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Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19


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Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19

Toronto’s vice-chair of public health, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, responded to backlash over the weekend about the COVID-19-related opinions she recently shared in a Toronto Sun column.

Wong-Tam wrote on Twitter on Saturday that her “only aim was to promote discourse over divisiveness, and dial down the polarization.”

“As a COVID-vaccinated person, I wrote a deeply personal op-ed about the need to open dialogue with people who have taken a different position about vaccines, including my own elderly parents,” she said about the Nov. 18 Toronto Sun column she authored.

“I wanted to talk about how we can continue to build trust across different and diverse communities. I was sharing my perspective and lived experience and was not offering any medical advice. I’m truly sorry this caused any confusion or upset,” she added.

While health experts have debunked the “misleading” parts of the Ward 13 Toronto Centre councillor’s column, Wong-Tam — who was elected to council in 2010 — did not apologize directly for comments she made about vaccinated people having the ability to transmit the COVID-19 virus “just as easily as those who are unvaccinated.”

The opinion piece had also criticized those who want unvaccinated people “excluded from society, fired from their workplace, or wish to deny them access to care because of apparent ‘careless behaviour.’ ”

The councillor herself posted publicly online in July about being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. She did not respond to the Star’s request for comment on Saturday.

Wong-Tam’s string of Saturday tweets also included an August memo from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore.

In her Twitter thread, Wong-Tam says: “On August 31, 2021, the Chief Medical Officer of Health sent a memo to public health officials citing, ‘fully vaccinated individuals have similar levels of infectiousness as in unvaccinated cases.’ If this information is wrong or incomplete, it should be clarified soon.”

Health expert Sabina Vohra-Miller, founder of Unambiguous Science, says this memo was used “completely out of context.”

“She’s basically extrapolated this to fit her narrative,” Vohra-Miller told the Star in an interview.

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“It’s taking one piece of the entire puzzle completely out of context and that is the part that is pushing the anti-vax rhetoric we’ve been hearing,” she said, also noting that the memo dates back three months. “We know during the pandemic that things evolve and change very quickly.”

“The idea of this memo put forth by the ministry of health really is to realize that we still need to have like your nonpharmacologic interventions like masking,” she added. “The memo is not telling us vaccinated people transmit at the same rate as unvaccinated.”

“Her article has now basically fuelled and emboldened a lot of anti-vaxxers to perpetuate the same misinformation,” Vohra-Miller said, adding those who are vaccinated are far less likely to get infected.

“It’s done a lot of damage, especially coming from a person who represents the Toronto board of health.”

On Friday, when responding in writing to the Star’s initial story on her column, Wong-Tam defended her statement about infection risk in vaccinated and unvaccinated people as supported by her interpretation of medial reports about viral loads.

She also said she was “concerned that the same essential workers who we lauded at the beginning of the pandemic as heroes are now losing their jobs because of their unvaccinated status” and that that’s why she had shared her own “deeply personal story” about her parents.

“They hold a different opinion than myself about the vaccines and yet still I love them unconditionally. I want us to open the dialogue not shut it down,” Wong-Tam said in her Friday comments.

When asked about his colleague’s opinion piece and recent tweets, Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health said: “We cannot and must not ignore the scientific facts in front of us — and when it comes to vaccines, the science is clear: vaccines are safe, effective, and reduce transmission. Full stop.”

“While I wholeheartedly agree that building vaccine confidence, meeting people where they are at, and creating the space for tough conversations is critical to our vaccine campaign; ultimately the success of our campaign is based on following the science,” he added.

With files by David Rider

Irelyne Lavery is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]

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