Three misses at the Toronto Star

Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, the Toronto Star, let its readers down yesterday, three times off the mark in describing vaccine issues. All three let-downs appeared in a story covering recommendations by the C.D. Howe, an economic think tank, that Ontario should establish a vaccine registry.

The first miss in “Ontario failing to meet national vaccination targets,” an article by Patty Winsa, came in not challenging the think tank’s assumption that herd immunity would be achieved by meeting “the national target of 85% to 97% coverage, depending on the vaccine.”

As the Star reported: “For every different vaccine a certain percentage of people need to be vaccinated for herd immunity to take effect, to protect even an unvaccinated person,” said Colin Busby, a senior policy analyst at C.D. Howe. “When the coverage slips below target, the likelihood of you having herd immunity decreases quite a bit.”

The Star, and Mr. Busby, seem to be unaware that herd immunity is a theoretical concept that in practice has repeatedly failed “to take effect,” even when rates higher than the targets have been achieved. In recognition of this failure to achieve herd immunity, Dr. Gregory Taylor of the Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC last year that “The target would be to have 100 % of the population vaccinated.”

The article’s second miss came in references to “anti-vaxxers” and “the anti-vaccination movement,” without explaining that vanishingly few members of this movement actually oppose vaccination. The vast majority simply wants more research to better identify the small subset of the population that might react adversely to certain vaccines under certain conditions, just as some people might react badly to some pharmaceuticals under certain conditions. A more accurate description of this movement, one which few would quarrel with, would be the “safe vaccine movement.”

The third miss came in describing a mother who feared that her newborn might catch measles when in a doctor’s office with a patient who had measles. The implication, not entirely unfair, was that the patient’s failure to vaccinate was putting the newborn at risk. While this is true, it is also true that mothers who have been vaccinated themselves put their newborns at risk, because they have few antibodies to pass on to their baby. Unvaccinated mothers who are naturally immunized are able to pass on four times as many antibodies — historically, this has been nature’s way of protecting newborns.

Our rating

The Toronto Star’s misses cumulatively amount to spin that misleads the reader. This article gets three band-aids, one for each miss.



  1. Jutta Mason says:

    Number one problem about the Star’s doctor’s office story is why was the child with measles sitting in the doctor’s office. Measles is an occasion for a house call, surely. And so are other contagious diseases, e.g. the flu. Happily, there are a number of excellent medical house call services around, tax-funded.


  2. The regularity with which major media gets the information wrong on vaccines is a serious concern. How can parents possibly make an informed decision when so much information is distorted or inaccurate? What recourse do we have as citizens to hold media as the Toronto Star more accountable?


  3. Regarding the use of “safe vaccine movement”, it’s hard to know how many, but there is no doubt a significant number of people who want nothing to do with vaccination, no matter how formulated or tested – especially those who have already suffered or witnessed injuries or death. There is also a growing body of scientific literature that challenges the wisdom of most vaccination.



  1. […] Charlie Fidelman, who reports on health issues at the Montreal Gazette, might also want to do some homework before her next article, to enable her to challenge nonsense from interviewees. Her article, Pockets of ‘vaccine hesitancy’ remain across Canada, failed as well by misleading Gazette readers on herd immunity, making the same error that the Toronto Star did this week, as explained in a recent post. […]


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