Coronavirus: Taranaki doctor under investigation after being accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19 in online presentation hosted by anti-vaccination group Voices for Freedom

A Taranaki doctor accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and the Pfizer vaccine is under investigation by officials

Peter Canaday, a former radiologist with the Taranaki District Health Board, has been giving public talks about the pandemic and vaccine rollout. When alert level 4 restrictions were introduced in mid-August after the detection of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 he took his presentation online.

In a two-hour event hosted by controversial group Voices for Freedom and NZ Outdoors Party co-leader Sue Grey, for $10 viewers got to hear Dr Canaday make a range of claims about the vaccine and disease - which scientists Newshub spoke to said were rife with falsehoods, weren't backed by evidence, or were at best misinterpretations of the science. He claimed so far he'd given the presentation at 17 public events, with queues out the door. 

A concerned member of the public contacted Newshub, saying their "naturalist" flatmate was one of 1800 people who signed up for the broadcast after hearing about it through members of their church. They said Dr Canaday and Voices for Freedom were "feeding the NZ public dis/misinformation or basically crap about vaccines" and they were worried their flatmate was not going to get vaccinated as a result.

In the presentation - later uploaded for free viewing - Dr Canaday makes a range of claims, including:

  • that the vaccine is a "medical device" that doesn't produce a cellular immune response, might contain hidden magnetic metals, can be 'shed' onto the unvaccinated, possibly doesn't offer protection as strong as natural infection, can cause miscarriages and infertility, has minimal efficacy, and has killed several thousand people - including dozens in New Zealand that haven't been reported
  • that PCR tests don't work, can't tell the difference between the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus and influenza
  • that there's growing evidence the virus was manufactured, it's barely any more dangerous than the flu
  • that doctors are being bullied into not prescribing treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

In the video, he says before entering radiology he specialised in respiratory diseases. He said he's not anti-vaccination, and isn't providing misinformation but rather "missing information", drawing on Government sources, news reports and peer-reviewed studies he believes are "reliable". 

Newshub spoke to experts about Dr Canaday's claims, many of which they said were either completely false, not backed up with strong evidence or impossible to verify. (Click here for a full breakdown of Dr Canaday's claims, and why they have scientists concerned.)

The Medical Council told Newshub it "takes this matter very seriously".

"We confirm we have received notifications from the public and we are considering a number of options," a spokesperson said. 

"Council’s primary purpose is to protect the public health and safety of New Zealanders. This is the touchstone against which the council considers every decision about individual doctors… There is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners. 

"Council expects doctors to be aware of, and comply with, its published standards of clinical and ethical practice.  It is open to council to review a doctor's compliance with its standards whenever it has reason to consider a doctor is failing to do so."

Dr Canaday told Newshub "any article in the public press is… not the proper forum for discussion of points and counterpoints in such a complex topic as this one".

"Ultimately, intelligent New Zealanders should be given an opportunity to hear many sides of the question at hand, and make up their own minds."

Peter Canaday
Peter Canaday in the video hosted by Voices for Freedom. Photo credit: Voices for Freedom

He declined to comment on the Medical Council investigation, saying it "involves certain allegations which will be addressed in due course, but are, of course, not appropriate to disclose at the time of an ongoing investigation". 

In the video uploaded by Voices for Freedom, founder Claire Deeks - a food blogger and multi-level marketer - said he was now retired. 

The Taranaki DHB confirmed to Newshub he retired from there in early March, but has a current practising certificate that doesn't expire until the end of November. A spokesperson for the DHB said they weren't aware if his views on COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout played a part in his departure. 

Voices for Freedom - which has a history of spreading COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation, and been booted off social media sites including Facebook and YouTube - did not respond to Newshub's request for comment. 

The group said in emails to supporters the cost of watching the live broadcast would partially go towards covering legal costs incurred by doctors who oppose the vaccine rollout. 

The investigation into Dr Canaday comes after the Medical Council said it was closely looking into another Auckland doctor, Matt Shelton, who sent unsolicited messages to patients telling them he wouldn't support vaccination for "fertile" women. 

"If a doctor is not complying with the standards set by council, there are a number of options available… which in the most serious cases can include suspension or placing conditions on a doctor’s practice to protect the public from harm and referring the notification to a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) for further investigation," the Medical Council told Newshub.

"All investigations are carried out by a PCC which is a separate independent body to the Medical Council. It is the PCC which determines whether or not charges will be laid with the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT). The HPDT hears and determines disciplinary proceedings brought against health practitioners, including deciding what sanctions should be put in place."