The anti-vaccine debate has been refuelled amid an ongoing measles outbreak in Canada. Now that debate has started to turn violent with members of the anti-vaccine movement sending death threats to Canadian doctors. According to some doctors, anti-vaxxers have even threatened their children and their jobs.
One of the doctors at the center of this has been Dr. Anna Wolak, who practices in Vancouver. Coincidentally, Vancouver is home to Canada's largest measles outbreak right now, with over 20 cases reported in BC since the start of 2019. Wolak revealed to CBC that "patients have come in and told me that they can't believe I would deliberately poison my children."
She went on to say that some of those same patients have threatened her job over her supporting vaccines. Wolak said, "Some of those have threatened to report me to the [provincial regulatory] college because they consider me a threat to children."
Most frighteningly, Wolak told CBC that at an event one person apparently came up to her and said: " I really hope that your kids get a vaccine injury and then you'll know exactly what sort of poison you're talking about."
She's not the only one to receive these kinds of threats. CBC also reported about two other Canadian doctors, who they didn't name to protect their safety, who say they've been harassed and received several threats over supporting vaccines.
They say that these threats have come in the form of emails, in one case 200 emails sent from one person, and threatening voicemails. Some of the calls included death threats and other suggestions of physical harm, like dismemberment.
The anti-vaccine debate has been escalated here in Canada amid the recent measles outbreak, but this problem isn't unique to Canadian doctors. Grieving mothers have also been the target of anti-vaxxers in the past.
CNN reports that one mother, Jill Promoli from the Toronto area, received nasty comments and threats after her son Jude died from the flu. Following his death, Promoli started a campaign to encourage Canadians to get their flu shots, but that also put her right in the middle of an anti-vaccine debate.
She says began receiving messages from anti-vaxxers who said that she had killed her son and only made up the story about him dying from the flu to cover it up. Some messages even said that she was only advocating for the flu shot so that more kids would get the flu and die so other parents could be miserable like her.
Promoli told CNN she has received hundreds of messages like this, but still keeps her campaign, For Jude For Everyone, going despite the hate.
"I've had to grow some very thick skin," Promoli said. She continued, "the work that we're doing might mean that somebody else doesn't have to go plan a funeral for their toddler, and that is everything."
Meanwhile, doctors in Canada have decided to take legal action against the threats. CBC reports that police across the country are now investigating the recent threat cases while the official body for Canadian doctors has condemned the attacks.
"Threats to personal safety for anybody is not acceptable and in particular towards doctors who are trying to speak out on behalf of the health of their patients and the health of Canadians," Canadian Medical Association president, Dr. Gigi Osler told CBC. She said she hopes these threats won't deter physicians from continuing to inform about the health benefits and science behind vaccines.