It was a sunny but cool Sunday afternoon when Frisco anesthesiologist Zach Jones, MD, and his young family set out on a neighborhood stroll with a purpose.
Dr. Jones and his wife loaded their 1- and 2-year-old sons into a wagon, and grabbed a backpack stuffed with immunization flyers from the Texas Medical Association’s Be Wise – ImmunizeSM program and some of TMA’s promotional bee toys. They were on a mission.
“I’ve been reading in the news that North Dallas in particular has become a hotbed of conscientious objection from vaccination,” said Dr. Jones, who adopted Be Wise as his community service project for the TMA Leadership College. “I wanted to inform my community with my wife and kids in tow that vaccines are safe and effective, and I wanted them to receive that message from a friendly neighborhood face.”
The outing was a success. His neighbors were quite receptive to his message, and he met a nearby family who has an immunocompromised child.
“That gives me an enormous sense of belief in my cause because I am in fact trying to protect that child from a disease outbreak in addition to my own children,” he said. “I can use that anecdote to tell my other neighbors, ‘This is not some vague idea. There is literally a child down the street who relies on all of us to get vaccinated.’”
Like any good 21st century advocate, Dr. Jones wrote about his adventure on Facebook, sharing photos of his family and the wagon, the backpack, and the yellow, rubber bees. His friends applauded his efforts, and some asked him to change the privacy settings on his Facebook post so they could share it with their friends.
Shortly, the now-public post attracted the attention of an anti-vaccine group on Facebook.
“Within a matter of 30 minutes I had dozens of very vocal, ardent, dissenters on my personal Facebook page writing very insulting messages about myself, my wife, and my kids,” Dr. Jones told Texas Medicine Today. “After speaking about it with my wife, we decided very quickly that it was in our best interest and safety simply to delete the post.”
A little bit of online research convinced Dr. Jones that he wasn’t an isolated target. In an article entitled “Anti-vaxx 'mobs': doctors face harassment campaigns on Facebook,” The Guardian reported that a Washington state naturopath received similar treatment after testifying in support of legislation to eliminate that state’s personal exemptions for childhood vaccinations. A Pittsburgh pediatric clinic’s Yelp and Google ratings pages were flooded with one-star reviews after it launched a campaign promoting the human papillomavirus vaccine, The Guardian reported.
And Houston pediatrician/microbiologist Peter Hotez, MD, an outspoken critic of vaccine opponents, said on Twitter that negative reviews had overrun the Amazon page that sells his new book, Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism. (See our review of Dr. Hotez’s book.) He said most of the comments accuse him of being an “industry shill” for vaccine manufacturers.
“#Antivax obsessed with payola, makes me wonder who pays them?” Dr. Hotez mused.
Dr. Jones said the online trolls further emboldened him to continue the fight.
“So later that afternoon, after the Facebook fiasco, I went and walked another two blocks with my wife and kids and received even more support from my actual neighbors,” he said. “Those are the people that are most important to me, that I interact with every day, not some stranger on Facebook who wants to make me feel bad for what I’m doing.”
Be Wise — Immunize is a joint initiative of TMA and the TMA Alliance, a volunteer organization of physicians and their spouses. It is funded by the TMA Foundation in 2019 thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute, Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families.
Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.