Facebook has taken down 14 ads the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare bought earlier this year encouraging parents to vaccinate their children.
DHW spokeswoman Kelly Petroff said the ads were flagged to be blocked by a Facebook algorithm. She said the department has reached out to Facebook and is awaiting a response.
“But right now, they have this autoblocking algorithm ... and it’s regularly misidentifying legitimate ads,” she said.
Once DHW hears back, she said, they plan to resubmit the ads.
The ads’ removal from Facebook was first reported last week by The Daily Beast website, in a broader story about how Facebook’s attempts to restrict anti-vaccine misinformation have led to multiple instances where Facebook’s auto-blocking software flagged pro-vaccine content from public health groups while ads from anti-vaccination groups made it through.
The ads for the Idaho Immunization Program, a state-run program that provides free vaccines, featured images such as a baby with “I am vaccinated” written next to it or a pregnant woman’s stomach next to the words “I choose to vaccinate,” accompanied by additional text with messages such as “making the choice to vaccinate is making the choice to protect your child from vaccine preventable diseases,” or “childhood vaccinations protect against preventable diseases like measles, meningitis and pertussis.”
Petroff said the department first bought the ads in July. They ran until October, when they were flagged for secondary review. They were posted again on Oct. 4, but taken down on Oct. 9 and have yet to go back up.
Idaho law lets parents opt out of vaccinating their children for any reason, and Idaho has among the highest vaccination opt-out rates in the country for schoolchildren. According to DHW data, 7.7 percent of students had exemptions from at least one vaccine during the 2018-2019 school year, the overwhelming majority for religious or other reasons rather than medical ones. A report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month found Idaho’s kindergarten vaccine opt-out rate, also 7.7 percent, is tied with Oregon for the highest in the country.
Exemption rates vary greatly by county and are generally higher in northern and north-central Idaho. Bonner County has the highest number of students exempt from at least one vaccine, at 23 percent, while Boundary County has the highest number of children exempt from all vaccines at 16 percent, according to DHW’s data on the 2018-2019 school year.
Most counties in eastern Idaho have low opt-out rates compared to the state average. In Bonneville County, for example, about 5 percent of schoolchildren were opted out of at least one vaccine and 3 percent have been opted out of all vaccines, while in Bingham County the numbers are 4 and 2 percent, respectively. Jefferson County has the highest local opt-out rate, with 8 percent of students opted out of at least one vaccine and 4 percent out of all vaccines.
Vaccine requirements have become something of a controversial issue in the Legislature as of late. A new rule requiring students entering 12th grade to get a meningitis booster narrowly passed committee earlier this year, and a bill to require schools to notify parents of their right to opt out of immunizing their children passed the House but died when it didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.