A Winnipeg dad was hoping his 11-year-old daughter's doctor would help convince her getting immunized against COVID-19 will be safe when she turns 12, but they got anti-vaccination information instead.
A complaint about the doctor's conduct has been submitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.
The dad, who asked that his name not be used in order to keep his daughter's identity private, said he went with her to the South Sherbrook Health Centre on Sept. 29, with a list of questions to ask the doctor in an effort to assure the girl the vaccine is safe.
But he didn't expect the answers he got from Dr. Wilhelmus Grobler.
"In my opinion, without a doubt, he is an anti-vaxxer," the father said. "If you were on the fence about getting the vaccine you would come out of there and not get a vaccination.
"This man is a danger to public health and should have his medical licence suspended."
More than 60,943 Manitobans have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic and, as of Monday, there had been 1,213 deaths.
With case numbers rising during the current fourth wave of the virus, the province imposed new public-health orders and restrictions Tuesday, moving the pandemic response system to orange from the less-restrictive yellow level.
More than two million vaccine doses have been administered in the province, and over 81 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and older have received two shots. That leaves about 160,000 residents who are eligible but remain unvaccinated.
"In my opinion, without a doubt, he is an anti–vaxxer." – Father
The dad, who took contemporaneous notes after leaving the office, said among the things Grobler told him was that the trial period for the COVID-19 vaccines was not long enough, noting it took 15 years for the polio vaccine to be approved and other vaccines take at least five years.
Grobler also said the only people that need to get the shot are people older than 80, and that the number of adverse effects from the vaccine is not accurate because he tried to report some but the input was refused because it was beyond the post-injection two-week period. He also said that while there is no evidence the vaccine causes sterilization, he believes it might and is concerned.
The father, who said at that point he was frustrated with Grobler's answers, asked whether he believes the vaccine makes people magnetic.
"Sure enough, Dr. Grobler stated that some people have more ferrous blood that can have some sort of reaction to the vaccine and, after another long medical explanation, stated definitely, yes, people can become magnetic for up to a week after receiving the vaccine," he said.
The fully vaccinated dad said he left the office questioning what he thought he knew.
"But some of the things he said almost have you second–guessing yourself." – Father
"The messaging is so scary," he said. "I'm a proponent of vaccination and I believe in the science. I have strong opinions and follow the public-health message.
"But some of the things he said almost have you second-guessing yourself."
He said Grobler told him patients from southern Manitoba — where vaccine uptake has lagged behind the rest of the province — make up much of his practice.
Grobler did not respond to a Free Press request for comment.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba confirmed Wednesday it had received a complaint.
The owners and management of the South Sherbrook Health Centre said in a statement that they would not be commenting on the matter because it arose during a private medical consultation.
"As an organization, we respect the rules of protecting our patients and community and we support the decisions and advice from our public-health authorities," the statement said.
"We are confident that Dr. Grobler will be co-operative with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba concerning whatever information and/or action is required to resolve the matter."
"He needs to have his licence revoked by the college." – Dr. Anand Kumar
As well, the clinic said patients can book appointments to get both COVID-19 and flu shots at the facility.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive-care unit physician who has worked throughout the pandemic, offered a blunt take on the dangerous message Grobler is delivering to patients.
"He needs to have his licence revoked by the college," said Kumar, who has watched patients die from COVID-19.
"Also a neuropsychiatric exam."
Keir Johnson, a spokesman for the Doctors Manitoba professional association, said an overwhelming number of physicians are vaccinated against COVID-19 and the majority of the few who aren't are being treated for cancer and haven't been able to get the shots in the small window they have between treatments.
"Our research has found that well over 99 per cent of physicians in Manitoba are already vaccinated," said Johnson.
"Physicians trust the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and that's why they recommend them to patients... it is a physician's responsibility to use scientific evidence in helping patients understand risks and benefits to make a fully informed decision about their care. This is true for surgeries, prescribing medications or advising on vaccinations."
It's not the first time Grobler has been accused of spreading COVID-19 information contrary to advice from public-health officials here and around the world.
Last October, while vaccines were under development, Grobler posted a notice at the Sherbrook Street clinic comparing the virus to the common cold.
"This is the position of your trusted medical caregiver and medical expert since 2008," the statement from Grobler said.
"The virus causing COVID-19 is a cold virus and causes cold symptoms for the vast majority of people infected between the ages 0-80. Statistically, it is not more lethal or carry excess morbidity over any other cold or flu virus for this age group."
Grobler said the only age group that should be under lockdown are people age 80 and over with pre-existing medical conditions "until the whole herd has natural immunity. These are the only group that eventually won't get the virus."
At the time, the College told Grobler to remove the notice, stating "he will not post any further signage or otherwise disseminate information to his patients or the public regarding COVID-19 that do not align with current public-health directives in any format including in writing, verbally and on social media."
According to the physician profile section on the College's website, Grobler graduated from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1980 with training in family medicine.
He was registered to practice in Manitoba on Aug. 22, 1991.
There have been no malpractice judgments or disciplinary actions against him during his career.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.