Alberta premier’s support for town hall questioning COVID vaccines worries experts

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she supports an upcoming United Conservative Party event that casts doubt on COVID-19 vaccine safety.

alberta premier’s support for town hall questioning covid vaccines worries experts

The event, called “An Injection of Truth”, is a town hall that organizers claim will provide scientific data regarding the negative impact of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine on children.

William Makis is one of the speakers scheduled to be at the June 17 event in Calgary. Although he claims he was wrongfully terminated, his practice permit was suspended by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

Another scheduled panellist, Chris Shoemaker, had his licensce suspended in 2023.

Other speakers include David Speicher, Calgary pediatric neurologist Eric Payne, Jessica Rose and Byram Bridle.

On a radio show on Saturday, Smith said she supported the town hall.

“As people know, I believe that sometimes you need to hear the contrarian voices. … Unfortunately, all through (the COVID-19 pandemic), the contrarian voices were deplatformed and not listened to,” she said on Your Province, Your Premier on QR Calgary and 630 CHED on Saturday.

“I think we have to look at the international evidence. …  That’s what MLA Bouchard is doing in hosting a variety of doctors to give their perspective, so I’m quite happy to let him continue on with that.”

The constituency association of Calgary-Lougheed MLA Eric Bouchard is organizing the town hall.

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But bioethicist Blake Murdoch at the University of Alberta said Smith framing the town hall as a chance to look at the international evidence of harm to children by COVID vaccines is a “reckless misrepresentation of what this event” is based on the guest list.

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“There’s nothing wrong with contrarianism per se. It’s just that we live in a world where facts exist,” said Murdoch, a senior research associate with the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law.

Murdoch said there is a vast amount of science that shows the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe.

“Smith also made the claim that the organizers have invited a variety of doctors. I think that is also a reckless misrepresentation,” Murdoch said.

“The problem is that the information ecosystem has moved away from reliance on evidence to reliance on ideology and identity politics and extremism.”

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Murdoch said the idea that contrarian voices were not considered during the pandemic is “a false narrative.”

“The issue is not that there is a difference of opinion here.  It’s that there is a huge amount of science that shows that these vaccines save lives and they are overwhelmingly safe so to claim otherwise becomes a statement of misinformation,” he added.

When the ad for the event was first posted, it alleged the vaccines are likely contributing to an increase in the deaths of Alberta minors.

alberta premier’s support for town hall questioning covid vaccines worries experts
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A previous version of an ad for a United Conservative Party town hall called “An Injection of Truth”. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

“Ask yourself, ‘How can we help Albertans put a stop to COVID shots that kill children?'” the ticketing website stated.

That has since been removed along with other statements and titles.

Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta, told Global News on Sunday accounting for contrarian opinions is part of science, but platforming actively dangerous disinformation, where there is scientific consensus, is far outside that and dangerous to public health.

“I am very concerned if false equivalence is the playbook because it is damaging for public health,” Saxinger said.

“Hearing both sides is important when there’s a legitimate debate but when there’s a consensus opinion of relevant experts, there is no benefit and clear risk to platforming disinformation. Creating the illusion that there is no scientific consensus does change people’s decision-making — it is what the tobacco industry did for years and it’s leaking into climate change and vaccination.”

According to Bouchard, the MLA whose constituency association is organizing the town hall, the event is an opportunity for people to hear different perspectives.

“We have had several successful town halls about issues my constituents care about and they have all been incredibly well attended and well received,” he said in a statement to Global News. “We always welcome diverse viewpoints and open dialogue because it’s important for people to listen to different ideas and perspectives, even if they disagree.”

Eventbrite had been offering tickets for the event, but the ticket seller isn’t anymore. The event is still going ahead in June but the UCP is now selling tickets directly.

Global News reached out to Payne, Shoemaker and Makis and the UCP for comment.

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