Certain homeopathic products, called nosodes, are advertised and sold in Canada to prevent flu and other illnesses but carry the potential for harm, public health experts say.
Nosodes are ultradiluted forms of diseased tissue, pus, blood, or excretions of a sick person or animal that some homeopaths and naturopaths sell.
In September, Health Canada announced new guidelines for nosode licensing, saying the packages will need to be labelled with a warning: "This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination."
The regulatory move doesn't go far enough, said Dr. Lloyd Oppel of the British Columbia Medical Association's Council on Health Promotion in Vancouver, where he monitors alternative health practices.
"The harm is not so much in taking the water or sugar pill," said Oppel. "The harm is that people might believe that it protects them in a way that it doesn't. Then on a consequence, they don't go and protect themselves properly or their children."
'A medicine that's made in a way that can't possibly work, I think is something that should not be on the shelf.' - Dr. Lloyd Oppel, B.C. Medical Assn.
Members of the BC Medical Association and Canadian Medical Association wrote letters to the federal government asking for stricter standards to be applied to natural health products to ensure what goes on the shelf is safe and effective.
Oppel said Health Canada's move is too little, too late. "A medicine that's made in a way that can't possibly work, I think is something that should not be on the shelf."
The consumer protection group Bad Science Watch also campaigned against nosodes, saying the products could lower overall vaccination rates and compromise herd immunity — keeping an infection at bay for unimmunized individuals when a critical mass of people in a community is vaccinated. Herd immunity helps prevent outbreaks for occurring.
Earlier this year, UNICEF released a report noting that only 84 per cent of Canadian children aged 12 to 23 months had the appropriate number of doses of vaccines for measles, polio, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.
In the case of pertussis or whooping cough for example, Bad Science Watch says immunity rates needed to protect the population are about 94 per cent.
Homeopath Ali Ramadan advertises nosodes at a health food store in Toronto.
"We don't necessarily say get this instead of the flu shot," Ramadan said. "But let's say you don't want to get the flu shot, then you can use this as an alternative."
"There is no way to really know how it works."
At healthycanadians.ca, Health Canada says nosodes are not vaccines.
"Health Canada has not licensed any homeopathic medicines for the purpose of providing immunity to a communicable disease. Vaccinating yourself and your children continues to be the most effective way to prevent and control vaccine-preventable diseases."