The day after a majority of chiropractors attending a meeting of their regulator voted to oppose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, B.C.’s health minister told an industry representative he was starting to doubt the wisdom of self-regulation, CBC has learned.
On Dec. 1, the College of Chiropractors of B.C. held its annual general meeting and registrants voted in favour of a non-binding resolution calling for the regulator to “take a stand” against an expected vaccine mandate for health professionals.
The next day, CBC published a story about the meeting, including comments from some chiropractors who argued, without evidence, that the vaccine isn’t safe or effective.
According to a Dec. 3 email to members of the B.C. Chiropractic Association (BCCA), a voluntary professional organization, from executive director Angie Knott, Health Minister Adrian Dix then reached out to her in response to what she described as an “inflammatory” article.
Knott spoke with Dix by phone, and said he “expressed his extreme displeasure” about the remarks of some chiropractors.
“Minister Dix indicated it was an embarrassment that a health profession would in such resounding numbers … support such unfounded and false claims while people are dying from COVID-19,” she said.
In bold and underlined text, she added, “He also stated that it made him question the validity of self-regulation.”
Dix declined to comment on the phone call.
During last week’s meeting, 78 per cent of those in attendance voted in favour of the motion. The college has since provided attendance numbers showing the meeting was attended by 261 chiropractors out of 1,379 fully licensed and practising registrants.
A total of 173 voted in favour of the resolution — or about 13 per cent of chiropractors in B.C.
BCCA representatives chose not to speak out during the meeting because they didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on mandates, Knott said last week. She added that they weren’t expecting chiropractors to make explicitly anti-vaccine statements.
Chiropractors are not trained in treating or preventing infectious disease and are prohibited from offering advice on vaccinations in B.C.
‘Potentially devastating impact’ of story
Knott’s Dec. 3 email lays out a timeline for the next day and a half after the meeting, as the CBC story was published and then widely shared on social media, even attracting a satirical treatment from The Beaverton, a news parody website.
After the phone call with Dix, BCCA leadership drafted a statement responding to CBC’s report “ensuring that the concerns expressed by Health Minister Dix were clearly addressed,” Knott wrote.
She went on to say that any member chiropractors who were contacted by the media should direct those inquiries to the BCCA, which she said “has responded quickly to mitigate the potentially devastating impact this situation could have.”
Early on the evening of Dec. 2, Knott emailed the association’s statement to CBC with a message saying the BCCA “was disappointed to not be contacted” before the story was published.
During an interview the next day, she said the association was “appalled and disappointed at the misrepresentations made by that handful of chiropractors concerning the safety and science behind the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Dix made similar comments during a press conference.
Knott told CBC on Wednesday she informed members about her phone call with Dix in an effort to be transparent.
“We wanted to ensure that our members were well-informed about the seriousness of this issue, the impact the media coverage made to date, and the actions being taken on their behalf to ensure that the B.C. Chiropractic Association’s support for public health measures, including vaccination, were made clear,” Knott said.
Previous concerns about self-regulation
This is not the first time health ministry officials have expressed concerns about the ability of the profession to regulate itself.
In 2018, CBC reported on an anti-vaccination video that had been created and shared by the college’s then-vice chair Avtar Jassal, in violation of college policy and despite complaints from a member of the public.
A Freedom of Information request to the ministry later showed that the day after the story was published, the ministry’s director of regulatory initiatives wrote an email saying he was asked to outline “what options we have when a college is not meeting its legal obligation as set out under the HPA [Health Professions Act].”
A draft plan was titled “Options to Act when College dysfunctional.”
Those emails also contained messages from the BCCA saying the association had tried to complain about anti-vaccine statements made publicly by multiple college board members, but the college hadn’t accepted their evidence.