A Facebook group with 139,000 members called “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” may have contributed to the flu-related death of a 4-year-old Colorado boy, NBC News reports. Reporter Brandy Zadrozny, who broke the story, refers to the group as one of the “largest known health misinformation groups” on Facebook. Group members routinely ask other members, who are not doctors, for help on how to deal with the flu or other illnesses without consulting western medicine, flu vaccines, or relevant medical science. Group members also flood the inboxes of parents who have lost their children to suggest that vaccines are the reason their kids have died. The group, a quintessential example of how misinformation breeds on parenting forums where vulnerable, scared moms and dads look for guidance from parents who aren’t experts or doctors or might have erstwhile agendas.
A series of posts on the group, cross-referenced with a GoFundMe for the boy’s funeral and quotes in other news outlets, suggests that a mom of a 4-year-old boy from Colorado, who is a member of the group, wrote that while her child had not been diagnosed with the flu, two of four of her children had already been, and that her 4-year-old had a fever and had a seizure. She also noted that the doctor prescribed Tamiflu, a popular antiviral that lessens the symptoms and the severity of influenza, but the mom said she did not pick it up from the pharmacy.
Instead, the mom asked the group for advice on alternative “cures” and told the group she was treating her children with peppermint oil, Vitamin C, and lavender, none of which are cures for the flu. Commenters told her to use breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, which also don’t qualify as flu treatment options. The mom has since deleted the posts from the group but NBC investigations found that as far back as 2017 she said she did not vaccinate her kids from the flu.
This year’s flu is particularly nasty. 68 children have died of the flu this flu season, there have been 19 million cases of the flu, and the hospitalization rate of kids and adults has increased significantly. But the story is alarming not just because this is a particularly deadly flu season — but because disinformation on the internet, and among parenting groups, still thrives despite the medical science and evidence that vaccinations save lives of children, the elderly, and all of the in-between.
The real-time effects of the concerted anti-vaxxer disinformation campaign has already been felt across the country, with major outbreaks and some cities and states declaring States of Emergency and keeping kids home from school due to the outbreaks of disease. Last year, the World Health organization revoked the United States’ measles elimination status in October after a series of outbreaks caused by the increasingly vocal group of parents who have refused to vaccinate their children with the life-saving MMR vaccine. The flu vaccine fear-mongering is more of the same — but often not talked about is the fact that it can have deadly consequences. The flu is not just a virus. It can kill people. And unless parents don’t act when their kid is ill — either by giving them Tamiflu or vaccinating them against the disease — they could lose their children.