A 4-year-old boy in Colorado has died from the flu after his mother refused to give him Tamiflu at her pediatrician's behest and instead consulted an anti-vaxx Facebook group for advice. "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" is one of Facebook's largest groups focused on spreading misinformation about vaccines. This is the group where the boy's mother posted asking for advice on how to treat her son's flu.
According to the GoFundMe page set up by the family, Najee Jr. was the youngest of four. On February 2, his mom took him to the ER with a fever of 104. According to her post in Stop Mandatory Vaccination," which has since been deleted but was reported by NBC News, "the doc prescribed tamiflu I did not pick it up."
Several of her other children had also been sick with the flu, and the doctor had prescribed Tamiflu "for everyone in the household." Tamiflu is not a vaccine; it is "the most common antiviral medication prescribed to treat the flu," writes NBC News. There are fairly widespread concerns about potentially serious side effects from the drug, but if the person taking it is monitored, it can work wonders on severe flu symptoms.
It can also be used in low doses to prevent the flu in healthy people in the same household as someone who's been diagnosed.
According to NBC News, "None of the 45 comments on the mother's Facebook post suggested medical attention." She had written that she'd been trying several "natural cures," including peppermint oil, vitamin C, and lavender, and they weren't working. She asked the group for more suggestions; they offered ideas like breastmilk, thyme, and elderberry.
Although none of these are recommended flu treatments, she wrote that she would try them. If she'd given her children the Tamiflu they were prescribed, there's a good chance Najee would still be alive.
This story made its way to Twitter, where users were appalled and begged others to please heed the expert advice of medical professionals over random people in a Facebook group intent on spreading misinformation.
It's extra concerning that anti-vaxxers seem to have expanded their purview beyond vaccinations to treatment medications, perpetuating the idea that any medicine a doctor prescribes will do more harm than good.
Many blame Facebook for allowing this misinformation to spread at such a rapid rate. Political scientist Ian Bremmer wrote on Twitter, "Opinion: This woman — and the anti-science peddlers who convinced her to harm her child — should face criminal charges."
In an emailed statement to NBC News, a Facebook spokesperson said, "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."
According to NBC News, "Facebook has taken steps to limit the volume and reach of groups that spread anti-vaccine content." But Facebook hasn't taken the all-important step of banning or taking down "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" and other similar groups for good.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told NBC News that they did not have records showing whether or not Najee Jr. had been vaccinated for the flu, but posts from his mother in the Facebook group in years past seemed to suggest she did not vaccinate her children.
"While flu is circulating, it is not too late to get a flu shot," the department wrote to NBC News, "and we recommend everyone ages six months and older who has not had the yearly vaccine get it." Getting vaccinated for the flu could literally save lives.