OTTAWA—Anti-lockdown advocates and scientists who question the widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines are finding a home on a weekly TV show hosted by a Conservative MP.
Dean Allison, who represents Niagara West, devoted a recent episode of his program, The Hill Update, to scientists who say people who’ve had COVID don’t need to get vaccinated, nor do most people in general.
That view runs counter to advice from the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Canadian Public Health Agency and others, which say those who’ve already had COVID-19 ought to be vaccinated.
That’s also the point of view held by Conservative party Leader Erin O’Toole, who had COVID-19 last fall and this year received his vaccine.
O’Toole has also made it clear he expects his MPs to comply with mandatory vaccination rules for Parliament, though he will challenge how those rules were set when the House of Commons returns on Nov. 22.
Allison is reported to be medically-exempt from vaccine requirements, and is among those in the Conservative caucus who’ve spoken out against mandatory vaccinations.
“Finally, some common sense,” he posted on Twitter Wednesday after word Ontario would not make vaccines mandatory for hospital workers.
Neither Allison nor O’Toole’s office responded to a request for comment on the show.
O’Toole has been grappling with how to handle members of his caucus whose views on COVID-19 don’t align with his own and the issue of mandatory vaccinations in particular has been a flashpoint.
Allison’s program is hosted on The News Forum, which bills itself as a “broadcast station with a mandate to provide viewers with politically balanced domestic and international perspectives, inclusive of a counterbalance for the current media landscape.”
The shows air online and on some satellite TV channels, and Allison introduces himself as an MP at the start of every program.
He’s tackled a range of subjects over the last several months, but recent segments homed in on the management of the pandemic.
His guests have included Ontario MPP Roman Baber, who was kicked out of the Ontario PC caucus over his opposition to COVID lockdowns, and a former head of Alberta’s Emergency Management Agency, David Redman, who is a vocal critic of the lockdowns in that province.
Allison’s most recent show focused on COVID-19 and natural immunity, defined as a person’s ability to fight off a virus because they’ve been exposed to the disease via infection, as opposed to vaccine-induced immunity which gives people the antibodies to fight infection directly.
Scientists are at odds over the question of how long natural immunity from COVID-19 lasts, and how well it protects against reinfection.
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An oft-cited study of health-care workers by the Cleveland Clinic suggested those who had been exposed to COVID-19 and those who hadn’t but who were vaccinated had similar protection against the virus.
But, the clinic noted in a later memo, the subjects were only tracked for five months, and the work was done prior to the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant.
Public health experts note as well that not everyone who gets COVID-19 responds the same way, so how much protection natural immunity provides in the case of reinfection isn’t clear.
Both of Allison’s guests suggested otherwise.
One guest, Steven Pelech, is a professor at the University of British Columbia’s medical school, runs a biotechnology firm and has done research into COVID-19 exposure.
On Allison’s program, he said natural immunity is “100 times better than vaccine-induced immunity” and should be recognized as governments and employers mandate vaccine protection, a system he called “discriminatory.”
Another guest, Niel Karrow, an animal immunologist in Guelph, Ont., said the potential harms caused by a vaccine and the strength of natural immunity means not everyone needs to get a shot.
“In the case of immune compromised or elderly people, it makes sense to vaccinate them,” he said.
“In the case of younger people that are healthy and have a robust immune response, then natural infection makes a lot more sense to me for those people.”
In the most recent update from the Public Health Agency of Canada, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the average weekly rate of hospitalized cases for unvaccinated people ages 12-59 is now higher than those over the age of 60.
Local, provincial, national and international public health agencies say the best defence against COVID-19 is vaccination, as the risk of vaccine complications is far lower than the risks associated with the virus.
Since vaccines have been in widespread use in Canada, the incidence rate for new cases has dropped.
When Allison was challenged this year on his own COVID-19 views, he called vaccines “the most important tool” in the fight against COVID-19, noting the virus can result in serious illness and death.
“Which is why I respect and defer to the advice of health experts on how best to treat COVID-19,” the statement said.
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz
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