By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Following comments made during a media briefing last week regarding the vaccination of children aged 5-11, Haldimand-Norfolk’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matt Strauss has found himself in the crosshairs of the provincial Liberal party, who called for his immediate removal from the position.
In a statement, Ontario Liberal House Leader John Fraser said, “We’re at a critical point in the pandemic where vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for children, but we now have a public health official unnecessarily sowing doubt. Doug Ford and Dr. Moore need to use the tools available to remove Dr. Strauss from this position.”
The offending comments came as Strauss was discussing a set of recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), specifically how the guidelines state that the Pfizer vaccine ‘may’ be administered to children, not that it ‘should’.
“Individual risks, individual children, and families will have to consider what their values are, what the risks are, and what the benefits are. If that’s not immediately clear to them, they should discuss it with a health care provider they trust,” said Strauss at the time. “I cannot make a blanket recommendation for children I’ve never met.”
This is not the first time a spotlight has been shone on Strauss for his comments on pandemic-related issues. He infamously tweeted ‘Live Free or Die’ in opposition of lockdowns and was the subject of scrutiny when he was voted into his current role by the the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health. He has, however, routinely championed vaccination as the best way to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and has refrained from commenting on the effectiveness of lockdowns since becoming the Acting MOH.
Strauss responded to the criticism over his remarks: “I think it is necessary to listen to experts and follow the science. NACI are the experts. They have carefully evaluated the science. These are their recommendations,” he said. “So far, I have not seen that any of my critics are vaccine experts who have carefully evaluated the relevant data.”
However, several prominent doctors did take to Twitter to disagree with Strauss.
“I CAN ‘make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met’ – get vaccinated for your health, your family’s health, and for the health of the public,” said ER Doctor, Dr. Raghu Venugopal, who has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University.
Strauss offered further clarification for his comments: “I specifically read from the NACI guidelines and associated NACI documents. NACI is a committee of eminently qualified physicians and scientists with expertise in vaccine approval tasked with providing recommendations to the Public Health Agency of Canada. They have spent the last several weeks evaluating the relevant data. I think their statement speaks for itself. They specifically declined to recommend that children ‘should be’ vaccinated, but rather, recommended that children ‘may be offered’ vaccination. This is an important distinction that parents in our community should understand.”
Strauss declined to respond directly to Fraser or others in the Liberal party calling for his removal: “It is very important that my office not be politicized. It is very important that the NACI recommendations not be politicized. I have no further comments about politicians’ statements.”
Despite declining to say that children in the 5-11 range ‘should’ get a vaccination, Strauss did say that he is “very hopeful that we will see high vaccine uptake in our community. Certainly, we expect this to slow down some spread.”
He summed up his thoughts, “I can’t say it better than Dr. Theresa Tam: ‘It is very important that we all support children and their caregivers in making informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccinations, while respecting their choices and pace of decision-making.’ The parents of Haldimand-Norfolk can expect that their public health unit will exemplify this respect and support.”