I defied mother to get vaccinated for safety of me and others, US teen says

The Ohio teenager who defied his mother’s wishes and got himself vaccinated for measles has appeared before a congressional panel to assert his confidence in the efficacy and safety of the US vaccination program.

Eighteen-year-old Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, told the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee in Washington he had stood up for his right to be vaccinated despite his mother’s unfounded fears that vaccines cause autism, brain damage and other complications.

“As a child, it intrigued me that people disagreed with my mom about vaccines,” Lindenberger told the panel.

When he later learned that his mother preferred to obtain information from church and internet anti-vaccination groups rather than the medical profession, he decided to act for himself and get vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV.

“My decision to get myself vaccinated was based on the health and safety of myself and other people, so I approached my family physician who encouraged me to get vaccinated,” he said.

Lindenberger said he had learned that his mother’s unproven fears against vaccinations was received “anecdotally”, including a mistaken belief that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine raises the risk of autism in children, despite extensive scientific research that shows it does not.

“There’s an important decision to be made between information provided,” Lindenberger said. “Many people don’t resonate well with data and numbers – they resonate better through stories.

“We see that with the anti-vaccine community. A lot of the foundation they build with parents is on an anecdotal level, sharing stories and experiences. That speaks volumes to people because it reaffirms, especially for my mom, that her position is correct.”

But the costs of not getting vaccinated, he continued, were far higher than complying with government guidelines. Without vaccination, he said, even his school had come to see him as “a health threat”.

“That pushed me further to get my vaccines despite my mother’s beliefs because I saw the threat as being imposed by her,” he said.

Lindenberger’s battle with his mother began with a Reddit post three months ago in which he asked forum members if he could get vaccinated as an adult. He wrote that he had had never had shots for anything because his parents considered vaccines “dangerous”.

“God knows how I’m still alive,” Lindenberger then wrote on Facebook. “Can I get vaccinated at my age?”

On Tuesday, Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, said on Good Morning America that she was in “shock” at the news of her son getting vaccinated despite her disapproval. But Lindenberger said he remain on good terms with her despite their dispute.

“My mother and I have a great relationship,” he said.

At the hearing, Lindenberger testified alongside John Wiesman, Washington state’s secretary of health; John Boyle, the president and CEO of the Immune Deficiency Foundation; and other health experts.

The hearing comes as the World Health Organization reported that people choosing not to vaccinate have become a global health threat in 2019 and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that the number of children who are not being vaccinated by 24 months old is increasing.

Lindenberger, a senior at Norwalk high school and a church volunteer “pursuing a path of ministry”, added that stories of preventable diseases ravaging countries are extremely important.


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