In honour of Immunization Awareness Week April 20 to 27, the consumer advocacy group Bad Science Watch ramped up its campaign to force Health Canada to de-register homeopathic “vaccine alternatives” known as nosodes.
I have written before in this column how thoroughly discredited homeopathy is (“Bad Science Watch targets Health Canada,” Yorkton This Week, September 19, 2012) so I won’t rehash that now.
The bottom line is that these products, which are approved for sale under the Health Canada Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD), do not work and pose a danger not only to those who choose to rely on them, but to all of us.
What is truly aggravating about this is the disconnect within Health Canada itself. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), a branch of Health Canada created in 2004 with a mandate “to protect the health and safety of all Canadians,” advocates tirelessly for universal vaccinations.
The headline on its main Immunization & Vaccines page is: “Immunization is the safest way to protect your baby’s health.”
The site is a clearinghouse of sound scientific evidence for why vaccines are safe, why every Canadian should be immunized and how to make sure families and communities are protected from preventable infectious diseases.
“Vaccines have saved the lives of more babies and children than any other medical intervention in the past 50 years,” the website says.
Meanwhile, over at the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB), they are doing everything they can to undermine PHAC’s efforts with a mandate “to ensure that Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.”
HPFB brags that, since 2004, “Health Canada has authorized over 50,000 NHPs (Natural Health Products) for sale (compared with about 7,000 authorized prescription medications).”
It goes on: “We have heard from stakeholders, consumers, and parliamentarians that there is a need for increased access to products while maintaining consumer safety, and for the reduction of unnecessary administrative burden for companies trying to bring safe products to market.”
“Stakeholders, consumers and parliamentarians.”
In other words, “we don’t care what doctors, scientists and the evidence say, we’re trying to help companies run their businesses, here.”
At least 82 of the NHPs approved for sale in Canada contain nosodes being marketed for the prevention of diseases such as influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), measles and polio.
Nosodes are preparations made from diseased tissue, pus, blood or excretions of a sick person or animal. That material is diluted over and over again in water or alcohol until there is nothing left but its “essence,” which is, in the magical-thinking “like cures like” world of homeopathy, supposed to somehow cure or prevent illness.
According to our Natural Health Product Regulations, however, all the manufacturer has to do is demonstrate the product itself is not harmful, a walk in the park for homeopathic preparations, which amount to being very expensive water or sugar pills, with undetectable active ingredients.
Yet Health Canada deems these products “effective,” albeit by the lowest possible threshold: anecdotal affirmation by self-interested parties.
People constantly ask me what business is it of mine if people want to exercise their choice to avail themselves of alternative or complementary “medicine.”
It is my business. The way I see it, it is the business of every responsible person who knows better to fight medical quackery for the common good.
Low vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases across North America in the last few years. In the UK, a massive ongoing outbreak of measles in an under-vaccinated region has resulted in 800 children contracting this disease, which had been virtually eradicated in the developed world.
“By licensing nosodes, Health Canada undermines its own policies and is working against its own efforts to promote vaccination,” said Michael Kruse, campaign director and co-founder of Bad Science Watch. “We must stop putting Canadian families at unnecessary risk and ban these products.”
The Bad Science Watch “Stop Nosodes” campaign (www.stopnosodes.org) has garnered the support of more than 170 scientists and healthcare professionals, all of whom have signed an open letter to Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq.
I encourage everybody to join them and get behind this noble cause.
Not all alternatives created equal
A new, decently scientific Canadian study shows some pretty good results for the value of naturopaths. It concluded that a group of patients with high risk of heart disease who were treated by naturopaths in addition to their regular doctor fared better in reducing their risk than a control group treated only by their physician.
I am frequently accused of slamming naturopaths, largely because people confuse naturopathy with homeopathy. The only real problem I have with naturopaths is that they frequently mix their practices with homeopathy and other thoroughly discredited quackery.
I don’t think the current study is definitive, but credit where credit is due, it does suggest some value to the field.