Firm retracts whooping cough remedy claim

Fraser Health said vaccination drive was undercut, health hazard posed

Dr. Paul Van Buynder is chief medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority.

A Port Coquitlam firm that claimed its oil of oregano product is an effective alternative to the whooping cough vaccine has apologized for misleading the public after the Fraser Health Authority ordered a correction.

Enerex Botanicals Ltd. published the retraction in Vancouver daily newspapers but did not go as far as chief medical health officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder wished.

“I am disappointed that the company has not taken the additional step of recommending vaccination to prevent the transmission of whooping cough,” he said, calling it the best protection against the illness, also known as pertussis.

“We continue to see new cases of whooping cough in Fraser Health and are concerned that we may see an increase now that kids are back in school.”

Fraser Health said Enerex did comply with Van Buynder’s directive under the Public Health Act to correct the misinformation in a previously published advertisement, which showed oil of oregano alongside a broken syringe and read: “The natural way to help combat whooping cough… It’s nice to know vaccines aren’t the only choice to combat this disease.”

Fraser Health has experienced a significant whooping cough outbreak over the past year and public health officials say some parents’ unfounded opposition to vaccine use can worsen the spread.

In his letter to Enerex, Van Buynder said the firm created a health hazard because the ad was likely to discourage vaccination and hamper efforts to fight the outbreak, putting small children at risk of hospitalization or even death.

Van Buynder said many natural products and behaviours can enhance a person’s ability to fight and resist infections and disease, including eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise, but said they can’t prevent disease transmission.

The firm said it did not intend to infer oil of oregano is as effective as vaccination against whooping cough, but maintained the product has “antibacterial and antiviral properties” and characterized the incident as a “misunderstanding.”

Van Buynder, his counterpart at Vancouver Coastal Health and B.C.’s provincial health officer have also urged Health Canada to investigate the incident as a potential violation of federal legislation governing health advertising.

As of Sept. 5, there have been 328 confirmed and suspected cases of whooping cough in the Fraser Health region since the outbreak began in the Hope-Chilliwack area last December.

There were 23 new cases in the last four weeks and there have been no fatalities to date.

All adults in regular contact with young children are urged to get the free whooping cough vaccine via a doctor or participating pharmacist.

So far Fraser Health has distributed 36,000 doses but that’s short of its target of immunizing 50,000 to 75,000 adult caregivers in order to reduce the chances of infection for vulnerable infants.