Caught on tape! Homeopaths selling anti-vaccination myths

Caught on tape! Homeopaths selling anti-vaccination myths

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation went undercover last year to find out what kind of advice homeopaths would give parents about childhood vaccinations. Two moms went, babies in tow, to office visits with 5 homeopaths. Unbeknownst to the homeopaths, the whole thing was filmed.  Scott Gavura wrote about this episode, as well as an earlier CBC investigative report on homeopathy, over on Science-Based Medicine. I thought it deserved another look in light of the FDA's recently announced and long-overdue review of homeopathic drug regulation

In the past, the FDA has regulated the homeopathic industry with a light touch, insisting only on minimal labeling requirements and no pre-market safety and effectiveness review. This was based on the FDA's erroneous assumption that homeopathic drugs were relatively "safe." No one who views this CBC report could come away with that conclusion. 

Like homeopathy itself, the homeopaths' advice was both medically worthless and potentially dangerous, chock full of the usual anti-vaccination talking points. 

  • The wholly discredited vaccine-MMR connection was presented as if it were a real concern. One homeopath didn't stop there, suggesting a potential (actually, non-existent) connection between other childhood vaccinations and autism. 
  • Homeopaths repeated the myth that the number of recommended vaccinations "overwhelmed" the child's immune system. One suggested this was a cause of increased peanut allergies. 
  • The danger of vaccine-preventable diseases was downplayed. One flat-out said measles wasn't dangerous.  

This fear-mongering was accompanied by a sales pitch for a set of homeopathic "nosode" vaccinations.  One homeopath, being unintentionally honest,  pointed out that they were sugar pills. Of course, the homeopath actually thinks these pills contain an active ingredient, but we know they are just that and nothing more -- sugar pills. As part of the undercover operation, each mom bought one remedy. One was for whooping cough, which we'll return to in a moment. 

The CBC interspersed the comments of a nurse who specializes in immunization research, including the anti-vaccination attitudes of "alternative" practitioners, among clips of the moms talking to the homeopaths  I thought they were going to have to bring out the smelling salts for her. She was, I think, quite naturally taken aback by the mendacity of the homeopaths. Yet, she admirably maintained her composure and calmly and dispassionately dispelled their lies and myths. 

I have to give a shout-out to the babies who accompanied their moms as well. They were remarkably non-plussed by the whole thing and never once intimated that they knew a camera was running. They even smiled charmingly at the homeopaths, no doubt a strategy to throw them off the scent. 

When filming was complete, the CBC reached out to the homeopaths and several homeopathic organizations for comment. They scattered like roaches when the lights are turned on. None was willing to go on camera.  

The CBC investigative report  is well worth watching. You can find a link in this news story, "Homeopathy is a joke, says this Canadian educator," about Health Canada's spineless approval of homeopathic nosodes. These products must contain the warning: "This product is neither a vaccine nor an alternative to vaccination." I imagine this will be about as effective as the FDA's Quack Miranda Warning, required on dietary supplement labels: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." 

So did the homeopathic nosodes the moms bought include this warning? Nope. They don't have to because they were made and prescribed by a homeopath. Based on the myth, no doubt, that a "professional" quack, with appropriate education and training, is somehow a safeguard against the ill-advised use of quack products, even if the quack is selling the quackery. 

The CBC investigative report interviewed the homeopathic nosode guru, Australian homeopath Issac Golden, upon whose "research" these homeopaths based their recommendations. Golden, who was previously ordered by the Australian authorities to stop making false claims about the effectiveness of homeopathic nosodes, lectures all over the world (naturopaths cite his work as well) and happened to be in Canada giving a one-day seminar on homeopathic "vaccinations" at the University of Toronto. It is not clear whether the University actually approved this appearance, or he had just rented one of their classrooms. In any event, this wouldn't be the first controversy surrounding the University's unfortunate tolerance for homeopathic pseudoscience.

Golden was more than happy to explain, on camera, how his homeopathic nosode for whooping cough "works:" the collection of sputum from a person infected with whooping cough, serial dilution and shaking, and so forth. Unfortunately for him, even the most credulous viewer was disabused of the notion that this made any sense whatsoever by a helpful graphic narrated by the CBC reporter. This segment ended with a drawing of the earth with a gigantic pill beside it, used to illustrate how you'd have to take a pill the size of the earth to get one atom of the purportedly active ingredient (that sputum Golden mentioned) into your body. 

But the CBC didn't stop there. Golden wouldn't permit a camera in his classroom, but he agreed to let an expert in research methodology from McMaster University sit in.  The expert was then interviewed by the CBC. His verdict was, in so many words, that Golden's "research" is hogwash. 

The report also did a "man on the street" interview of parents who were playing with their children in a local park. The parents were shown a chart with common vaccine myths (vaccines and autism, "too many, too soon," etc.) and asked which ones concerned them. Unfortunately, too many have been too quick to believe anti-vaccination propaganda. And it shows in the Canadian vaccination rates, which, according to the CBC, are below 60% for full vaccination in some areas. 

Finally, the CBC included the story of a baby, too young for vaccination, who'd suffered from whooping cough. The photos taken of her in the hospital, hooked up to machines trying to save her life, were worth any number of pro-vaccination lectures. Fortunately, she made it. 

Points of Interest 08/11/2015
Points of Interest 08/08/2015

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