Anti-vaxxers must be rubbing their hands

Public health authorities, and the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit among them, have long been ripe for accusations of bureaucratic excess.

I have frequently seen our local health unit do little to discourage such accusations, over the past two decades.

I was covering the health unit board in early 2008 when staff submitted a budget calling for the hiring of the equivalent of 11.76 positions, at a cost of $444,106. The proposed hires included program managers, program assistants and public health nurses, but also a "mentoring champion," who would help new staff members settle into their positions.

The medical officer of health at the time, Dr. Anne Carter, said the health unit often gets new employees from larger centres or even other countries and the mentor would coach these people and imbue them with the local health unit's values.

Hiring someone to imbue co-workers with particular values? In a government agency? I remember thinking at the time the idea had a certain Soviet feel to it.

Which, these days, would play beautifully to Premier Doug Ford's dismissal of the Toronto Board of Health as a "bastion of lefties."

But a propensity toward bureaucratic overreach notwithstanding, the tri-county health unit does a number of important things, and I worry a plan to do away with it and shuffle off our public health services to a mega-board possibly based in Ottawa would be a case of curing the disease by killing the patient.

The health unit does plenty of worthwhile stuff, but for now I will focus on the one that, were it replicated today, would most readily pit lefties against righties, or maybe even unite the loony-left with the kook-right in an online campaign against science.

I recall getting my kids vaccinated in 2009 against the deadly "swine flu" (H1N1), and I also recall covering the local health unit's large-scale mobilization against it.

By then, no one was trying to hire a Soviet-style political officer to indoctrinate the troops. Rather, health units were doing what health units were supposed to do: Managing long lines of parents with apprehensive children winding their way outside the Memorial Centre doors.

It was also an early introduction, at least for me, to the corrupting influence of the Internet on our civilization. Back then - speaking of Moscow - fake news accounts on Facebook, troll farms and troll bots pushing conspiracy theories had yet to hit their stride as malignant agents in our society. But the campaign was real nonetheless, waged by anti-vaxxers in the comments section of our online stories, many of them ADVERTISING THEIR IDENTITIES BY USING ALL-CAPS.

Public heath officials, and yours truly as a small but vital footsoldier of the Enemy-of-the-People MSM, had to fight a rearguard action against these forces of ignorance, myself in an opinion column but the health unit, more significantly, in repeated vaccine awareness campaigns, all to keep H1N1 from ravaging the local community.

In the end, tragically, our area still lost at least two people due to H1N1.

Fast-forward more than a decade and we now live in a society besieged by a Trump-inspired war on science, in which anti-vaxxers have helped measles make a comeback and have the entire arsenal of social media with which to carry out their continued assault.

To be sure, we will not know how well, or how poorly, this proposed mega-board will function until we know its composition: Who will run it, from where, with how many satellite offices and how many MDs, RNs and RPNs on the ground locally to tackle the next H1N1 virus.

And local MPP Steve Clark may yet be right that more consultation might change the shape of this merged health authority, although, as of mid-week, the MPP's assurances seemed to contradict the word from Queen's Park.

But for now, one is left asking how this mega-authority would deploy the resources necessary to tackle an H1N1-type outbreak in Leeds and Grenville today.

If it would deploy the same number of front-line workers but with fewer administrators, well, fine.

But proper administration, done by people who know local needs, also has its place.

In the age of social media, a "mentoring champion" at the health unit still sounds somewhat Kremlinesque.

But these days, a "science champion" sounds more like a necessity.