Health

Anti-Vaxxers Send Death Threats to Parents Who Have Lost Their Children: "What Kind of Person Does This?"

Anti-vaccine campaigners have targeted the parents of dead children, in online messages ranging from death threats to accusations of murder.

In recent years, proponents of what is known as the anti-vax movement have used groups on social media platforms, including Facebook, to spread lies and disinformation against vaccines and those who support them. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization warned that the threat of vaccine hesitancy was so serious that it named it one of the biggest threats to health in 2019. 

The parents of children killed by illnesses related to vaccines told CNN that anti-vaxxers shared news of the deaths in forums, and encouraged members to send families abusive messages. One mother said she believes the attacks are designed to prevent parents from becoming pro-vaccine campaigners. 

Jill Promoli of Toronto was among the parents ro receive such threats after her son died, CNN reported. On May 6, 2016, her 2-year-old son, Jude, had a low-grade fever when she put him down for his afternoon nap, Promoli wrote on her flu vaccine campaign website.

When she went to wake him, she found he was unresponsive. Jude was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later, and was later confirmed to have died of influenza B.

After his death, Promoli launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of the flu, and to encourage parents to get their children immunized against the virus. Her efforts have been so successful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted a photo of himself getting his jab alongside the caption #ForJudeForEveryone.

Jude had been vaccinated against the flu, but “extraordinarily rarely" individuals can still die of the viruses they are given shots against, Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital, told CBC. As the flu vaccine is less effective than others (at between 40 percent to 60 percent compared with the MMR vaccine at 97 percent)  the more people have it, the more herd immunity is bolstered.

Soon after the launch of her campaign, anti-vaccine campaigners sent Promoli online messages saying vaccines had killed her son, while others accused her of murdering Jude and using the flu as an alibi. They also called her the c-word, and said she wanted other children to get the flu shot so they would also die, and those parents would share her pain.

Promoli told CNN: "I know that these people are really trying to hurt me, and I understand that the reason they're doing it is because they want me to stop.”

She asked: "What kind of a person does this?"

Catherine and Greg Hughes, who live in an area of Australia with low vaccine rates and therefore relatively low herd immunity, had a similar experience when their 1-year-old son, Riley, died of whooping cough. Babies too young to get shots rely on herd immunity to  protect rhem from infectious diseases. Catherine told CNN that anti-vaxxers users told her and Greg to kill themselves, and argued that her son had died because he had been vaccinated, even though he hadn’t been.

Pediatricians raising awareness of the life-saving benefits of vaccines have also been targeted, CNN reported.

David Robert Grimes, science writer and pro-vaccine advocate has also felt the wrath of ant-vaxxers. Describing the tactics of members of the movement in targeting vaccine advocates, he recently told Newsweek: “You will be identified as a target and what usually happens is a coordinated campaign against you.

“It doesn’t tend to be just one complaint from one individual. These people usually go into their own forums or Facebook pages and share your work, and you get a kind of coordinated round-robin attack.”

He said many fellow vaccine campaigners had been intimidated by anti-vaxxers online.

“They’ll often go on Twitter or Facebook and threaten you. They do it to scare you and put you back in your place, make you feel uncomfortable. To silence the voice of dissent. Unfortunately, it works.”

Join the Discussion

Editor's Pick