Photo Credits: Verywell Health
Vaccine hesitancy, also known as anti-vaccination or anti-vax, is identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top ten global health threats of 2019. “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” is one of the largest known health misinformation groups with more than 178,000 members. Members of this Facebook group have previously spread conspiracies that outbreaks of preventable diseases are “hoaxes” perpetrated by the government, and use the groups to mass-contact parents whose children have died and suggest without evidence that vaccines may be to blame.
A mother, whose 4-year-old child was running a fever and had a seizure, took her child to the doctor. The doctor prescribed the antiviral Tamiflu for everyone in the household. “The doc prescribed Tamiflu, I did not pick it up,” she wrote in Facebook group.
The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu. “Perfect, I’ll try that,” the mother responded.
Unfortunately, none of the 45 comments on the mother’s Facebook post suggested medical attention. The child was eventually hospitalized and died four days later, according to a GoFundMe started on his behalf by his family. This is just another example how using the internet in search of healing information and listening to incompetent advice can endanger life and even lead to death. Researchers found nearly 60% of parents reported their child skipped a flu shot at least once due to “misinformation or misunderstanding.”
A Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “This is a tragedy and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. We don’t want vaccine misinformation on Facebook, which is why we’re working hard to reduce it everywhere on the platform, including in private groups.”
Facebook announced in March that it would limit the reach of anti-vaccination content and no longer serve up anti-vaccination groups and pages in search results or the recommendations bar. And Facebook no longer allows users and groups that spread vaccine misinformation to place ads or run fundraisers. But Facebook has stopped short of banning the anti-vaccine groups themselves, citing an unease with being the arbiter of truth.
“The negative comments: keep to yourself. Because, at the end of the day, what’s important is that each one of these parents goes home and kisses their kids,” the boy’s father told local TV station KWGN.