Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessary reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Vaccine Choice Canada's dozens of "anti-vaxx" billboards in the Toronto area are causing a stir among concerned individuals who vehemently oppose the anti-vaccination movement. Many believe that the billboards - which suggest vaccines pose undue risk for children and that children do not require vaccinations to attend school - highlight the enormous obstacle of vaccine-rated misinformation that the Ontario healthcare system has combatted for over a decade.
The billboards are causing concern, as the recent resurgence of measles in Toronto has suddenly put additional emphasis on the importance of vaccinations. Vaccine hesitancy and refusal has become a top health threat this year by the World Health Organization and is demonstrated by increasingly measles-mortality rates, which are correlated to the steep decline in vaccinations, according to the Globe and Mail.
So far, Torontonians have expressed tremendous concern over the anti-vaxx billboards, and have voiced their discontent via social media. Some are even calling on The City to take action.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that there is cursing and explicit language used in the Tweets below.
This is deeply disturbing, and potentially dangerous. I will be speaking with Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health to determine how the City can and should respond. https://t.co/Jb1ni0vPSk— Joe Cressy (@joe_cressy) February 27, 2019
Fuck these fucking morons. Skepticism and speculation in the face of actual scientific research is NOT a debate. https://t.co/JijN4qUQJO— Ian Andrew Bell 🇨🇦 (@ianb) February 27, 2019
You can't put up advertisements promoting racism, smoking, etc. The #antivax movement is demonstrably dangerous and should face similar prohibitions. Or perhaps that's just my vaccine-addled brain talking. #VaccinesWork #Toronto#publichealthhttps://t.co/YVcUu07HAR— Matt Hunter (@iammatthunter) February 27, 2019
I recommend they all attend a #smallpox or #measles party to cure them of their own ignorance.— Murray E. McDowall (@BackflowMaster) February 27, 2019
Anti-vaccine group launches billboard campaign in Toronto and surrounding area - The Globe and Mail https://t.co/6povKWK3aG
According to the Government of Ontario, vaccines are important for 2 reasons: not only do they protect the vaccinated individual from contracting infectious diseases, but they also contribute to the epidemiological phenomenon of "herd immunity".
Herd immunity works when the vast majority of a population is vaccinated against a virus or bacteria and prevents the spread of disease because there are so few susceptible people left to infect, says the Government of Ontario's vaccination information page.
The 50 digital billboards across the GTA consist of four rotating images, according to Vaccine Choice Canada's vice-president, Ted Kuntz. One of the billboards sits right outside Toronto's Eaton Centre, and has been at the centre of attention of passerby Toronto residents and visitors.
The promotional campaign commenced last week and is expected to continue for two weeks, intending to produce over 2 million impressions, according to Mr. Kuntz. In a Facebook post, Mr. Kuntz acknowledged the billboard's many sponsors, for without which, the campaign would not have succeeded to fruition.
Contrastingly, the Associate Medical Officer of Health with Toronto Public Health, Vinita Dubey, is hoping that the billboard campaign stimulates a city-wide discussion about banning deceptive advertisements. Dr. Dubey compares the billboards to that of a tobacco company, "There is some precedent for being more legislative and proactive about messaging."
Dr. Dubey told The Globe & Mail that the billboard leverage "half-truths" to entice vulnerable populations. “They play on a truth that you may know, but they don’t quite give you the full story. That’s what gives you the seed of doubt and makes you question," she explained.
Public Health Ontario's Chief of Applied Immunization Research, Natasha Crowcroft, commented that the billboards are strategically devised to mislead a casual observer into thinking that they were not created by an anti-vaccine group.
But from Mr. Kuntz's perspective, he believes the campaign's objective is to promote the education of the city on vaccinations. The advertising firm responsible for the billboards' operation, Outfront Media, refused to respond to The Globe & Mail's request for comment.