With a measles outbreak hitting as many as 22 victims across Alberta, some health professionals in the province continue to promote anti-vaccine messages, such as the scientifically discredited link between immunizations and autism.
Chiropractors, naturopaths and even a medical doctor have promoted these messages on their websites, in media interviews and in flyers handed out to their patients.
Amid news of measles cases appearing in Alberta and elsewhere, a Calgary chiropractic clinic, Northside Wellness Centre, posted a link on its website on April 1 to a video titled, "Do vaccines cause autism?"
The video, narrated by actor and anti-vaccine advocate Rob Schneider, points out that as children have received more vaccinations in the last three decades, the U.S. autism rate has "skyrocketed," from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50 (it's currently 1 in 68, according to the Centers for Disease Control).
It goes on to say that "dozens of published research papers show that yes, vaccines and autism are linked."
Another chiropractor, Dr. Brad Harper at the Healing Hands Wellness Centre in Okotoks, proudly touts on his website that his son has never been vaccinated, but does not mention autism.
Neither clinic would return a request for comment, but Dr. Brian Gushaty, registrar with the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors, said members should refrain from speaking about vaccinations and immunization.
"It's not something that's within the scope of practice for chiropractors in Alberta in the first place, so we don't think that chiropractors making commentary from their professional perspective is appropriate in any way," he told The Huffington Post Alberta.
"In fact, we expect them not to make comment."
The college is working through a list of websites that has been brought to its attention by Calgary Herald columnist Rob Breakenridge, who has written extensively about vaccinations. Gushaty confirmed that Northside Wellness Centre is on its list as well.
But chiropractors aren't alone in promoting the link.
Dr. Michael Mason-Wood, a doctor at Natural Terrain Naturopathic Clinic in Edmonton, links the two in a section on his website. He lists "vaccination stress" from the diphtheria (DPT) and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines as a "medical concern" that is often paired with an autism diagnosis.
Dr. Mason-Wood was not available for an interview. He deferred comment to his wife, Dr. Christina Bjorndal, who also works at Natural Terrain. She, too, was not available.
HuffPost Alberta made repeated attempts to contact the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta for comment.
Dr. Allissa Gaul, the college president, did not return calls but she did speak to CBC News about this issue on April 10.
She told the Calgary Eyeopener program that the college would take disciplinary action against any member who was "falsely leading people to a particular conclusion," though that would only happen if someone made a complaint.
She added, however, that doctors should support their patients if they decide not to be immunized against diseases such as measles.
"If somebody chooses not to vaccinate, they should also have a support person behind them," Gaul said.
Dr. Gordon Storey, a vaccine expert at the University of Calgary, warned that medical doctors and naturopathic doctors are not the same thing.
"Doctors are under a college of medicine in a province that will regulate doctors to make sure they don't practice malpractice medicine," he said.
"There's no such thing that would govern naturopaths, so they can basically say anything they like, and each individual is not bound to follow the scientific literature."
But at least one medical doctor is promoting anti-vaccine messages in a patient handout posted to his clinic’s website.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman at Calgary's Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine has a lengthy paper on his website that slams the critics of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a U.K. doctor whose 1998 paper in The Lancet is credited as the first to link MMR vaccines with autism.
Wakefield's paper was retracted and he was barred from practising medicine in the UK after it turned out that he had performed spinal taps on children without the proper qualifications, and had paid kids for blood samples at his son's birthday party, BBC News reported.
The Hoffman Centre patient handout , titled "Vaccine Protest," defends Wakefield's research. The handout says Wakefield's paper proposed, "almost in passing," that there might be a link between bowel inflammation and autism in children who had received the measles vaccine, and that the "inflammation was caused by the measles virus from the vaccine itself."
The handout mentions seven peer-reviewed articles and a book that made a "powerful scientific link" between vaccines and neurodevelopmental damage.
The handout says "a growing number of researchers have also supplied hard data from very carefully done research that strongly suggest a link."
Hoffman did not return a request for comment. A representative for the doctor told HuffPost Canada that the contents of the handout were written by another doctor from a different organization, and conveys the views of that doctor.
Meanwhile, the college of physicians sent an email to doctors last week on behalf of Alberta Health Services that encouraged vaccination against measles.
Doctors are permitted to express contrary opinions, "but if they're putting their patients at risk by doing something then that's different," spokeswoman Kelly Eby told HuffPost Alberta.
Hoffman does not have any disciplinary decisions on his record. The college could not confirm whether there are any active investigations, as they remain confidential.
Asked whether the college is concerned about the information that Hoffman has circulated, Eby said that would be a decision for its professional conduct department, adding that it would be "irresponsible for me to guess what their answer might be."
Like the college of chiropractors, Eby said they could investigate a member through a complaint, or if they become aware of information through other means, such as the media.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said that health professionals have a responsibility to support the province's vaccine program.
"We had eradicated measles pretty much across the country until recently when we began to see some outbreaks like we're seeing in Alberta today," he told The Huffington Post Alberta.
"Ultimately, it is a personal choice, I wouldn't disagree with that, but there are consequences to those choices."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Dr. Bruce Hoffman was the author of a patient handout document posted on the website of his clinic. A representative for Hoffman and the clinic told HuffPost that the contents of the patient handout were written by another doctor from a different organization, and conveyed the views of that doctor. This version of the story has been updated.
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