The Current on Vaccination

The complainant, Rita Hoffman, thought the host of The Current, Anna Maria Tremonti, made a mistake when she told a guest she could find information about adverse reactions to the MMR vaccine on various Health Canada websites. She thought there wasn’t enough information and it wasn’t easy enough to find. She wanted a correction. I did not agree there was an issue.

COMPLAINT

You were concerned about an interview on The Current on February 9, 2015. The episode was entitled “Vaccinations: pro and anti-vaxxer parents make their cases.” The main segment of this feature was an interview the program presenter, Anna Maria Tremonti, conducted with Darlene Tindall, a mother who had opted not to vaccinate her children, and Mallory Olsheski, a mother with an immune compromised child who could not be vaccinated.

The focus of the discussion was the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine. You took issue with Ms. Tremonti stating that data for adverse reactions were easily available. Ms. Tindall had stated that there is “no publicly accessible vaccine adverse effects reporting system in Canada,” and that she thought adverse reactions were underreported. Ms. Tremonti countered by saying that adverse reactions were well monitored and available through the Public Health Agency of Canada. She challenged Ms. Tindall’s assertion that she had done research.

You disputed that it is easy to do research and that the data is available:

The Canada Vigilance Adverse Reaction Online Database states this: This database contains only a small proportion of adverse reactions reported following receipt of vaccines, and is reflective of serious reactions reported to market authorization holders as required under the Next link will take you to another Web site Food and Drugs Act. The majority of reports of these reactions are submitted to the Next link will take you to another Web site Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System (CAEFISS) (sic). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vs-sv/caefiss-eng.php

I did find these quarterly reports re: CAEFISS but details are very lacking, and in my view do not provide enough information for someone doing “research”.

CAEFISS Quarterly Reports

Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) Quarterly Report for 2014: Q1

Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) Quarterly Report for 2014: Q2

You said you had a voice mail confirmation from a communications person at Health Canada that there is no search function on the CAEFISS website. Because of this you think Ms. Tremonti provided misinformation during the interview and that the record should be set straight. You also thought she should apologize to Ms. Tindall.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The Current, Jennifer Moroz, responded to your concerns. She disagreed with your conclusion, based on your own research, that the information was not readily available. She pointed out that “you acknowledge that adverse reactions are tracked in Canada through both the searchable Canada Vigilance Adverse Reaction Online Database and - more completely - the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System (CAEFISS).”

She told you that the issue you raised “may be splitting hairs.” She told you that Ms. Tremonti had stated that adverse reactions to vaccines are tracked and recorded, and the lack of a search function on one site does not negate her statement. She provided you with a link to a Government of Canada website that the producers of the show used to obtain the statistics on adverse reaction used in the segment.

REVIEW

I have already reviewed this episode of The Current. There were some complaints about the way Ms. Tremonti dealt with Darlene Tindall. Others felt Ms. Tremonti did not give the same weight to the information Ms. Tindall presented to support her position that MMR vaccine is not as effective as claimed and is far more dangerous. I said then, and in other related reviews, that it is false equivalence to provide an anti-vaccination perspective in these discussions because the overwhelming scientific medical and public policy data indicates that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Your complaint, while also concerned about the tone of the interview, focused on one exchange between Ms. Tindall and Ms. Tremonti:

Tindall: Like any other mother, I have done my research as well and I’ve just made the best decisions I can based on what I have researched and what I’ve talked to other parents and based on experiences they’ve had and I don’t see measles as a serious threat to my children and I don’t see the measles vaccine as a valuable contribution to their health either.

Tremonti: How do you know that the stories are accurate and statistically realistic?

Tindall: You know in Canada there’s no publicly accessible vaccine adverse effects reporting system that one can search for injuries and deaths. I think it’s very under reported. You can’t go to your public health office, to the health unit in town and find out what complications there have been. There’s a real lack of transparency and a lack of reporting but when you talk to parents and when you hear their stories of their brain dead vegetative child immediately following their vaccine, it really makes you wonder.

Tremonti: Well actually I’m going to correct you on that because adverse effects from vaccinations are one of the most tracked things we have and they are available through the Public Health Agency of Canada. You don’t know that?

Tindall: Okay no…

Tremonti: But you told me you do research. . . You're able to find that. It's right there.

Tindall: Well it’s not something that has been really readily available – I’m glad you brought that to my attention. I will look it up.

Ms. Tremonti is correct when she states adverse reactions are well tracked. It begins on a local level and works up to the federal level and further to international oversight through the World Health Organization. On a more local level, Public Health Ontario provides an annual report on vaccine safety. The Canadian sites do provide data, as Ms. Moroz pointed out to you. The issue is not if one particular site is searchable or not. The site you quote actually states that the data is “reflective of serious reactions reported.” You may think that the data presented is not sufficient, or that it should be presented in a different fashion. If this had been a segment about Health Canada reporting tools, it might be a more important issue to raise. It was not. There was no misrepresentation and no violation of CBC policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman