In the midst of a deadly flu season, health misinformation and propaganda can mean death for young children. One child has already died as a result.

By Kristi Pahr
February 10, 2020

In a post-truth world, a world where public opinion is shaped not by fact but by propaganda and misinformation, battles, and lives, are won and lost on social media. Misguided activist groups sway hearts and minds with rhetoric and vitriol, putting science aside and risking lives in the process.

The newest victim of this dangerous trend is a 4-year-old boy from Colorado. According to since-deleted posts in an anti-vax Facebook group, the young boy's mother reached out for advice, decided against giving him medication, and days later, he died.

According to the posts in the Facebook group "Stop Mandatory Vaccination," the boy's mother, Geneva Montoya, posted that after two other children were diagnosed with the flu the whole family was prescribed Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that is commonly prescribed to treat influenza. At the urging of members of the anti-vaccination Facebook group, which boasts over 130,000 members, she refused to fill the prescription.

Commenters in the group suggested using vitamin supplements, zinc, skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, boiling thyme on the stove, and even cold compresses of cucumber and potato slices—instead of following the doctor's recommendation for the family to take Tamiflu. According to NBC News, none of the 45 comments on the mother's post recommended conventional medical treatment.

Close-up of side of a box of oseltamivir phosphate medication, trade name Tamiflu, used to treat influenza, March 22, 2019.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Montoya later updated the post, saying that her 10-month-old had also had a seizure and a temperature of 105. She explained that she treated the infant with elderberry, peppermint oil, vitamin C, and lavender oil, and that the fever had not abated. "Please no hard comments," she wrote. "I'm a momma freaking out all alone in this with a family who believes in none [sic] natural ways...They are making me feel bad for not putting him on Tamiflu [sic]."

According to a GoFundMe set up by the family, Najee developed a temperature of 102, experienced a seizure, and was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs. He passed away four days later.

The group "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" is run by Larry Cook, an anti-vaccination activist and "advocate for natural living." The group's aim is to educate people about the "dangers of vaccination" and to mobilize people against mandatory vaccination. The group has been known to mass-contact grieving parents to spread anti-vaccination rhetoric and propaganda. And that's only one of many anti-vaccination Facebook groups spreading disinformation about vaccines and potentially life-saving medication. Here's what health professionals advise when it comes to preventing and treating the flu.

Flu Medications

Oseltamivir (aka Tamiflu) is an antiviral medication that is commonly prescribed to treat the flu.  It helps to lessen the symptoms associated with influenza infection and reduces the risk of serious flu-related complications like pneumonia. The medication can be taken in pill, liquid, or powder form and works by attacking the flu virus which prevents it from spreading throughout the body.

Drugs like Tamiflu (or similar antiviral medications) can also be used preventively by those who've been exposed to the flu virus but aren't showing symptoms. That means if one family member gets the flu and starts taking an antiviral within the first two days of symptoms, the rest of the family has a smaller risk of catching the virus.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend antiviral drugs like Tamiflu for children who are diagnosed with a severe case of the flu or are at risk of complications (chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease).

Flu Vaccines

It has also been reported that, in the now-deleted posts, Montoya stated that none of her children had been vaccinated against influenza. But despite rampant doubt over the efficacy of flu vaccinations, fueled in part by anti-vaccination campaigns, research shows the flu vaccine can save lives.

According to the CDC, a 2014 study showed that the flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74 percent during flu seasons from 2010-2012. Similarly, a 2017 study found evidence that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from flu.

"Think of it this way: The vaccine may not protect all people from getting the flu, but it usually lessens disease duration and severity. Why not do something that protects you from a virus that can kill you?” Aaron Milstone, M.D., associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, one of five Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, previously told “It’s the same reason you wear a seat belt. It’s not a guarantee that you won’t die in a car accident, but it reduces the risk.”

If you haven't been vaccinated or had your children vaccinated yet, it's not too late. The CDC recommends vaccination throughout the flu season, which begins in the fall and doesn't end until late spring.


Comments (4)

February 15, 2020
Not to engage in a debate of wits and intelligence with someone who is clearly unarmed but reports like this are necessary because people like these groups advocate unproven and dangerous alternatives for PROVEN safe treatments. Anti vaxers need to man up and take responsibility for deaths like these as their misinformation clearly led this vulnerable mom to making a reckless and deadly decision for her helpless child. Vaccines are SAFE and one of the only ways people triumph over viruses that aim to spread to every last one of us. Medicine goes through so many trials before becoming an allowed let alone recommended treatment. I understand that people who can find no other place to lay blame choose to blame the vaccines but it has been proven by study after study that vaccines save lives not endanger them.
February 14, 2020
I read the same story except the mother had said she had given him the medicine as prescribed! You of all people should have seen that if you had actually done your investigative job!
February 13, 2020
This article is irresponsible, sensationalist and fear-mongering. Not to mention heartless towards the family that lost a child. Many doctors believe Tamiflu is not effective and the side effects can be severe: nausea, vomiting, dizziness are common and seizures. Please read more actual science (peer-reviewed studies) on the effectiveness or not of Tamiflu. I have friends who were prescribed Tamiflu and got so much sicker taking Tamiflu than just having the flu that they had to stop taking it. I was prescribed Tamiflu once and after reading the fine print specifying the scary side-effects and that it only helps you recover 1 day faster, ONLY IF YOU START IT THE FIRST DAY YOU HAVE THE FLU, I decided it wasn't worth the risk. My father, who is a doctor, won't take Tamiflu and doesn't recommend it.
February 11, 2020
Shame on Parents Magazine for not reading the science behind why tamiflu can be harmful. Wake up. Most people are ex VAXXED Bc our children suffered grave injuries that we have to care for and deal with every day, for the rest of our lives. Many of us have lost our careers caring full time for our vaccine injured children. By far the worst is parents who have had a child die after vaccination. SHAME ON SUCH CRAPPY REPORTING... wake up and restore integrity to journalism. Since when is there only evee one side to a story. Come live the life of a vaccine injured family.. I dare you.