In recent years, anti-vaccination groups have been a very vocal minority on social media. Their Facebook groups often perpetuate false health information that leads to harmful, and sometimes deadly, consequences.
Tragically, such was allegedly the case for a Colorado 4-year-old, whose mom was given poor advice from members of an anti-vax group on Facebook. The mom was looking for information about the flu drug Tamiflu, and the group advised her to treat her son’s symptoms with home remedies like thyme, sliced potatoes, elderberry, and breastmilk.
According to reports by NBC, the desperate mother followed suit. Just four days later, her son was dead.
The health misinformation came from a group called “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” one of the biggest groups of its kind, boasting over 139,000 members. They are known for spreading conspiracy theories that the outbreaks of preventable diseases are government “hoaxes.” They also cruelly target parents whose children died, claiming without evidence that vaccines are to blame.
One recent post was written by the mom of the deceased 4-year-old. She asked group members for advice, while mentioning that she declined to fill a doctor’s prescription written for her son.
“The doc prescribed Tamiflu, I did not pick it up,” she wrote.
Though the boy hadn’t been officially diagnosed, he had a fever and a seizure. She also explained that two out of her four children had been diagnosed with the flu, and the doctor prescribed Tamiflu (an antiviral) for everybody in the household.
Tamiflu is well known as the most common medication used to treat the flu, as it can alleviate symptoms and shorten the length of the illness.
The post has since been deleted from the “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” page.
The grieving mother disputes the allegations in the viral NBC article, asserting that she did everything the doctors told her to do.
“I’m hurting so bad right now and so is his dad and his brothers. Our whole family is hurting,” she said in another interview. “And it’s like we feel like we failed because we did what we had to do. We called the doctors. We called the hospital. We gave them the medicine we were instructed to give. We did everything.”
A Facebook spokesperson released the following statement via email regarding the tragedy:
“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.”
However, thus far, Facebook has not made an effort to shut down the anti-vaccination groups, citing an “unease with being the arbiter of truth.”