A Midwest mother of three young boys faced the ultimate nightmare: A child’s death.
Her 4-year-old son contracted the flu and died. She cared for her two younger sons to make sure they remained safe and healthy. On Facebook, she hoped to find support during her tragedy, but instead found comments from anti-vaxxers telling her she caused her child’s death or that he deserved to die or that she was lying about even having a son.
CNN spoke to this mom and others who have experienced similar treatment by online anti-vaxxers. The media outlet reports that members of anti-vax groups “encourage each other” to go to the Facebook pages of parents who have just lost children and accuse them of making up a non-existent child, blaming the parent for the child’s death, claiming vaccines were to blame, “or some combination of all of those.”
“Nothing is considered too cruel. Just days after their children died, mothers say anti-vaxers on social media called them whores, the c-word and baby killers,” CNN reported.
The outlet also reached out to Larry Cook, who founded the group Stop Mandatory Vaccination. He said harassment of parents happens but is rare.
"Any discussions about parents who lose their children after those children are vaccinated would be minor in number, and even smaller would be the number of members reaching out to parents in private message to share their concerns that vaccines may have played a role in a death," Cook told the outlet in an email.
He added that he does “not condone violent behavior or tone and encourage decorum during discussion,” but said that those who advocate for vaccines “can expect push back and resistance.”
He also said his own members have been targeted for harassment and threats on social media.
Another anti-vaxxer, Del Bigtree of the Informed Consent Action Network said he tells his members to “look at the person you're talking to and those on the other side of this discussion and recognize that they care about children, too.”
Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.
Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. The reasons for this rise are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy. However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.
Washington State is currently experiencing a measles epidemic due to a lack of vaccinations. More than 50 cases were being treated in early February, as anti-vaxxers protested state lawmakers who were trying to remove parents’ ability to decline vaccination over philosophical concerns.
New York is also experiencing a measles outbreak, as are California, Illinois, and Texas, according to the Center for Disease Control.