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Hearing set for teacher who says he was trying to inform students of vaccine risks

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Norfolk science teacher Tim Sullivan, of Simcoe, has been found guilty of professional misconduct at a disciplinary hearing before the Ontario College of Teachers. The case relates to a series of incidents at a school in 2015 related to a vaccination clinic. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Norfolk science teacher Tim Sullivan, of Simcoe, has been found guilty of professional misconduct at a disciplinary hearing before the Ontario College of Teachers. The case relates to a series of incidents at a school in 2015 related to a vaccination clinic. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

SIMCOE - 

A Norfolk educator is awaiting a disciplinary hearing before the Ontario College of Teachers following a dispute with public health nurses over the administration of vaccines.

Tim Sullivan of Simcoe was suspended from his job for one day in 2015 after the incident.

Sullivan is a science, biology and physics teacher with 17 years experience. On March 9, 2015, he decided the vaccination clinic at the school “was a rich opportunity to educate students about science and teach them critical-thinking skills,” he said in a recent letter to The Reformer

Sullivan approached the nurses and requested the product information sheets related to the various vaccines. He read the potential side effects to his students. In rare cases, these effects include, vasculitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, encephalopathy and, in the case of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, death.

In his letter, Sullivan said his students were not aware of these risks. He asked the nurses administering the vaccines if they were informing the students about them. Sullivan says he was told no.

“Two days later, I was asked to meet with the school principal and was informed I was being written up for harassment of the health unit nurses,” Sullivan says in his letter. “The accusation requires that I show up in front of the Ontario College of Teachers Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 for a disciplinary hearing.”

Details in the OCT Notice of Hearing are similar to those contained in Sullivan’s letter.

The notice says Sullivan “attended the school’s cafeteria a second time and told students not to get vaccinated and/or suggested that they should not get vaccinated; told students they could die as a result of the vaccination and/or that one of the side effects of the vaccine was death.”

The Notice of Hearing says Sullivan “attended at the school’s office during class time to discuss vaccination of students” and “left his class unattended.”

The notice says Sullivan “attended at the school’s cafeteria a third time and accused a public health nurse of hiding information from him about the content of the vaccines.”

The notice says the Grand Erie District School Board suspended Sullivan without pay April 15, 2015. Sullivan said this week that the suspension lasted one day. He has since rejoined the faculty at the school.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is responsible for monitoring vaccinations at local high schools. Its website has general information on the relative safety of vaccinations. Under the section regarding the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, the health unit answers “Yes” to the question of whether the MMR vaccine is safe.

“Most children will have no side effects or only mild tenderness at the injection site,” the website says, adding some recipients will experience joint pain of varying degrees in the days following inoculation.

The website mentions that people who have had an anaphylactic reaction to the MMR vaccine in the past should not receive a booster. It also warns people with immune system problems to abstain from the vaccine.

This compares with the Merck Canada monograph related to the MMR vaccine. Merck is an international manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, including vaccines. Merck documents Sullivan obtained at WDHS, which are also available on the Internet, say potential side effects include vasculitis, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe allergic reaction, convulsions, Guillan-Barre syndrome, aseptic meningitis, pneumonia and deafness.

“Death from various, and, in some cases, unknown causes have been reported rarely following vaccination with measles, mumps and rubella vaccines,” the Merck monograph says. “However, a causal relationship has not been established in healthy individuals...Cases of severe allergic reaction – including anaphylaxis – have been reported shortly after the administration of MMR.”

The Merck documents also reiterate many of the same sentiments expressed by the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit regarding the safety of vaccinations on its website.

The Grand Erie District School Board was tight-lipped about Sullivan’s situation when asked about it this week.

“This is a personnel matter and we’re unable to comment,” Scott Sincerbox, superintendent of human resources, said Wednesday in an email.

In an interview this week, Sullivan wondered when scientific inquiry became taboo in Ontario schools.

“I never said anything that day that was outside the manufacturer’s insert,” Sullivan said. “I was very careful about that. I was actually warned before not to talk about vaccines. But I have to. It’s part of my curriculum.”

In his letter, Sullivan says the way he has been treated “raises serious questions.”

“When did it become unprofessional to read a label to a class? When did it become harassment to ask a nurse about the side effects of a medical product? When did it become harassment to ask if nurses were honouring their professional ethic of informed consent?”

“Unless the Ontario College of Teachers has a change of heart, it appears it is now considered unprofessional for a teacher to ask questions about vaccines in Ontario or if students are properly being informed prior to a medical procedure,” Sullivan says at the conclusion of his letter.

“I plan to continue reading labels and asking questions. And I will be encouraging my students to do the same. To do anything less would be irresponsible, unethical and a violation of our Charter rights and responsibilities.”

Sullivan’s hearing will be held at the OCT office on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com