*Follow the money* Examining the COVID-19 Ontario Science Advisory table – a deeper look

By: Greg Staley

Written On: 2021-05-31

There are 27 members in total on the Ontario Covid-19 Science Advisory Table and 19 of them are either employed (in some capacity) at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (part of University of Toronto) or they’re attached to U of T directly. If the goal of the Science advisory table is to provide unbiased and balanced points of view on our handling of Covid-19 than they have failed to do so in my opinion.

Dalla Lana School of Public Health – University of Toronto

To be clear there is nothing wrong with having representation from The University of Toronto or the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The issue is having 19 of your 27 members be tied in some way, shape or form to the University of Toronto – that is if your goal is to provide a balanced advisory table.

Members on Science Table with ties to U of T or Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Leadership Team

  • Kumar Murty: Professor of Mathematics, University of Toronto;
  • Beate Sander: Associate Professor & Faculty Co-Lead Health Technology Assessment program, Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME), University of Toronto;
  • John McLaughlin: Professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Other Members tied to U of T or Dalla Lana School of Public Health

  • Isaac Bogoch: Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto;
  • Kevin Antoine Brown: Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Sarah Buchan: Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • David Fisman: Professor of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Michael Hillmer: Assistant Professor, Institute for Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, University of Toronto;
  • Peter Jüni: Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Department of Medicine and Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto;
  • Jeff or Jeffrey Kwong: Associate Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Sharmistha Mishra: Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Paula Rochon: Professor, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Laura Rosella: Associate Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto;
  • Brian Schwartz: Vice-President, Public Health Ontario Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health makes the following transparency statement on their website:

“The Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases is supported by the DLSPH which receives funding from government, philanthropic, not for profit and private sector organizations. Private sector funding sources include vaccine manufacturers.”

In the Spotlight – Kumar Murty

I will now begin examining different financial ties for different members of the Ontario Science Table. We will begin with the leadership core of the Science Table (2 of 3 members) and then move onto one more prominent (vocal) voice on the table.

Kumar Murty is the co-owner of two companies that could be benefitting from lockdowns. On Mr. Murty’s U of T profile it says, “Professor Kumar Murty is in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Toronto. His research fields are Analytic Number Theory, Algebraic Number Theory, Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry and Information Security. He is the founder of the GANITA lab, co-founder of Prata Technologies and PerfectCloud.

Prata Technologies

Mr. Murty is on the leadership team of the Ontario Science Advisory Table and is a big proponent of the advancement of technology. According to his Science Table profile, “his recent work has expanded to mathematical modelling in social, economic and health contexts. This includes his work on Smart Villages, which received a Connaught Global Challenges Award in 2017.”

Prata Technologies says that they are a “custom software development” company that provides solutions in mobile development and their site notes that “mobile technology” is “becoming the center of attention nowadays” and that the world is “turning wireless.” This is true. What is also definitively true is that consumers are spending record amounts of money and time on apps during the lockdown.

For instance, “according to a new report from App Annie, consumers in the third quarter downloaded 33 billion new apps globally and spent a record $28 billion in apps — up 20% year-over-year. They also spent more than 180 billion collective hours each month of July, August and September 2020 using apps, an increase of 25% year-over-year.” – TechCrunch

So it can be safely assumed that lockdowns have caused an absolute boom in app development profits around the world – the same sorts of app development that Prata claims to do on their website (see slideshow below). Would this cause Mr. Murty to have a biased point of view?

Mr. Murty is involved in the following Canadian Institute of Health Research Studies:

Project Title: COVID-19 Variant Network – Are healthcare workers at higher risk of COVID-19 than other working adults?

Length of study: 1 yr

CIHR contributions: $100,000

https://webapps.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/decisions/p/project_details.html?applId=443345&lang=en

Project Title: COVID-19 Variant Network – Agent-based and multi-scale mathematical modelling of COVID-19 for assessments of sustained transmission risk and effectiveness of countermeasures

Length of study: 1 year.

CIHR contributions: $100,000

Project Title: Agent-based and multi-scale mathematical modelling of COVID-19 for assessments of sustained transmission risk and effectiveness of countermeasures

Length of study: 2 years.

CIHR contributions: $666,667


In the Spotlight – Beate Sander

Beate Sander is also on the leadership team of the Ontario Science Table. Below is the list of studies she is involved with.

Project Title: COVID-19 Variant Network – Are healthcare workers at higher risk of COVID-19 than other working adults?

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: $100,000

Project Title: COVID-19 Variant Supplement – Evaluating the differential impact of what we have done, as we prioritize what to do next: a multi-provincial intervention modeling study using population-based data

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: CIHR – $50,000

Project Title: COVID-19 Variant Network – Evaluating the differential impact of what we have done, as we prioritize what to do next: a multi-provincial intervention modeling study using population-based data

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: CIHR – $100,000

Project Title: Scalable, Customizable, Digital Health Communication Materials to Help Canada Address the COVID19 Pandemic

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: $311,296 from CIHR

In the Spotlight – David Fisman

David Fisman has been a very vocal member of the Science Advisory Table in Ontario. Mr. Fisman made waves when it was found out that he had taken money from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) while arguing for smaller class sizes. He most recently received attention for being upset about the Science Table’s decision to advocate for the regional reopening of schools saying that “we may get away with this gamble or we may not.”

The Toronto Sun wrote about the potential conflict of interest saying that “In the document, Fisman claims the fall reopening plan “will cause illness and deaths” in the community and presents smaller class sizes as one of the key mitigation measures required. Fisman’s labour board submission does not mention potential harms to kids from keeping schools closed. The call for smaller class sizes has been a key focus of union grievances, both during the pandemic and in the years prior to it.”

Honorariums paid to Fisman by Vaccine companies

Many theorize that the longer lockdowns go on, the more it will drive some in the “vaccine hesitancy” camp to go get vaccinated. This means that taking honorariums from vaccine producers could be a potential conflict of interest.

  • Pfizer Vaccines: “Attended an advisory board meeting on future projections for the pandemic” and was paid an honorarium
  • AstraZeneca Vaccines: “Attended an advisory board meeting” and was paid an honorarium

Project Title: Population-based seroprevalence of prior infection with COVID-19 in Canada: implications for testing, economic revitalization and population health.

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: $955,694 from CIHR and $50,000 from Alberta Innovates Corporation (Edmonton)

Project Title: Understanding, Forecasting and Communicating Risk During the COVID-19 Epidemic

Length of study: 2 years.

Financial contributions: $331,683 from CIHR

Project Title: TARGet Kids! COVID-19 Study of Children and Families: Safe Return to School, Work, and Play

Length of study: 1 year.

Financial contributions: Public Health Agency of Canada – $974,826

In Closing

There is much more to be dug into when it comes to the Ontario Science Table that is informing the Premier’s Covid-19 decisions. For now, we will leave it at these members but I will continue to write on this topic in greater detail.

My takeaway is that the group that is supposed to be informing the Premier is composed of too many members from one institution – the University of Toronto/ Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 19 of the Science Table’s 27 members are involved with U of T in some capacity so there is not a whole lot of diversity on the panel. We don’t have representation from the community as a whole. Where are the small businesses at the table? Where are the child psychologists? Why wasn’t there some attempt at striking a semblance of balance?

In addition, I have found through CIHR Funding Decisions Database that many of the members on the Science Table have been enjoying funding that is related to Covid-19. You can verify this yourself by typing Covid into the search bar and cross-referencing it with the names on the Ontario Science Table.

This presents yet another roadblock that could create a lack of trust from the public as one can pontificate that those receiving funds that are related to the severity of Covid (urgency) may not be eager to pull their feet off the gas pedal and suggest that reopening is the right way to go.

I’m not insinuating that these individuals are devious but rather that when finances are tied into your work it has a way of taking away the appearance of being unbiased and potentially sub-consciously altering how you approach your work and the overall narrative you present.

Diverge Media will continue to investigate this topic. However, in order to take the time required to write such pieces we need your help! Please support independent Canadian media by buying some merch at our online store or by donating in the form below – all the best the Diverge Media team!

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Published by Greg Staley

Greg Staley is a husband, and a father to 3 beautiful girls. He is a concerned citizen who is closely watching his government's actions through critical thinking, and assessment of all qualified and relevant data. He believes in going to the Primary sources of data at all times if possible.