Health advocates are blaming anti-vaccine propaganda perpetuated online for the death of a four-year-old Colorado boy from the flu earlier this week.
The boy’s mother, Geneva Montoya, admitted in a Facebook post that she refused to fill the doctor’s prescription for Tamiflu, the most common antiviral medication prescribed to treat the flu.
A search by NBC News uncovered the mother’s engagement with an online group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination. The group of nearly 140,000 members, also called anti-vaxxers, is known for peddling false health information and discouraging parents from vaccinating their children.
The state health department confirmed that the preschooler died from the flu. Officials also said they have no records showing the child had been vaccinated.
Montoya’s Facebook posts show she relayed that the boy had a fever before he experienced a seizure. The child’s doctor had prescribed the antiviral medication for everyone in the household after two of Montoya’s four children were diagnosed.
“The doc prescribed tamiflu I did not pick it up,” she wrote.
Rather than medical attention, Montoya solicited unproven at-home flu treatments from fellow members of the Stop Mandatory Vaccination group. Many of the 45 comments included what Montoya called ‘“natural cures”, including lavender herbs and peppermint oil. None mentioned medical treatment.
Montoya is facing backlash for her association with the group. Najee Jackson Sr, the boy’s father, rejected the criticism, noting that the boy’s “eventual flu diagnosis came as a total surprise”.
“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,” he told local TV station KWGN.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), parents are being increasingly influenced by anti-vaccination propaganda. Researchers found nearly 60% of parents reported their child skipped a flu shot at least once due to “misinformation or misunderstanding”.
Medical experts have said the impact is severe.
This flu season has been particularly brutal for children, including nearly 70 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pediatric hospitalization rates are also above high.
Local TV station KDVR reports that Montoya’s 10-month old infant was later hospitalized after his heart stopped from the flu. He reportedly recovered and is back home with his parents.
The AAFP survey also found that more than half of Americans (55%) in their 20s and 30s did not get the vaccine for this flu season. That’s also because of anti-vaxxer influence from groups and message boards on social platforms like Facebook.
Nearly two-thirds of millennials said they agree with anti-vaccination beliefs.
A Virginia man recently lost his fingers and legs from a severe battle with the flu that later developed into pneumonia. Deante Ross, 20, was rushed to urgent care then flown to a hospital where he was in a coma for three days.
“I had no idea that the flu could cause anything like this,” his stepmother told local station WSET. “It hit him out of nowhere.”
It is unclear if Ross had been vaccinated.
Although, in a statement, Facebook called the four-year-old’s death “a tragedy” and said it is cracking down on the spread of false medical information, the social media platform does not current ban anti-vaccination groups.