Ethan Lindenberger might only be 18, but he spoke eloquently about why the anti-vaxxers shun life-saving shots, and why he made a different choice
An 18-year-old high school senior from Ohio, Ethan Lindenberger, donned a suit and tie on Tuesday to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions about his experiences growing up without vaccines, and why he made the choice to get vaccinated as soon as he became an adult.
“I grew up understanding my mother’s beliefs that vaccines were dangerous,” Lindenberger said on Capital Hill. “She would speak openly about these views. Both online and in person she would voice her concerns and these beliefs were met with strong criticism. Over the course of my life seeds of doubts were planted and questions arose because of the backlash my mother would receive.”
“I approached my mother numerous times trying to explain that vaccines are safe and that my family should be vaccinated, approaching even with articles from the CDC explicitly claiming that ideas that vaccines cause autism and extremely dangerous consequences were incorrect,” he continued.
His mother responded with, “That’s what they want you to think.”
But he went on to explain that although his mother had loving intentions, he worried about his health and the health of his community, especially as he continued to research the topic. High school classes in debate taught him to look at sources critically, and when he did, he saw that all evidence pointed to vaccines not only being safe, but saving countless lives.
“Skepticism and worry were taking the forefront in terms of information,” he said, explaining his mother’s different approach to the topic.
“To combat preventable disease outbreaks, information is, in my mind, the forefront of this matter,” Lindenberger continued. “My mother would turn to anti-vaccine groups online and on social media looking for her evidence and defense rather than looking toward health officials and critical sources.”
Lindenberger stressed two topics: the dangers of anecdotal information and online echo chambers, and the importance of education and rational thinking – especially when it comes to vaccinating kids and stopping outbreaks of deadly disease.
Lindenberger originally entered the spotlight three months ago, when he started a Reddit thread asking for advice on how to get caught up on his vaccines now that he was an adult with freedom over his medical decisions.
“My parents are kind of stupid and don’t believe in vaccines,” he wrote. “Now that I’m 18, where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age? My parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme. It’s stupid and I’ve had countless arguments over the topic. But, because of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I’m still alive. But, i’m a senior in high school now with a car, a license, and money of my own. I’d assume that I can get them on my own but I’ve just never had a conversation with anyone about the subject.
Redditors helped him get the medical information he needed, and in December, he got vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis, tetanus and HPV. He’s planning on catching up on other vaccines in the coming year.
His mom, Jill Wheeler, has been accepting, although she also feels insulted by the decision.
“I did not immunize him because I felt it was the best way to protect him and keep him safe,” she said in an interview, calling his decision “a slap in the face.”
“It was like him spitting on me,” she continued, “saying, you don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it.”
Lindenberger’s testimony comes during the same week that a huge, comprehensive vaccine study showed zero link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The 11-year study of over half a million kids not only showed that the vaccine isn’t correlated with autism, it also doesn’t trigger autism in kids who already have risk factors.
His testimony also comes after Washington State declared a State of Emergency over a measles outbreak that affected at least 34 kids. The outbreak was caused by the growing trend of parents skipping their kids’ vaccines due to rumors and anecdotes they’ve read about on the web.
Hopefully, Lindenberger and other kids like him will be the voice of reason in the future – and a way for us to help prevent more outbreaks and more loss of life.