In his Twitter profile picture, Patrick Phillips, MD, poses with a stethoscope. He tweets about how ivermectin could end the COVID-19 pandemic, encourages his over 36,800 followers to seek vaccine exemptions, and compares getting vaccinated to what Jewish people endured in Nazi Germany. Sound familiar? He wouldn’t be out of place in America’s Frontline Doctors, the group that’s garnered much attention for their similarly provocative stances — but the small maple-leaf flag by his name says otherwise.
Doctors and nurses casting doubt on COVID vaccination, masks, and other medical guidance aren’t limited to the U.S. — they’re quickly amassing their own followings in Canada. Foremost among these collectives is perhaps the Concerned Ontario Doctors and Canadian Frontline Nurses, who a number of contrarian clinicians have aligned themselves with.
“I have the perception that subset, the very right-leaning political fringe, is more sizable in the U.S. than it is in Canada, but we have it here too,” said David Juurlink, MD, PhD, a pharmacologist and internist in Toronto.
“To be quite honest, we’ve never really dealt with medical professionals until the pandemic,” said Elizabeth Simons, deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “Typically they will keep a distance from the hate angle, but they’re still standing shoulder to shoulder with hate-promoting groups and individuals.”
“It’s a growing problem for sure, [and] it’s getting worse” with the introduction of proof of vaccine requirements for various events and businesses, she added.
Provincial professional medical regulators are starting to respond formally in an effort to combat misinformation spread by physicians, whose honorary MDs lend them and their associated fringe groups a veneer of credibility.
“When it comes to misinformation being spread by healthcare professionals, obviously it leads to bigger consequences,” said Krishana Sankar, PhD, of ScienceUpFirst, an organization that works to combat misinformation in Canada and is partly funded by the Canadian Association of Science Centres. “That’s because these are the trusted voices that we usually tell people to get their information from, to follow their guidance.”
According to reports this week, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) confirmed that it had spoken directly to seven doctors after receiving complaints that they had been spreading misinformation about COVID-19 online. The Canadian Press reported that the regulatory body had also spoken with physicians who gave vaccine exemption letters to patients without clinical evidence.