Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column

This article is over 3 months old Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19, says her only aim was to ‘promote discourse’ Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash…

Toronto Public Health's vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column

This article is over 3 months old

Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19, says her only aim was to ‘promote discourse’

Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19, says her only aim was to ‘promote discourse’

A Toronto public health expert defending an essay she wrote denouncing vaccination against a cancer-causing strain of influenza has said her only aim was to “promote discourse” about the topic.

A columnist for the Sun newspaper, Toni Taverner, found herself under fire after she appeared to make disparaging remarks about the central thrust of a government-funded exercise that inoculates more than half a million people against three strains of flu.

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In a controversial column published on Monday, Taverner wrote that the government’s decision to screen for a strain of influenza known as the Influenza A (CoVID-19) last winter undermined parents’ right to decide for their children.

“I was trying to advance the debate. That’s what you do in this profession,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in an interview on Tuesday.

“You elevate and try to move this discourse,” Taverner said. “That’s what I was trying to do … If we continue to debate these things and provoke discussion, we will learn more about the importance of vaccines.”

In defending her column, Taverner also said she does not know all the details of influenza vaccination.

During last winter’s flu season, Toronto Public Health screened about a quarter-million people for a specific strain of the virus. According to the most recent statistics, most people tested positive for another, less serious strain of the virus.

In her column, Taverner questioned the effectiveness of the screening program, writing that “a flu shot is no more effective for preschoolers than it is for an adult”.

The article went viral, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum. While the City of Toronto issued a rare correction to Taverner’s column, Health Canada’s Canadian Medical Association also noted her comments on Monday.

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Dr David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, called Taverner’s comments “ignorant and offensive”.

Alison Martin, the chair of Toronto Public Health’s vaccine advisory panel, told the Globe and Mail the claim that an adult flu shot is just as effective as a preschooler’s was “simply irresponsible”.

The Global Science Committee said in a statement to the newspaper that the essay represented “deeply flawed science”.

On Monday, the Ontario government defended the screening program.

“Public health and immunization campaigns are not about good or bad decisions,” Kevin Flynn, the Ontario minister of community safety and correctional services, said in a statement. “They are about protecting the public from a disease that spreads and causes serious and potentially fatal illness.”

A 2015 review of Canada’s public health programs by the Cochrane Collaboration said an adult flu shot against CoVID-19 “could not provide equivalent protection” and recommended more limited use of the vaccine for the flu season that year.

The review was prompted by a court order in California last year that banned a superintendent in the state from requiring her employees to get flu shots.

Taverner responded to her critics, tweeting on Monday: “All of them, sincerely, I am sorry. It was not my intention for the article. It was a mistake.”

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