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Queen's Faculty Of Medicine Responds To Anti-Vaccine Teaching Claims

02/07/2015 01:29 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 10:59 EST

The dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Queen's University is standing up for vaccines amid a controversy that has seen a teaching adjunct in another department apparently caution her students against immunization.

Dr. Richard Reznick has published a lengthy "Dean On Campus" blog, explaining to the public his faculty's efforts to teach the importance of vaccination.

"I believe that the issue of vaccination is serious business," he wrote.

"For example, measles, which had been previously eradicated is now making a recurrence, and can have severe repercussions. In one in 10 cases measles can result in ear infections, in one in 20 it can result in pneumonia, and in one in 1,000 it can result in encephalitis."

Though he cautioned that he's not an expert himself, he consulted numerous faculty members and students in order to drive the point home.

Paediatrics head Dr. Robert Connelly, for example, said that "vaccines are a safe, effective and important health measure for children; they are one of the most significant public health initiatives that we've had in the history of medicine.

"In our teaching, we focus on how to appropriately deal with vaccine-hesitant parents in order to address their concerns, and endorse the Canadian Paediatric Society's approach to this issue."

Meanwhile, a medical student said they're taught to "initiate discussions on vaccinations" early in a child's life in order to figure out a parent's concerns.

"We are taught to educate the family on the rigorous process behind creating and testing vaccines, clearly review the risks and benefits, and provide them with real statistics to help put the risks in context."

The student goes on to point out that, "whereas as many as 100 in 1,000,000 can die of a complication of a disease that is largely preventable through vaccination, only one in 1,000,000 will have a serious vaccine complication."

The blog came following reports earlier this week that Melody Torcolacci, who teaches in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies (which is not part of the Faculty of Medicine), had taught anti-vaccine information in a first-year health course.

Isabelle Duchaine, a former Academic Affairs Commissioner, posted the following slides from Torcolacci's course on Twitter:

Queen's provost Alan Harrison said he was looking into the allegations surrounding Torcolacci, The Toronto Star reported Wednesday.

He also said that Queen's isn't "for or against" vaccines.

"We want our students to think for themselves. Sometimes in order to do that, there may be some provocative material but it's the context in which that's presented that is critical," he told the newspaper.

But this week does not mark the first time that concerns about Torcolacci's teaching have been brought to the university's attention.

Dr. Ian Gemmill, medical officer of health for the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington region, told CBC Radio's "As It Happens" that he reported her teaching to the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies three years ago.

"I felt assured at that time that the material would be given, not only in a less biased way, but also a more factual way," he told the station.

The controversy surrounding Torcolacci's teaching arises as a new poll shows that 20 per cent of Ontarians believe in the widely-discredited claim that certain vaccines can cause autism, The National Post reported.

"It's really time to put that particular myth to bed for good. The [measles, mumps and rubella] vaccine does not cause autism," Dr. Natasha Crowcroft with Public Health Ontario told the newspaper in an email.

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