‘God Knows How I’m Still Alive.’ A Teen Decides To Get Vaccinated, Questioning Mother’s Judgment
BY SCOTT SIMON & AMANDA MORRIS, NPR
Ethan Lindenberger is getting vaccinated for well, just about everything.
He’s 18 years old, but had never received vaccines for diseases like hepatitis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, or the chickenpox.
Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, is anti-vaccine. He said she has been influenced by online misinformation, such as a debunked study that claimed certain vaccines were linked with autism, or a theory that vaccines cause brain damage. Incorrect ideas like these have spread like wildfire, so much so that the CDC has explicitly tried to combat them, posting pages like “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.”
Lindenberger’s eldest sister is vaccinated, and his eldest brother is partially immunized, but once his mother found out that she had the right to opt-out of vaccinations, she chose not to vaccinate her younger five children.
“God knows how I’m still alive,” Lindenberger wrote on Reddit last November.
In his Reddit post, Lindenberger goes on to ask for help figuring out how to get vaccinated. He got more than 1,000 responses. His post joins similar ones from other unvaccinated teenagers trying to get their shots, despite their parents’ beliefs.
At a time of widespread measles outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest, causing Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency, more minors are raising questions about whether they can provide their own consent to get vaccines.
Growing up, Lindenberger said he listened to what his mom told him about how vaccines were bad and carried negative side effects. He thought it was normal to not receive vaccines.
But then in school, Lindenberger got pulled out of class and asked by educators to get vaccinated. He talked with friends and realized all of them had been vaccinated, but that he didn’t even know what a flu shot felt like. He saw more and more anti-vaccination debates popping up on social media. Slowly, he started to question what his mother had told him.
So, he did some research of his own.
“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,” Lindenberger told NPR’s Scott Simon on Weekend Edition.
After researching, Lindenberger tried to confront his mother, approaching her with an article from the CDC about how vaccines don’t cause autism.
“Her response was simply ‘that’s what they want you to think,’ ” he said. “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.”
Despite repeated efforts to debate vaccination with his mother and show her the impact of the anti-vaccination movement on public health, Lindenberger has been unable to change her mind. But his own mind was made up: he was going to get vaccinated.
Lindenberger recently received his first round of shots — for diseases such as HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and influenza. It has caused some stress in his Norwalk, Ohio home, where he lives with both of his parents.
“My mom had always known I disagreed with her and figured that was going to pass, but it didn’t,” he said. “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.”
NPR’s public editor, who is independent of the newsroom, reviews concerns over vaccine coverage. The recent U.S. measles outbreak has offered a challenge to journalists who want to stay true to ethical principles while covering the story, a major aspect of which includes the contributing role of parents who don’t vaccinate their children. Continue Reading Vaccine Coverage: NPR Public Editor Reviews How Newsroom Approaches A Controversial Topic
A large study released Monday finds no evidence that the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella increases the risk of autism. The study of children born in Denmark is one of the largest ever of the MMR vaccine. Continue Reading Large Study Provides More Evidence That MMR Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism
All U.S. states require most parents to vaccinate their children against some preventable diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough, to be able to attend school. Such laws often apply to children in private schools and day care facilities as well as public schools.
But this winter’s outbreaks of measles across the nation are resulting in challenges to many exemptions: At least eight states, including some that have experienced measles outbreaks this year, want to remove personal exemptions for the measles vaccine. And some states would remove the exemption for all vaccines. Continue Reading States Move To Remove Vaccine Exemptions Amid Measles Outbreaks