The vaccination debate is a hot one currently, with measles outbreaks starting to occur in areas of low vaccination rates. It is a topic that often involves people who have lost children or have had children injured -- on both sides of the argument. However, there have been some recent reports of anti-vaxxers responding with hateful messages to parents who have lost children.
As CNN points out, when Jill Promoli lost her 2-year-old son to the flu in 2016, she discovered a world of hate from anti-vaccination campaigners. Said activists allegedly flooded her Facebook account with messages. Instead of messages of support over the loss of her son, she found she had become a victim of an anti-vaccination campaign.
The online attacks included swearing at Jill and telling her that she caused the death of her son. Others insisted that she would also have the deaths of other children on her hands, thanks to her advocating for parents to get their children vaccinated against the flu.
"The first time it made me feel really sick because I couldn't fathom how anybody could even come up with such a terrible claim," Promoli told CNN. "It caught me off guard in its cruelty. What kind of a person does this?
This is not an isolated attack, however. Further, it is something that Promoli believes is a targeted action against those who can advocate most strongly in favor of vaccination -- those who have lost children to preventable diseases.CNN spoke to many people who had lost children, and discovered a common thread. Many times, anti-vaxxers attacked grieving parents. Another common thread in these targeted attacks saw activists telling parents that their children didn't exist. Some particularly hateful trolls told grieving parents that vaccines -- or the parents themselves -- caused the death of their children.
Serese Marotta, who lost her 5-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu in 2009, heads the website Families Fighting Flu. She has reportedly witnessed the hate campaign personally. When she posted a video on the eighth anniversary of the death of her son, she allegedly received many horrible messages. She claims that some people called her obscene words, and that others attacked her for promoting vaccines.
"May you rot in hell for all the damages you do!" one message on Facebook read, via a provided screen capture.
Marotta was reportedly sent a death threat.
"She called me a lot of names I won't repeat and used the go-to conspiracy theories about government and big pharma, and I responded, 'I lost a child,' and questioned where she was coming from, and she continued to attack me," Marotta said.
It's not just grieving parents who receive these sorts of messages. Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings School of Law, has reportedly received such messages in response to her vaccine advocacy.
Pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit also allegedly keeps a folder of all the threats that he has received. He does this so that "if someone kills me, my wife can give it to the police."
What is the official stance on these attacks by anti-vaccination campaigners?According to Larry Cook, the founder of Stop Mandatory Vaccination, these attacks do occur. However, he points out that they are not publicly endorsed by his organization.
"I do not condone violent behavior or tone and encourage decorum during discussion," Cook wrote in an email to CNN.
He also added that anyone "who deliberately engage[s] in the politics of advocating for compulsory vaccination where children may be further damaged through government vaccine mandates can expect push back and resistance, alongside knowledgable [sic] discussions about vaccine risk in social media commentary."
Cook also points out that his own members have been threatened as a result of discussions about vaccination.
Del Bigtree, chief executive officer of the Informed Consent Action Network, also points out that people need to be aware that both sides of the debate include people who are grieving.
"I tell everybody that you should look at the person you're talking to and those on the other side of this discussion and recognize that they care about children, too," Bigtree said.