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Vancouver ER doctor pens medical thriller about fear and misinformation surrounding anti-vaccine movement

·3 min read
Lost Immunity by Vancouver emergency room physician Daniel Kalla was released Tuesday, May 4. (Michael Bednar Photography, Simon & Schuster Canada - image credit)
Lost Immunity by Vancouver emergency room physician Daniel Kalla was released Tuesday, May 4. (Michael Bednar Photography, Simon & Schuster Canada - image credit)

Daniel Kalla finished his latest book about vaccine hesitancy and misinformation the day he learned what COVID-19 was.

"Now, it's the hot button issue and arguably the biggest issue facing the world right now," he told Early Edition guest host Michelle Eliot.

His book, Lost Immunity, comes out Tuesday, shortly after the one-year anniversary of the declaration of a global pandemic and as people around the world are being vaccinated against the virus.

The book centres on a dangerous bacteria causing deadly outbreaks around the world, and a local public health officer who asks a pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine to release it early.

Kalla, a Vancouver emergency room doctor and bestselling author, said it carries an important message for him.

"I knew vaccine and vaccine hesitancy would be a big issue before COVID," he said.

"This is a very pro-vaccine book and a cautionary tale about vaccine hesitancy, but I'm not trying to vilify the vaccine hesitant."

He said people who are hesitant about vaccines range from those who are unsure about some vaccines to people who are "zealous" about the anti-vaccine movement.

Hesitancy around vaccines is nothing new. Pictured above, members of Vaccine Choice Canada, a group launching a legal challenge to Ontario's child vaccination system, hold a rally at the provincial legislature on Oct. 29, 2019.
Hesitancy around vaccines is nothing new. Pictured above, members of Vaccine Choice Canada, a group launching a legal challenge to Ontario's child vaccination system, hold a rally at the provincial legislature on Oct. 29, 2019. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

One of the main characters in his story is a naturopath whose son has autism, for which he blames the measles vaccine.

"It allows me to get into the history of the anti-vax movement and what drives them," Kalla said.

"For some of them, it's become a religion. It's truly not based on science. And unfortunately, it poses a risk to them and to all of us. It's not just like smoking or other habits that can affect people personally. You know, anti-vax can have, unfortunately, trickle down effects on all of society."

He recognizes that his message won't reach everyone, but understands why some people are reluctant to be injected with new medication.

A health worker administers a vaccine on Vancouver Island at a clinic in January 2021.
A health worker administers a vaccine on Vancouver Island at a clinic in January 2021.(Shawn Wagar/Island Health)

However, he stresses how important it is that everyone who is able to be vaccinated, gets vaccinated.

"The mRNA vaccines like Pfizer have been given to hundreds of millions of people with practically no side effects. It's one of the safest medications we know and it's unbelievably effective," Kalla said.

"It's our societal obligation to get vaccinated."

Thriller genre 'perfect vehicle' to share scientific message

Kalla's work specializes in topical, often controversial, medical issues, including The Last High, released last year, which looks at the opioid crisis.

As a child, Kalla read books by James Michener and Michael Crichton to give him context when it came to science and history. Using the thriller genre as a conduit to share scientific facts came naturally to him.

"It just seems like the perfect vehicle to get some message across without being preachy and too dry," he said.

An ad from the Ontario Medical Association aimed at combating overall vaccine hesitancy is pictured in a bus shelter.
An ad from the Ontario Medical Association aimed at combating overall vaccine hesitancy is pictured in a bus shelter.(Paul Smith/CBC)

When he met with his publishers two years ago, he felt vaccination was the perfect fit for a thriller novel.

"I realize this issue is never going to go away," he said.

"Vaccination is one of the greatest medical miracles of modern times. Yet there's no other medical advance that's just engendered so much myth, hysteria and passion."

Listen to Daniel Kalla's interview on The Early Edition here: