In 2019, the World Health Organization announced that one of this year’s top ten global threats was the increase in vaccine hesitancy around the world, specifically amongst people living in the United States. These individuals, known colloquially as anti-vaxxers are people who for one reason or another are opposed to the mandatory vaccination of themselves and their children.
They believe that these vaccinations do far more harm than good and that by opposing them, they are exercising their civil liberties. Recently, however, the 18-year-old son of a staunch anti-vaxxer has come forward to oppose this dangerous trend in direct defiance of his mother’s wishes…
When most of us were teenagers, we worried about whether or not our parents would see our report card or let us stay out late. Ethan Lindenberger has more pressing matters on his mind. You see, Ethan and his parents differ on many matters, but the most serious of them all is the fact that he was never vaccinated as a child.
Ethan believes that he should be vaccinated against contagious, potentially deadly viruses like measles, mumps, chickenpox, and polio. His parents, however, do not. They are committed members of the anti-vaxxer community and believe that vaccines are not what the public believes them to be, but some sort of government scheme…
A few months ago, Ethan, who just turned 18, took to Reddit for advice. He posted about his story, telling the other Reddit users about his parents, the scheme they believe is happening within the government, and how “ because of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I’m still alive.”
Ethan’s family is from Ohio, one of only 17 states that allow parents to opt out of required vaccinations for what they call “philosophical reasons.” It also happens to be one of only three states that allow exception because of religious beliefs; something many parents like Ethan’s are taking advantage of…
Being that he was already 18, Ethan could indeed get the vaccines without their consent. The problem was, he just wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. He isn’t the only American teen with this problem, either. There are many other teens out there, lacking in vaccinations, who are anxious to remedy the misguided beliefs of their parents for their own safety.
Many of these teens have turned to the Internet for assistance and to fact-check their parents, who have fallen prey to conspiracy theories and the fallacies of other anti-vaxxer parents over social media. Once they learned the truth, though, these newly-informed teens head to places like Reddit to find individuals like themselves. Still, there are many who don’t believe the facts…
For years now, a rumor has persisted amongst the naysayers that say vaccines cause autism, which has also become more prevalent in the past few decades. Still, correlation does not always equal causation and this erroneous belief has since been widely disproven by scientific evidence. Although, that isn’t enough for everyone.
Beliefs like these can lead to parents either delaying or avoiding vaccinating their children entirely, which has dire consequences on the state of public health. This is especially true when it comes to things like measles, a disease once thought to be all-but-eliminated but which has been given new life in the modern age…
A Measly Outbreak
Though it hasn’t been explicitly proven, many cite the anti-vaxxing movement as the cause of several recent infectious disease outbreaks across the country. Recently, a public health emergency was declared in Washington state when over 50 people, mostly children, became infected with the measles. None of them had been vaccinated.
Web of Lies
Regardless of this, not every anti-vaxxer believes it when they hear the truth. Though she had already vaccinated her oldest child and started immunizations on her second oldest, Ethan Lidenberger’s mother still fell into the web of misinformation early on. She ultimately decided that none of her five youngest children would be vaccinated and Ethan was paying the price…
This hesitancy has been around since the invention of vaccines themselves. Many religious people, in particular, have problems with the ethical and spiritual ramifications of their use. Unfortunately, outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and pertussis have been seen in recent months as a direct result of the intransigence within the Anti-Vaxxer community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a worrying set of statistics on the number of children under 2 years old who haven’t received any vaccinations. That percentage of children has quadrupled in the last 17 years and this, unlike autism and vaccines, directly correlates to the increased use of the Internet and social media…
Nevertheless, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective, many anti-vaxxers remain unconvinced. As a result, unsubstantiated scares regarding their safety still occur and result in people like Ethan having to muddle through life worrying that he might catch polio.
Before he got himself vaccinated, Ethan tried to talk to his mother, Jill Wheeler, about the situation. Fruitless as he knew the conversation might ultimately be, was Ethan’s final attempt to not only get his mother to accept his decision to be vaccinated but also to convince her to get his younger siblings vaccinated as well. It did not go well…
Dangers at Decisions
Ethan went as far as to read up on the dangers of anti-vaxxing beforehand to discuss with his parents at the dinner table. Yet even confronted with CDC studies and dozens of pieces of scientific evidence, Jill Wheeler would not budge. Ethan had no choice. He went to an Ohio Department of Health office in his hometown and got vaccinated for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, and HPV.
Slap in the Face
When Jill Wheeler found out about what her son had done, she felt betrayed. Ethan’s decision was, as she put it, “a slap in the face.” She commented further saying, “It was like him spitting on me, saying, ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about.'” Of course, that wasn’t his intention at all…
Ethan, like so many others, simply understand that the benefits of vaccination go far beyond the individual. Vaccinations for communicable diseases work to prevent outbreaks in the community at large. Now, that’s not to say that some people have medical reasons for not getting vaccinated, but those folks are few and far between.
Sharing with the World
Since his story first went viral Ethan Lindenberger has used the exposure to discuss the dissemination of misinformation over the Internet as it relates to the anti-vaxxer movement. He has gone on TV and spoken with many news outlets about his experiences and those of his mother, whom he doesn’t blame at all for her wrongly-held opinions…
Recently, Ethan came forward to announce that he’ll actually be testifying about the importance of vaccines at a hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions. As before, Ethan is hoping to warn the public about the recent outbreaks of preventable diseases and addressing the misinformation that leads to such outbreaks.
Sharing his Story
Ethan will be testifying alongside many other health experts, including John Wiesman, the Washington state’s secretary of health and John G. Boyle, president and CEO of the Immune Deficiency Foundation. The hope is that people will relate more to people like Ethan, who has lived through this experience, then they would to faceless misinformation dealers on the Internet. See Ethan’s testimony in the video below…