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Doctors urge label change for nosodes, sometimes called 'homeopathic vaccines'

05/11/2015 12:00 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Canadian Pediatric Society is urging Health Canada to tighten the rules on the labelling of homeopathic nosodes, which are sometimes referred to as "homeopathic vaccines"

Nosodes are taken by people who believe they can prevent illnesses, even though there are no good studies showing that they actually work.

Health Canada currently requires nosodes to be sold with labels stating that the products are not intended to be alternatives to vaccination.

But the pediatric society says the current wording isn't clear enough, especially given the rise of the anti-vaccine movement.

In a policy statement, the society says the labels should state that these products have not been proven to prevent infection and that Health Canada advises children who take nosodes should also receive all routine vaccinations.

"Although nosodes are currently approved for human use in Canada, there is no scientific or medical evidence that they are effective in preventing infectious disease," says Dr. Michael Rieder, co-author of the statement and chairman of the society's drug therapies and hazardous substances committee.

"We are concerned that parents are not being provided with the best available evidence in order to make informed decisions about their children's health."

Others suggest the society's policy statement should have gone further.

"Change the labelling? Get rid of the damn stuff," says Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University's office of science and society and a longtime leader in the battle against pseudo-science.

Schwarcz says there is "zero" justification for allowing nosodes to be sold.

"It is Canada's national shame that this is allowed," he says.

Nosodes are preparations used in homeopathy to prevent disease. Biological material from the disease the product is supposed to protect against is diluted over and over again — to the point, critics say, that there's no biological material left in the concoction.

The Canadian Pediatric Society says 179 nosode products are available in Canada and of those, 82 have labels claiming they can be used to prevent common and important infections.

"And they can't. There is no evidence they prevent the diseases," Rieder says.

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health shares Schwarcz's belief that these products should be pulled from the market.

Regardless of how they are labelled, nosodes are marketed as products that can prevent diseases — which could incite parents who fear vaccines to use nosodes as an alternative for their children, says Dr. Robert Strang.

Strang says he and his fellow provincial and territorial chief medical officers of health have told Health Canada they believe nosodes can undermine vaccine coverage in Canada.

"I guess our position would be: Why would we even have these on the market at all?" he says.

"There's no evidence they're effective and they can do significant damage by the perception that they're an acceptable alternative to immunization, especially at a time when we have significant issues with our vaccine coverage rates."

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