A teen whose Reddit post seeking answers on how to get vaccinated went viral explained why he defied his mother’s anti-vaccination beliefs, stating his decision wasn’t “out of spite” but based on science.
Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old high school senior in Ohio, said he began to fear for his health after reading scientific papers about the benefits of immunizations.
“I had grown up just hearing that I wasn’t vaccinated because it was best for me, and that it was healthy and that vaccines were bad and that they have these bad side effects,” Lindenberger told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview that aired Tuesday.
He continued, “I saw that there were a lot of people with different opinions, and as I explored those opinions, I came to the conclusion that they were good and beneficial. … There’s a distinguishing difference between disagreeing with a parent and trying to disobey with them out of spite.”
His mother, Jill Wheeler, vaccinated her eldest daughter and eldest son, but refused to do the same for five younger children, including Lindenberger, when she realized she wasn’t required to do so by law.
Ohio is one of 17 states where parents can opt out of vaccinating their children for philosophical reasons. All but three states ― California, Mississippi and West Virginia ― allow parents to opt out for religious reasons. And all 50 states grant exemptions for medical reasons.
Wheeler said she believes the injections pose a health risk, but the Centers for Control and Prevention (CDC), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, say serious side effects are very rare. Most immunizations are extremely effective. For instance, two doses of the vaccine against measles is 97 percent effective, according to the CDC.
Lindenberger first crowdsourced advice on how and where to get vaccinated in a Reddit post on Nov. 16, 2018.
“My parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme,” he wrote at the time. “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.”
The post garnered over 1,000 comments, including from people who identified as health care professionals and provided information on how to pursue immunizations without parental permission.
Just over a month later, Lindenberger received vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza and HPV at an Ohio Department of Heath office, reported The Washington Post.
Wheeler told online science magazine Undark that her son’s decision felt like a “slap in the face.”
“It was like him spitting on me,” she said, “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 said there are many other teens with anti-vaxx parents looking for answers on how to get vaccinated. At least seven states have adopted the mature minor doctrine, a legal concept that allows emancipated minors of “sufficient intelligence” to petition to make their own medical decisions.
“I definitely have received messages and I’ve had people contact me that are in a similar situation where they want to pursue vaccinations and their parent or authority figure doesn’t believe it’s right,” he told ABC.
Meanwhile, a measles outbreak among anti-vaxx communities in New York and Washington state has many doctors concerned.
“The fact is, this never would have happened if all of those children were immunized, or even if most of them were immunized,” John Lynch, medical director of infection control at University of Washington Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center, told HuffPost last month. “Being vaccinated provides very good protection against the measles.”