When Jennifer Hibben-White first took to Facebook in February 2015 to share her sadness and anger that her newborn son had been exposed to measles, I felt her fear on a visceral level.
I had a toddler who was not old enough to be fully vaccinated, and I lived close to Jennifer’s neighborhood. My fears over the nearby measles exposures that had been popping up in the news were her reality. I was scared for baby Griffin, I was outraged on Jennifer’s behalf, and I checked back in on her post over and over to see if there were any updates.
Then-newborn Griffin, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s mother had been exposed to measles at a doctor’s office during a well-baby check-up in 2015.
This is my son Griffin, and he may have measles.On February 9th, I received a phone call from York Region Public…
Because measles is highly contagious, airborne, and can infect people hours after the afflicted person has left the room, Jennifer had reason to worry. Measles can be deadly – it killed over 109,000 people in 2017 alone.
At fifteen days old, Griffin would have been particularly vulnerable.
The family, along with Jennifer’s toddler daughter – who, like my son, had only received one MMR vaccine at the time, and was now potentially exposed as well – remained at home in isolation for twenty-one days, while they waited to see if any of them showed signs of the virus. Jennifer referred to Griffin during this time as, “Schrödinger’s baby.”
Jennifer’s powerful post about her baby being exposed to measles is being shared again.
We contacted Jennifer and asked her to reflect on this period and the experience of having her impassioned post go viral. She shared with us that she has always written about her feelings, and while the initial post on Facebook was private, she was encouraged to share it publicly. She did so and within a matter of minutes it had been shared 25,000 times.
Jennifer knew the heartbreak of losing a child. She had already lost her daughter at the age of five.
“In reality, I was actually more sad than angry. My post was angry. I own that as one of the highest criticisms of what I was saying “ooooh momma bear is so angry”. I was and I am. But in private I was more sad. I was already mourning my daughter and my little boy was now in danger. It was too much to bear. It was so preventable.”
Despite her understandably emotional state, she decided to share her story publicly.
“I have always been an advocate for science. I believe in the scientific method, peer reviewed findings, the CDC. I love and embrace everything that science has to offer. But I have seen a rise in people with an anti-science bias. Whether it is flat earthers or climate change deniers or anti-vaxxers, I had just had enough.”
She couldn’t have anticipated the response it would receive – it was shared 260,000 times in 4 days. And since it’s making the rounds again, it’s now been shared over 600,000 times on Facebook proving that people like what she has to say – and that a large number of people agree.
“It was wonderful and frightening. “I received thousands of messages of support and I read them all. I changed the minds of hundreds of people who said they were active on pro disease sites and Facebook groups that were frightened to share their real feelings and fears. I have been given messages from doctors and nurses from all over the world in many languages. I have been called the single greatest vaccination campaign since Elvis Presley got the polio vaccine.”
Not all responses were positive, though. In fact, some were downright horrific and rooted not just in misinformation but hatred.
Jennifer has been called names, accused of having connections to big Pharma companies, and told her daughter Olivia was burning in hell. If you think that is bad, she was also been threatened with rape, and had threats toward her children too of kidnap and murder.
In response to this unconscionable backlash, Jennifer says,
“The simple fact is that everything I said in my post is true and that people who are so sold on a pro-disease agenda and the propaganda of the anti-vaccine movement will say anything they can to negate the truth of science.”
And of course, in addition to the erroneous scientific information, they got the facts about Jennifer all wrong too. She has none of the connections she was accused of at the time. And she admits that, “The reality is that it is easier to try and negate what I am saying than believe that it is the truth. Cognitive dissonance.”
Though nearly four years have passed since Jennifer’s original post, the spotlight has not caused her to waiver in her stance.
The truth is, measles outbreaks are spiking again.
“My thoughts stay the same. If you choose to put babies, vulnerable people, and those who cannot be vaccinated in harms way by choosing not to vaccinate, I blame you for the outbreaks. Quibble all you want about details; you are wrong and you are losing.”
Jennifer acknowledges and respects that there are children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – children who especially need the protection of herd immunity – but for parents who choose not vaccinate eligible children, she has a clear message.
“If you choose to not vaccinate because you have ‘done your research’ let’s unpack that. ‘Doing your research’ does not involve watching YouTube, reading blogs, or joining Facebook groups. I don’t care how many hours you spend on there in your anti-science pro-disease echo chambers. Spend a decade for all I care, that’s not research.”
It’s important to distinguish science from “research” some Anti-vax crusaders claim to have done.
“A microbiologist does research. A PhD candidate does research. You don’t. Your ‘research’ MEANS NOTHING. Your ‘opinion’ MEANS NOTHING. It is a blip in a puddle. You have no standing, you have no background, you have nothing. Your feelings mean nothing. Yelling into the void of your Facebook groups mean nothing. The only thing that protects you and your children is us. So you can say thank you any time.”
Mercifully, though Jennifer’s post went viral, Griffin did not. These days, “Griffin is a healthy, fully-vaccinated, adorable, active, infuriating, sensitive, and beautiful four year old. He beat the odds and did not develop measles,” said Jennifer.
Hopefully, as more people read stories like Jennifer’s and see the impact of the anti-vax movement, vaccination levels will again reach thresholds where we see diseases like measles eradicated.
We were almost there. We need everyone to do their part to get us there again.