ill and accuse him of conspiring with "big pharmacists" against death threats.

"The goal is to shut you up," he said. "And it certainly works. There are a number of people who choose not to get up in this arena because they know it means they will be personally targeted."

Offit continues to put himself in this difficult position, he said, because the consequences of children not being vaccinated against preventable diseases, including measles, are worse.

"We are getting to the point now, where children could once again die of measles," he said. "You just have to do the right thing."

Del Bigtree, a prominent anti-vaccine activist in the US, told CBC News that "absolutely … it would discourage any kind of aggressive talk or violence of any kind."

Bigtree also said he did not believe the threats would have come from anyone affiliated with his move.

Out of this do not believe anti-vaccination groups are making threats against doctors as part of a coordinated strategy – but he thinks they create the fervor that can ward off certain individuals.

"They just shake the base, you know?" "They use those really mean terms, they make it personal." They essentially directed that by establishing you as a bad person, "he said. "But I do not think it's an organized effort."

Threats are not acceptable & # 39;

Regardless of where the threats against Canadian doctors originate, they are "extremely worrisome and a matter for the police," said Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

"Threats to personal safety for anyone are not acceptable and in particular for doctors who are trying to speak on behalf of the health of their patients and the health of Canadians."

Dr. Nadia Alam, a family physician and outgoing chairman of the Ontario Medical Association, fears that threats against physicians will silence important conversations about vaccination. (Ontario Medical Association)

Nadia Alam, a family doctor in Georgetown, Ontario, and current president of the Ontario Medical Association, said she was concerned about the possible inhibitory effect that such threats might have on accurate information about vaccines for parents.

"I'm worried that this might affect doctors talking outside, and it should not, because at the end of the day, educating the public is a key part of our work," she said.

"My clinic parents are more confused than ever about the risks and benefits [about vaccines]. And they are coming up with information that is downright wrong. "

The Toronto public health doctor who received the threats shares Alam's concern, noting that the return of measles after the disease has been eliminated through vaccination in many European countries is "horrifying."

"We could easily end up in the same boat," she said.

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