Over the last 12 years, a Vancouver group has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the B.C. government, while screening anti-vaccination movies, sharing content from anti-vaccination websites and complaining about “censorship” from a social media company that blocked anti-vaccination propaganda.
Federal records show about one-third of the Health Action Network Society’s revenue last year came from the B.C. government — a $40,000 Community Gaming Grant taken from provincial gambling revenues.
Since 2007, the group has received $428,500 worth of these grants.
That funding deserves some scrutiny, according to Dr. Eric Cadesky, a family physician and president of Doctors of B.C.
“I think it’s important to review the ways that we assess where money is going,” he told CBC News.
It seems the province agrees.
After CBC reached out to Housing Minister Selina Robinson, whose ministry oversees the grant program, she requested a review of the annual funding for HANS, according to an email from the ministry.
The provincial government says Community Gaming Grants are not to be used for lobbying or any programs that don’t comply with B.C. laws and public policies.
HANS claims it is not anti-vaccination, but says “vaccine safety” is one of the issues it focuses on.
To Cadesky, there’s no real difference. He says much of the vaccine-related content shared by HANS is simply false.
He said organizations like HANS, “have become so good at using scientific-type language, they have become so good at using flashy, professional websites, that it’s very difficult for anyone who wants to get good information to know the difference between a good source of information and a source of misinformation.”
Vaccines are just one area of concern for HANS, which also advocates for wider use of homeopathy, campaigns for labelling of genetically modified foods and pushes for more action on climate change.
The president of HANS’s board is Ted Kuntz. He did not respond to requests for comment from CBC, but has described himself as “vaccine risk aware,” and is the author of a book about immunization called Dare to Question: One Parent to Another.
The back cover of Kuntz’s book says: “We’ve been, dare I say, indoctrinated into the belief that vaccines are safe and effective.”
He’s also vice-president of Vaccine Choice Canada, a non-profit that claims vaccines are inherently risky and that recently paid for 50 digital billboards across Toronto suggesting vaccines are unsafe for children.
HANS’s website and social media channels show a history of boosting anti-vaccine activists and theories.
In 2017, the group hosted the Vancouver premiere of the notorious movie Vaxxed, a documentary that tried to prove the long-debunked theory that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism. Amazon recently pulled the film from its online streaming service.
A recent Facebook post expressed outrage at the news some alternative health accounts had been banned from Pinterest for posting anti-vaccine materials, saying: “This is censorship, plain and simple.”
Another post linked to a piece about the supposed “reality of vaccine injury” from the website of prominent American anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
HANS’s post, which has now been scrubbed from its Facebook page, read in part, “HANS is not an ‘anti-vaccine’ organization. It is an organization that is concerned with certain aspects of vaccine safety.”
Language like that bothers Cadesky.
He said many pseudoscientific groups have learned to avoid saying they’re anti-vaccination. They now claim they’re simply expressing concerns or advocating for more research.
Cadesky said they use these phrases to “present themselves with an air of authority and impartiality when in fact the language they’re using … is just another form of propaganda.”
He points out that severe reactions to vaccines only happen about once in every million injections.