British Columbia

B.C. pulls funding for health charity that spread anti-vaccine claims

Vancouver's Health Action Network Society has received a total of $468,500 in Community Gaming Grants since 2007.

Health Action Network Society has asked for a review of 'disappointing' decision

Vancouver's Health Action Network Society has claimed that it's not an anti-vaccination group, but it's concerned about 'vaccine safety.' (Paul Vernon/The Associated Press)

A natural health advocacy group with a history of sharing anti-vaccination information has lost its B.C. government funding.

The Health Action Network Society (HANS) has been found ineligible for a Community Gaming Grant for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing confirmed in an email.

About 40 per cent of HANS's revenue came from a $40,000 provincial grant in 2018-2019, according to federal records. The group has received a total of $468,500 in Community Gaming Grants since 2007.

According to a post on the HANS website, the group received a letter from the ministry on Dec. 18 informing it that its vaccination-related content "did not conform to the Ministry of Health's Strategic Framework for Immunization in B.C."

The ministry's email to CBC says that organizations "are ineligible for funding if they have objectives, programs or expenditures that don't conform with all laws, regulations and the general public policies of the province."

The general manager of HANS, Naida Geisler, declined an interview with CBC, writing in an email, "We believe it's important to report fairly, thoroughly and transparently from both sides, and this doesn't seem to have been a priority for you."

The charity did, however, comment on the funding decision in its online post.

"As disappointing as this situation has been, it validates our work and strengthens our conviction. HANS will be appealing this decision on principle," the website post says.

The ministry confirmed that HANS has asked for reconsideration of the funding decision, and officials are currently reviewing that request.

'Vaccine safety' campaign abandoned

In the same website post, HANS says it's been the victim of "a witch hunt without trial concluded by a burning at the stake" and accuses this CBC reporter of writing stories that are "designed to erode public confidence in 'alternative' health practices."

The province opened a review into funding for HANS in response to a CBC story last year that revealed how the charity has repeatedly promoted anti-vaccination content.

At the time, the president of HANS's board was Ted Kuntz, who is also the president of Vaccine Choice Canada, a non-profit group that claims vaccines are inherently risky and that paid for 50 digital billboards across Toronto last year suggesting vaccines are unsafe for children.

The group hosted the 2017 Vancouver premiere of a documentary that tried to prove the long-debunked theory that vaccines cause autism, and has shared posts from the website of the American anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and CBC reporter Bethany Lindsay address five misconceptions about the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. 2:49

HANS has always claimed that it is not an anti-vaccination group, but rather is concerned about "vaccine safety."

In response to CBC's reporting, the charity said that it was forced to "leave the vaccine safety issue in the past," and Kuntz and two other members left the board.

HANS is currently leading a campaign pushing back against Health Canada's plans to introduce rules requiring the claims on labels of natural health products to be supported by the same level of scientific evidence as non-prescription drugs.

 

 

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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