A teenager from Ohio has been making waves on the internet after giving himself an unusual gift for his 18th birthday: a full round of vaccinations.
Ethan Lindenberger was raised by parents who do not believe in vaccinations. Drawn in by internet conspiracy theories linking vaccines to autism and brain damage, Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, chose to opt out — even though his older siblings are all vaccinated.
But Lindenberger didn’t agree.
He said that as he got older, he and his mother debated the topic of vaccines more and more often. As his 18th birthday drew closer, he posted on Reddit to ask for help from the community.
Specifically, Lindenberger wanted to know where he could get caught up on his vaccines now that he was legally an adult.
“My parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme,” read Lindenberger’s post. “Because of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything.”
Many posters were happy to give him information.
And soon, other children of anti-vaccine parents were joining in, sharing their stories and learning how to get vaccinated. Eventually, the Reddit thread reached more than 1,200 replies.
Soon, Lindenberger returned with an update: he had made an appointment.
Now, Lindenberger is well on his way to being fully vaccinated, including the influenza vaccine and the HPV series.
“When I started looking into it myself, it became very apparent that there was a lot more evidence in defense of vaccinations, in their favor,” he said. “[My mom’s] response was simply ‘that’s what they want you to think,’ I was just blown away that you know, the largest health organization in the entire world would be written off with a kind of conspiracy theory-like statement like that. She looked at it as me getting vaccines for a gesture of rebellion and not for my own sake and for the sake of people around me.”
Lindenberger’s “gesture of rebellion” has garnered attention around the world. It’s also helping other children of anti-vaxxer parents get their shots. Some have even asked how to get vaccinated while below the age of 18.
It’s a particularly timely choice.
After a brutal flu season last year that killed roughly 80,000 people and an outbreak of measles in Washington State that has rapidly spread, many people are realizing just how important vaccines are — and how much we rely on herd immunity.
Lindenberger demonstrates an apt understanding of herd immunity and how vaccines protect the most vulnerable members of society. Elderly people, infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons (such as those undergoing chemo or with certain genetic disorders), often can’t be vaccinated, so they rely on the rest of society to keep them healthy.
Members of the anti-vaccine movement, meanwhile, did not appreciate Lindenberger’s stance.
Some social media pages were ablaze with criticism, sharing posters saying Lindenberger was likely to become brain damaged or autistic.
The link between vaccines and autism was proposed by Andrew Wakefield in a 1998 study, giving rise to the modern anti-vaccine movement. The study has since been debunked and Wakefield was proven to have provided fraudulent and unethically-obtained data.
However, in the wake of the study, modern vaccination rates have plummeted. And with dropping immunization rates, outdated diseases like measles have come roaring back.
But some officials say that as the new generation comes of age, that may be about to change again.
“This generation of unvaccinated children coming of age has looked at the science and want to protect themselves,” said Allison Winnike, president of the Immunization Partnership, a Texas nonprofit. “Now you’re seeing children coming of age, out from a cloud of misinformation.”
Fourteen states also have mature minor consent laws, which allow minors to be vaccinated without parental permission if they demonstrate an understanding of vaccination basics.
Laws regarding the age at which children can become vaccinated without parental consent vary from state to state. However, with social media pages and other internet resources, teens are finding more ways to do research and access qualified medical care.
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