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Anti-Vaxxers Tell a Mom Not to Give Her Son Tamiflu — and Then He Died

Facebook vows to stop spread of such misinformation on its platform

A 4-year-old boy in Colorado died from flu this week. Just days before, his mom had reached out Facebook’s biggest anti-vaxx group, “Stop Mandatory Vaccination,” for treatment suggestions. Members urged her not to take the Tamiflu — the most common antiviral medication prescribed to treat the flu — but rather give him oils and elderberries and put potatoes in his socks.

Yes, potatoes in his socks.

None of the 45 comments on the mother’s Facebook post suggested medical attention. The child was eventually hospitalized and died four days later, according to a GoFundMe started on his behalf by his family. The Facebook group has 139,000 members and is run by an internet marketer who hawks anti-vaccine books and films and raises money through his website, accepting donations through PayPal that “go directly to me,” he writes. The group is, in a word, shameful.

The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for additional advice. Among the suggestions: breastmilk, thyme, potatoes in socks and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.

“Perfect, I’ll try that,” the mother responded.

Although the child had not yet been diagnosed yet, he was running a fever and had a seizure, the mother wrote. She added that two of her four children had been diagnosed with the flu and that the doctor had prescribed the antiviral Tamiflu for everyone in the household.

“The doc prescribed tamiflu I did not pick it up,” she wrote.

The flu has hit children especially hard this season. Pediatric hospitalization rates are higher than normal, and 68 children have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement to NBC News, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed that the preschooler had died from the flu and said it did not have records indicating whether the child was vaccinated.

“While flu is circulating, it is not too late to get a flu shot, and we recommend everyone ages six months and older who has not had the yearly vaccine get it,” the department said.

Over the last year — amid nationwide concern over vaccine hesitancy and the worst measles outbreak in decades — Facebook has taken steps to limit the volume and reach of groups that spread anti-vaccine content.

A Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement to NBC News: “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.”


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