Standing Strong for Science
Over the past few months, I’ve become a major immunization advocate. But it was almost by accident.
Yes, we are in the midst of a measles outbreak. Measles, a potentially debilitating or even deadly virus, was declared eradicated in 2000, can be easily prevented with a simple vaccine. As a matter of fact, alot of potentially debilitating or even deadly viruses can be prevented with a simple vaccine.
But because of a small number of vocal vaccine opponents, many parents are becoming vaccine hesitant, and here we are in an outbreak. And me, champion of all that is evidence-based and clinically indicated, have become all caught up in this battle. Here’s how it’s all gone down:
In August 2018, pediatrician Jen Trachtenberg posted a short informational video for National Immunization Awareness Month on her social media feed. She was immediately targeted by a large group of anti-vaccine activists, and overwhelmed by hundreds of negative comments and reviews. She sent out a plea for help from colleagues, and we responded by posting scientific statements in her support. I posted on her Instagram feed and wrote a blog titled A Physician Colleague is Being Attacked: How We Can Support Her, and the Facts.
It was after this that negative reviews suddenly began appearing on my Vitals.com, Healthgrades.com, and Google business reviews profiles. But I didn’t notice right away. In October, I was at a medical conference where a speaker encouraged us to Google ourselves. I did, and discovered multiple horrible one-star reviews. I was confused, and just devastated over it. Then I looked at the timeline, and realized they were likely from the same people who were cyberbullying other physicians.
I was so pissed. I blogged about this in a post titled Physicians are Being Attacked: Why That’s Unhealthy for Everyone. ZDoggMD shared my anti-vaxxer attack experience on a Facebook Live spot titled “We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists” that’s now been viewed almost 400,000 times. But I heard nothing from the review websites.
It took months of emails and phone calls and the help of a lawyer to get Vitals and Healthgrades to take a look at the nasty negative reviews. It wasn’t until January 2019 that those profiles were cleaned up. There’s still plenty of negative reviews on other physicians rating sites, and I’m not sure I have the energy to deal.
My story was covered by Boston Globe Health Beat reporter Liz Kowalczyk, in a Sunday above-the-fold article titled This Doctor Posted Online in Favor of Immunization. Then Vaccine Opponents Targeted Her. I was also honored to be interviewed by Jim Braude on WGBH’s Greater Boston.
Since this has all come about, the press has covered the stories of numerous physicians who have been similarly targeted and harassed by anti-vaxxers, including articles in the LA Times, Newsweek, and the Press Herald.
More doctors have been attacked by other groups. I highlighted the experiences of pediatrician Free Hess and family physician Cathleen Greenberg London in a recent article for Kevin MD, a fun Q&A with rockstar physician advocate ZDoggMD.
Physicians are tired of this crap, and we’re getting organized, including two new groups that are helping to coordinate “backup” for physicians when they are attacked online, Shots Heard Around the World, and the Facebook group Physicians Standing Against Cyberbullying and Harassment.
There’s a long ways to go, and we need more support. As I wrote in that Kevin MD post:
“We can (and will) overshadow and eclipse the pseudoscience cyberbullying by calling attention to it, organizing ourselves, and getting out there on social media en mass. There’s no need to name or personally attack our harassers. Telling the truth is enough. But we have to speak up.
So, are you on Twitter yet?”