The death of a pre-school age Colorado child has put social media networks like Facebook under scrutiny once again for allowing misinformation to spread unchecked. A 4-year-old boy died from the flu after an anti-vaxx Facebook group reportedly encouraged his mother to pursue natural remedies instead of using doctor-prescribed Tamiflu, NBC News was among the first to report. Instead of treating her children's flu with the antiviral medicine, members of the anti-vaxxer Facebook group reportedly told the mother she'd be "better off" giving them elderberry, Zinc, and "eating lots of fruits and vegetables," screenshots from the Facebook group show.
According to reports and screenshots from NBC News and the Colorado Times Recorder, the 4-year-old's mother turned to the "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" Facebook group run by anti-vaccine activist Larry Cook for help when two of her children tested positive for the flu and a third child fell ill. "I am terrified my 4-year-old had a febrile seizure at only temp of 102," the Colorado Times Recorder reported the mother wrote. "The doc prescribed tamaflu [sic] I did not pick it up ... What can I give them to help the fever or the symptoms subside?"
In response, one member of the group claimed the mother would be "better off taking Vitamin D and C, Elderberry, Zinc, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables," the paper reported.
According to NBC News, none of the comments on the mother's post recommended seeking medical attention, despite her update that one child had a fever of 105. Instead group members recommended breast milk, skin-to-skin contact, sleep, boiled thyme, and more vitamin C.
While the mother's Facebook posts reportedly said she did not pick up the prescribed Tamiflu, she told a local CBS News station that she gave her children medicine as instructed. "We called the doctors. We called the hospital," CBS reported the woman said in a phone interview. "We gave them the medicine we were instructed to give. We did everything."
In response to criticism the mother has received online, the boy's father told KDVR the family didn't have time to be concerned with negative comments. "I don’t look at none of it," he told KDVR. "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."
In a GoFundMe campaign, the child's mother said the 4-year-old fell unconscious at home on Feb. 2 and was airlifted to Children's Hospital Colorado Springs where doctors determined the boy had suffered "an anoxic brain injury related to a seizure that may have occurred from a fever or from him losing his airway." On Feb. 6, the mother updated the campaign to say her son had passed away after being taken off life support.
While the child's mother noted that neither her 5-year-old nor her 10-month old had received the flu shot, it was unclear whether the 4-year-old may have received it. In confirming news of the child's death, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said they did not have records that show whether the child had been vaccinated against influenza, Fox 31 Denver reported.
On Facebook, Cook reportedly appeared to blame the hospital for the boy's death in a post to the "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" Facebook group. "Mom says they were treated poorly by the hospital, and of course, never offered any real treatments that would have likely cured her boy," screenshots from the Colorado Times Recorder showed Cook wrote. In her GoFundMe campaign, the boy's mother had noted the family "had great doctors and nurses that have given us hope and encouragement."
According to the Colorado Times Recorder, all posts related to the boy and his family have since been deleted from the "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" Facebook group.
While Romper's request for comment from Facebook was not immediately returned, a spokesperson told NBC News the social media network was working to reduce the vaccine misinformation being shared. "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," the spokesperson said. While Facebook has not barred anti-vaccine groups or activists from the network, The Hill reported that it moved to limit their reach last year by excluding them from search results, recommendations, fundraisers, and ads.
This year's flu season has hit children especially hard, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A reported 78 children have reportedly died from the viral infection nationwide this season. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive a flu shot each and every season with rare exception.