SFU under fire for hosting anti-vaccine conference
CTV British Columbia
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2013 6:41PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 2:27PM PDT
Simon Fraser University is being condemned by its own faculty members for renting space to a controversial anti-vaccine conference they describe as a dangerous source of misinformation.
The Vaccine Resistance Movement’s 2013 summit, billed as a “transparent discussion” among doctors and researchers, is being held Tuesday night at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus in downtown Vancouver. The motto: “The only shot you need is the truth.”
But SFU’s dean of health services, John O’Neil, warned the event merely propagates misguided and anti-scientific views on vaccination while downplaying the proven life-saving benefits.
He told CTV News he fears the university has lent legitimacy to the cause by accepting organizers’ money.
“They could have rented anywhere in the city, but they chose SFU Harbour Centre because it gives them credibility in the public eye,” O’Neil said.
SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences has issued a statement disavowing itself from Tuesday’s event and apologizing for what it describes as an inappropriate use of university facilities.
Members of the Vaccine Resistance Movement question the safety of vaccines, suggesting they are the cause of autism and numerous other disabilities – a claim health care professionals have contested for years.
“It’s a one-sided perspective on risks that have been shown scientifically time and again simply do not exist,” O’Neil said. “There is no connection between vaccines and autism.”
The VRM also argues the pressure to vaccinate comes from a “vaccine lobby” and “big government,” according to its website.
Health professionals say vaccines are an essential tool to stop the spread of easily-preventable diseases such as influenza, pertussis and meningitis, which can be fatal to children.
But doctors worry widespread misinformation on the Internet has left many parents uneasy about vaccinations – parents like Chanelle MacIntyre, a mother-of-two who is attending the Vaccine Resistance Movement’s summit in hopes of learning as much as she can to protect her children.
“I’m just in this decision-making process right now. You feel you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” MacIntyre told CTV News.
SFU president Andrew Petter defended the decision to rent space for the event Tuesday, and denied that the transaction implies any association between the university and the anti-vaccination crowd.
He also stated his personal view that the movement is “contrary to public health.”
“Its views are wrong and they should be disregarded, but I think the best way to expose them is to challenge those views, not the university,” Petter said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Shannon Paterson