05/11/2015 12:01 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Nosode homeopathic labels too weak, pediatricians tell Health Canada

A homeopathic therapy is being promoted to parents as an alternative to vaccines, but Health Canada's label on the products fails to warn that it has no proven effectiveness, the Canadian Paediatric Society says.

Monday's statement from the pediatricians calls on Health Canada to change the labels and launch a public education campaign on the risks of nosodes as a vaccine replacement, given what the society calls a growing anti-vaccine movement in Canada and elsewhere that leads many parents to seek alternatives.

- Vaccine alternatives offered by homeopaths 'irresponsible' 

Nosodes are used in homeopathic medicine to prevent disease using dilutions of bacteria or virus.  

"Right now, the product label says that they're indicated for the prevention of disease, and there's no evidence they actually work," said Dr. Michael Rieder, co-author of the statement and chair of the society's drug therapies committee.

"I think the warning label shouldn't make a claim for a health benefit that doesn't exist or, at least as far as we know, doesn't exist."

Rieder calls the move away from vaccination a "big problem." He's seen two devastating cases of vaccine-preventable tetanus in his career. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website describes tetanus or lockjaw as serious disease that causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body.  

"To see kids getting vaccine-preventable disease in an era when effective and safe vaccination is available is extremely frustrating."

No substitute for vaccines

The society says 82 nosode products are listed by Health Canada as natural health products with labels stating they can be used to prevent common and important infections.

Currently, Health Canada's regulations say nosode labels must include the statement: "This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination."

The society's recommended label goes further: "This product has not been proven to prevent infection. Health Canada advises that your child receive all routine vaccinations even if they take this product."

In February, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, jointly said homeopathic alternatives such as nosodes are not a substitute for vaccines.

"The minister has been very clear that it is really irresponsible if parents do not to vaccinate their children and that she encourages parents to speak to their doctors and physicians and seek out good credible, evidence-based information on the safety of vaccines if they have any concerns," Michael Bolkenius, a spokesman for Ambrose, said in an email.

"Approval decisions on nosodes, or any other natural health product, are made by Health Canada scientists."

Rieder said the pediatrician society's new statement is intended both for parents and health-care providers.