Anti-vaxx mother's Facebook post highlights how dangerous the movement is for children
The anti-vaxx movement has captured the attention of the world. A number of unproven theories have linked certain infantile vaccinations with learning difficulties and autism. Preferring what they see as a more natural approach, anti-vaxxers therefore flout medical advice and choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children.
A growing movement, it has been popularised in part by social media. Often it mainly affects the children of an anti-vaxx family, whose parents received their immunisations against potentially deadly diseases when they too were too young to decide.
As well as highlighting an interesting conundrum when it comes to who makes decisions about children’s healthcare, the movement has been vilified by other parents who accuse anti-vaxxers of being irresponsible not only with their own children’s health but with everyone’s. This is because an unvaccinated child could act as a carrier - and infect people who have been vaccinated.
A divisive issue, it has sparked endless debates online. One such debate followed a polite request for advice from an anti-vaxx mother who was concerned about a recent outbreak of measles in her state.
“My 3-year-old is not vaccinated and there is currently a measles outbreak in my state,” she wrote in an online post. “Any suggestions for precautions I can take to protect her would be very much appreciated.”
Written in the Facebook group Vaccine Education Network: Natural Health Anti-Vaxx Community, the woman perhaps thought she would be safe from the platform’s pro-vaccination contingent. However, they were quick to swarm to her post.
The woman received a lot of abuse and jokes about her apparent contradiction. However, while anti-vaxxers don’t believe that immunisations are best for children, they seek to protect them in other ways.
Conversation around alternatives to vaccination has blossomed into an entire community - including various groups, pages and personalities on Facebook. However, the social media giant has come under scrutiny for its libertarian attitude towards what many people believe is misleading and potentially dangerous content. Driving home some facts, other commenters on the mother’s post were keen to point to logic.
While some of these comments got incredibly personal, it highlights the level of emotional attachment to the topic. Pro-vaccination parents are especially keen to point out the perceived injustice in not vaccinating one’s child.
In fact, a 15-year-old boy identified only as “Danny” asked Reddit’s /r/legaladvice thread how he could get vaccinated despite having anti-vaxx parents. Suggesting that he is open to ideas of legal or even illegal ways around it, he posted the following.
“I am writing because I am the 15 year old son of an anti-vaccine parent. I have spent the last 4 years trying to convince my mother that vaccines are safe. I haven't succeeded. So instead I am trying to research how to be vaccinated without my mother's consent.
“I live in Minnesota, and I have been reading the Minnesota Statutes 144-159 regarding Health, and more specifically 144.341 - 144.347 regarding Consent of Minors for Health Services. I also read the 121A.15 HEALTH STANDARDS; IMMUNIZATIONS; SCHOOL CHILDREN.
“Currently here is what I understand: According to Minn. Stat. § 144.3441, "A minor may give effective consent for a hepatitis B vaccination."
“However, I cannot conclude what kind of consent, if any, do I have to get from my parents to recieve further vaccinations. Is it a signature? Is it verbal?
“According to http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/ss/ssminorhc.pdf, "Minors may not receive health care services without their parents’ or guardians’ consent, unless specified otherwise in statute."
“I also read this interesting document: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/121/Supplement_1/S85.full.pdf
“I am confused as to what Statute 144.345 REPRESENTATIONS TO PERSONS RENDERING SERVICE means. Can someone please clarify?
“The consent of a minor who claims to be able to give effective consent for the purpose of receiving medical, dental, mental or other health services but who may not in fact do so, shall be deemed effective without the consent of the minor's parent or legal guardian, if the person rendering the service relied in good faith upon the representations of the minor.
“In conclusion, my question is if I have missed anything or am misunderstanding anything. I don't think I can recieve any vaccines except the hepatitis vaccine without parental consent.
“What legal consequences can I face if I fake my parent's signature giving me consent to vaccinations besides the hepatitis vaccine?
Danny received a number of suggestions ranging from speak to his school nurse to fly to a different state and get vaccinated there. Overall, however, it is very difficult for children to get vaccinated against their parents’ will.
“I’ve tried to have conversations with my mom about vaccinations,” Danny later told Bored Panda. “My attempts were often conversations with me bringing a website or a scientific study to show her.”
“I’ve tried to have conversations with my mom about vaccinations,” he adds. “My attempts were often conversations with me bringing a website or a scientific study to show her. Often it concluded with my mom saying that she would do some more research later.” His explanation continues below.
“We both understand each other’s views and respect them, we are able to have good and open discussions. However, it honestly came down to just being persistent enough so that at the last doctor’s checkup I had several months ago, at the end of it I kept nagging my mom about it and asked the doctor to talk about vaccine risks and safety. We convinced my mom to let me get a tetanus and polio shot. Since then I haven’t had any other shots, and my younger siblings don’t have any vaccinations at all.”
“My mom has been anti-vaccine, and my dad does not have a strong opinion on this, as far as I know, he just supports my mom. Both my parents have been vaccinated, however, not in this country. It’s highly likely that this experience is a major factor in the decision to not vaccinate. The toughest aspect to understand, and it’s incredibly important to acknowledge it, is that their decision is made with good intention and my best health and safety in mind.
“My mom and dad are not doing this with malicious intent, in fact, it’s quite the opposite, they want the best for me. However, that decision, in my opinion, was not properly researched/informed.
“The topic then transitions to the question, ‘Who is responsible?’ Are my parents at fault for not thoroughly researching the topic? Or is it the sensationalist websites and media that post for clicks by publishing false and controversial claims? Is the educational infrastructure in the US at fault for not teaching students how to differentiate from false information and facts, for not thoroughly teaching how to conduct research and what sources to trust? Is it the homeopathic industry that is at fault? It makes billions of dollars with extreme profit margins, it has its own lobby organizations and fights its enemies as hard as it can. The belief in homeopathy correlates with skepticism about vaccinations, and in reality, a lot of money is on the line – globally the market is expected to reach over 17 billion by 2024.
“The best thing to do in this case is to put stricter enforcement on vaccination, possibly going even as far as making it mandatory unless exempted by a doctor for health-related reasons. Loosening laws on the requirement for parental consent in these types of situations.”
While Danny’s story is a tiny microcosm of the overall picture, criticism leveled at Facebook is highlighting just what an important issue this is to society at large. Currently, paid anti-vaccination campaigns delivered to users’ newsfeeds are allowed on the platform.
YouTube has also received criticism for allowing the anti-vaxx community to flourish. On Friday, the company announced that it would be reducing the number of videos which “could misinform users in harmful ways”. Meanwhile, Facebook have been reviewing posts which could lead to “real-world harm”.
The debate around vaccination will inevitably continue. Everyone is entitled to make their own decisions regarding their bodies. However, that this mother is concerned about her unvaccinated child catching measles shows that parents understand the risks they are taking by not having their children immunised.
Furthermore, that children who are old enough to understand the decision are being denied vaccinations is troubling. Ultimately, a number of knee-jerk reactions have led to an entirely new school of thought. One can only hope that science, or perhaps common sense, will prevail.