Toronto’s ‘Heroes’ Vaccinate Children As Police: Sexist or Publicity Campaign?

The vast majority of the world’s cities have their own special police. Their job is to protect innocent lives by keeping criminals off the streets. But in many cases, the people charged with protecting…

Toronto's 'Heroes' Vaccinate Children As Police: Sexist or Publicity Campaign?

The vast majority of the world’s cities have their own special police. Their job is to protect innocent lives by keeping criminals off the streets. But in many cases, the people charged with protecting us also keep us safe from ourselves.

For the past month, Toronto, Canada has been providing police-like patrols to keep thousands of young children safe from potentially dangerous adults.

The Downtown Relief Task Force (DRTF) has spent the last seven weeks traveling to 8 apartment buildings and bus shelters in the city’s entertainment district, playing superhero and promoting a safe free child vaccination program in which adults in charge of child care are obliged to vaccinate their young charges.

Every morning the volunteers stand behind children as they line up to get free shots. Then on the weekends, they drive on horseback or, like Marwan Ziadeh, play giant Jenga to inspire enthusiasm for the pediatric influenza vaccine.

“I saw the need. Toronto has a very high burden for immunization,” Mr. Ziadeh said.

The task force has vaccinated over 14,000 children in the last six weeks alone. This program works to build trust by paying an 8-cent “runner” fee for each vaccination.

The goal is to change behavior around vaccination. The teachers even take photographs with their kids and leave a note with the child’s immunization number.

Some of the kids actually ask questions to learn more about the program. One girl asked to “meet the police.”

Toronto’s police chief, Mark Saunders, says the campaign “has been very successful.”

From mid-March until early April, Toronto recorded a 1,488 percent increase in childhood vaccinations.

Of course, the results are welcome but the program may be hurting innocent party. While the city insists this is no way to launch a vaccination campaign, experts say it is likely an inadvertent taxpayer-funded public relations campaign.

Yale University Professor Renee Cortines says the police are “participating in a massive PR stunt.”

Mr. Cortines thinks the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination project has evolved from purely altruistic to “offensive” behavior. The city should have just said it is grateful, he says.

“Toronto’s ‘heroes’ are giving a taxpayer-funded pep talk and preventing public health problems in an embarrassing manner,” Cortines says.

Cortines insists that vaccines are now a politically correct issue, which is bad for public health.

Meanwhile, the police, under fire for being “the bad guys,” have not filed any complaint with the city.

“This is a way of doing good, a way of being seen as active citizens,” explained Greg Muzione, communications director for the Toronto police services board.

Muzione also notes that there have been a lot of anti-police attacks in the media recently.

Last March, Toronto’s police chief, Mark Saunders, joined other Canadian police chiefs in their call for the federal government to buy new handguns.

The executive director of O’Hare Community Health and Hospital Center has said he wants more focus on handgun violence “as a public health issue,” instead of a gun control issue.

Asked if the task force’s proactive approach to tackling the gun problem was insurance against attacks by gun-toting criminals, Muzione said: “Absolutely not.”

The police, he added, are after “the real bad people” and “we’re not talking about that.”

Both police and social scientists agree that the problem has to be solved with a combination of public education and gun control.

Boston and Baltimore have also seen measles outbreaks because of the failure to vaccinate local residents against the dangerous disease.

The actions of the TDTF have gone a long way in defusing this growing virus.

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