Most people have long since moved past the pandemic and the impact it had on them. But for a small group of anti-vaccine skeptics, their fight against reason, science and our collective well-being continues to define their lives. They continue to gerrymander public health data in ways that confirm their biases and obsess over long-disproven conspiracy theories, including the supposedly negative impact the COVID-19 vaccine had on mortality rates. Now, it seems, their rearguard battle has yielded an important victory.

In a town hall event scheduled for June dubbed “An Injection of Truth,” UCP MLA Eric Bouchard — who just happens to occupy former premier Jason Kenney’s seat — has organized a gathering of Canada’s biggest vaccine scolds. As if that isn't bad enough, they’re going to focus on the supposedly negative impact of mRNA vaccines on children. “Why are an excessive number of Alberta’s children dying? Since 2021, excessive deaths for children are up 350 per cent. But why?”

They mean “excess” deaths, not “excessive” but that aside, there’s not a shred of evidence to support this figure. According to Statistics Canada’s data, the mortality rates among children under one increased slightly from 4.6 per 1,000 in 2021 to 5.3 in 2022 (which is still lower than it was in 2018), while it remained static at 0.2 per 1,000 among those one to five years old and 0.1 per 1,000 among those five to nine. If anything, any increase in excess deaths over this period could just as easily be correlated with them contracting COVID-19 given how comparatively low the uptake was for vaccines among children.

These facts will have little purchase on the feelings of those attending this event, though. The roster of speakers includes a number of doctors who trade in conspiracy theories about so-called “turbo cancers” caused by the vaccine and the list of their colleagues who have supposedly died prematurely as a result of taking it. In its October 2023 hearing into the conduct of Mark Trozzi, one of those scheduled speakers, the Ontario Physicians and Surgeons Discipline Tribunal noted that “in promoting a false narrative about 80 deceased doctors, he targeted private individuals, causing distress to their grieving families.”

This is the sort of paranoid nonsense that has no business being taken seriously, least of all by the political party that controls the levers of power in Canada’s fourth-largest province. Health Minister Adriana LaGrange suggested this was just about wanting constituents to feel “heard” but the message about the supposed impact of mRNA vaccines on children seems to have the full endorsement and backing of the United Conservative Party’s board of directors. “We have serious concerns about them for children,” UCP president Rob Smith told CBC News. "I would say that the board of directors' position is that if parents are going to get their children vaccinated, they need to be very, very sure that they know what they're doing."

Gaslighting them about the supposed dangers of a vaccine that’s been proven safe won’t help there, of course. With more than 100 million COVID vaccinations, data gathered by the Public Health Agency of Canada shows a grand total of four deaths that can be causally linked to them. More people — far more, in fact — die as a result of anesthesia (roughly 1 out of every 100,000 versus 0.004 per 100,000 for COVID vaccines) but nobody is seriously entertaining the idea that doctors should be performing surgeries without it.

And, of course, there are the lives these vaccines saved. As the C.D. Howe Institute noted back in December 2022, the widespread uptake in vaccines resulted in 21 per cent fewer cases, 37 per cent fewer hospitalizations and 34,900 fewer deaths from January 2021 to May 2022. This is, by any rational and reasonable analysis, one of the great public health success stories of our lifetime.

But the people who continue to obsess over the supposedly negative impacts of these vaccines are neither rational nor reasonable. Instead, they’ll spend the rest of their lives moving the goalposts around the field in ways that help them avoid the inevitable confrontation with this scientific reality. This wouldn’t be an issue — flat-earthers still exist, after all — if it was just about their behaviour and beliefs. As adults, they’re at least theoretically competent to make their own decisions and they’re free to make the wrong ones if they insist.

But by taking direct aim at the impact of mRNA vaccines on children, they’re effectively threatening the broader consensus around other childhood vaccinations that’s already been badly damaged by previous waves of anti-vaccine fear mongering. Diseases like whooping cough and measles are making an entirely unwelcome comeback due entirely to declining childhood vaccination rates.

This is the real danger posed by the UCP’s ongoing tango with the province’s anti-vaccine activists and enthusiasts. If even a small portion of the population decides to stop vaccinating their children against previously contained diseases like measles, that can lead to outbreaks that put children in far more danger than any vaccine could ever present. That these outbreaks will spread most aggressively in the same communities that most vociferously oppose vaccinations, or that it will be their own children who are most at risk, doesn’t seem to matter.

Alberta's United Conservative Party is hosting a gathering of some of Canada's most noxious vaccine skeptics for a conversation about the supposed risks posed by mRNA technology to children. What could go wrong?

This seems destined to end badly, either with the return of other previously vanquished diseases or the arrival of another pandemic. We could avoid this if the Conservative politicians and pundits in our midst were willing to finally and forcefully tell their supporters the truth here, unpopular though it may be. Instead, they seem determined to continue humouring these delusions, no matter how dangerous they become.

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The sad part is that there is no reasoning with these people who are entrenched in their conspiracy theories and misinformation. It doesn't help when politicians who are supposed to be intelligent and well informed spread the same nonsense. When challenged with real scientific facts and data, these folks become defensive and resort to name calling like snowflake, libtarts, communists and a slew of other names.

These folks are so brainwashed, it isn't worth the time or effort to explain the truth, and risk and in odd cases, be subject to violent or abusive responses. In my rural town, we have our share of anti-vaxxers and Trudeau haters and should you disagree with their position, are quite abusive. Just not worth dealing with these nutty people.

The only hopeful thing in Max's article is the exchange shown in the legislature between Notley and Smith where Rachel points out that the doctors at this anti-vaxxer event are discredited and Smith replies by distancing herself and her government from the event, suggesting that any questions about it should be directed to "the party." Since we all know that the UCP board is largely if not wholly TBA people, that means they are part of David Parker's super crazy super religious cohort, which reminds us of the perennial split in the UCP between the Wild Rose true believers and the rest. There's also a clip of Adriana LeGrange distancing herself, apparently a match for the "new look" she's sporting as "health minister," where she has to squelch her OWN Catholic fervor in order to look more reasonable. Kenney led the way on that but it wasn't enough when push came to shove, and the pandemic was the shove that pushed HIM out. So the zealots are on a rampage now, emboldened by their success to the point where the whole "lake of fire" incident caused by bible quotes being quoted out loud doesn't even matter anymore. They live by that bible, dammit, and are tired of having to hide their glorious truth. I mean, it's KIND of a big deal that they've got a real and loving god in their life who they pray to AND that they don't just have a life like the rest of us but also an "afterlife."
So this ongoing anti-science, anti-vaxxer stance is just another version of that same alternate reality for which the pandemic has created such an unprecedented platform to expose the shortcomings of science as a valid competitor for something to truly "believe" in. Clearly, it's never "settled" like the doctrines of what THEY believe in.
But we still collectively insist as a society that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, including that the myths of religion are in fact facts.
No wonder society is also suffering from a collective malaise when the centre that's not holding is the TRUTH, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's the "so help me God" part that's always been the water in our wine.
So with science on the ropes, all we have left is the rule of law, but Trump's somehow ahead in the polls.

Good comments. Having grown up in Alberta with an evangelical mother actually did some good -- it turned me away from religion and steered me more into secular humanism than anything else. Her brand was the old fashioned kind, a kinder, gentler form of Christianity, but nonetheless one that led her into a constant belief that God's blessings will always land in your lap out of the blue like magic instead of actually using your brain and labour to get through life's challenges and perhaps prosper. In other words, deny or ignore that there is a physical life right here and now and instead turn your attention to the sky.

Decades ago she insisted her sons get vaxxed in the then mandatory public health school vaccination programs. If she was alive today she'd be somewhat susceptible to this deluded crowd that thinks religion and government should be joined at the hip.

No hell below us, above us only sky. That attitude wipes the slate of predetermined thought and is a good foundation upon which to build a compassionate concern for your fellow humans. It will create an all around beneficial way of thinking that turns its attention to the here and now, not some kind of pie in the sky afterlife dictated by "leaders" who claim to hold the patents to truth.

And again, if the media was interested in reporting the truth and treating dangerous politicians who threaten to cause mass death in the public like the menaces they are rather than neutral participants in a horse-race, this would not be happening.

Ot should be noted here that Dr. Deena Hinshaw, former Health Officer for Alberta under Jason Kenney, who was under pressure to make unscientific decisions and statements by the government, left Alberta.

She landed (or was headhunted?) in BC and is now the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of BC under the widely respected Dr. Bonnie
Henry who led BC through the pandemic under a government and health minister that believe in medical science.

Be kind. Be calm. Be safe.