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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 22 October 2020

13-month-old admitted to intensive care after parents influenced by anti-vaccine material online

The boy was admitted to University Hospital Galway.

Galway University Hospital
Galway University Hospital
Image: Niall Carson via PA Images

PARENTS OF A 13-month-old boy have admitted to being “unduly” influenced by anti-vaccine information on social media after their son ended up in the intensive care unit of University Hospital Galway with a preventable disease.

The boy had not received his childhood vaccinations because his parents were concerned about a potential link between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder after seeing reports on social media. 

The parents told UHG staff that they were keen to share their experience to help provide a “more balanced argument on social media, which can often be dominated by anti-vaccine material”.

A report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) details that the boy presented to the resuscitation area in the emergency department in significant respiratory distress. It also notes that he was a previously well child without significant past medical history, not on any medications.

The boy had been infected with a non-typable Haemophilus influenza strain which can cause serious infection in humans, particularly children.

The boy was diagnosed with a H.influenza strain that was non-typable. However, there is another strain called H influenzae type b (Hib), which before the introduction of the Hib vaccine in 1992 accounted for 80-95% of identified strains causing invasive illness.

Writing about the case, Dr Peter Tormey and Dr Edina Moylett said it highlights the potential for a vaccine preventable disease to cause acute, life-threatening illness in an unvaccinated child.

“The fact that this child was infected with a non-typable H influenzae strain is likely owing to ‘herd’ immunity attributable to the success of the Hib vaccine. 

The parents, in this case, were unduly influenced by wholly unproven vaccine related concerns on social media and were very disappointed with themselves for putting their child’s life at risk as a result.


“Oxygen saturations were 78% on arrival and the child was very pale with obvious central cyanosis; there was clinical evidence of significant respiratory distress with bilateral crepitations audible without notable wheeze,” the report stated. 

Following his examination, the boy was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for three days. A 10 day course of IV ceftriaxone was completed resulting in a full resolution of symptoms.

Both parents were noted by doctors as being “well informed” regarding vaccine-preventable diseases and were aware of the various diseases this child was more susceptible to. The parents have since said that they were keen to pursue catch up vaccinations.

The biggest challenge healthcare professionals and public health organisations face according to Tormey and Moylett is keeping up with the vast amounts of misinformation surrounding vaccines “with more anti-vaccine blogs, tweets and facebook posts being added daily”.

“This case highlights the negative effect social media can have on vaccine uptake rates. It is important that healthcare professionals, public health organisations, parents and the mainstream and social media seek to provide and disseminate balanced and scientific information regarding vaccines, particularly on social media, where an anti-vaccination sentiment can often prevail,” Tormey and Moylett said.

About the author:

Adam Daly

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