Teen Vaccine Rebel Testifies to U.S. Congress

Desiree Burns
March 7, 2019

Ethan Lindenberger made headlines a year ago after getting vaccinated at the age of 18 against the wishes of his anti-vaxxer mother.

Lindbenberger addressed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday about his personal decision to get vaccinated, and why the misinformation his mother believed is so risky.

Lindenberger's views shifted away from his parents' when he approached high school, saying, "I$3 began to critically think for myself, I saw that the information in defense of vaccines outweighed the concerns heavily".

A recent Washington state measles outbreak, one of six ongoing outbreaks in the United States, has afflicted 71 people, the Department of Health reports.

Similar risky outbreaks have occurred in Brazil, France and Ukraine.

"However, there are pockets of people who are vaccine-hesitant".

"For certain individuals and organizations that spread misinformation, they instill fear into the public for their own gain selfishly and do so knowing that their information is incorrect".

Many vaccines are theoretically mandatory for students to attend school in the United States. Seventeen states allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children based on philosophical grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and all but three-California, Mississippi and West Virginia-allow a child to be exempt from immunization for religious reasons. He gained attention in November by asking about how to get vaccinated despite the opposition of his "kind of stupid parents" in a discussion on Reddit. The only non-medical professional witness, the high-schooler spoke about his decision to get vaccinated and how to correct the spread of misinformation.

He received thousands of responses, and the U.S. media came calling.

"I grew up in an (anti-vaccination) household". Also at issue: whether addressing that misinformation might be a way to stop outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases before they start.

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Seated before some of America's most senior lawmakers, he was praised for his persistence in seeking out the truth.

"I didn't agree with anything he said". "I'd love to be a guest at Thanksgiving dinner at your house", joked Isakson.

Ethan's mother did not testify.

During the question and answer portion of the hearing, Lindenberger said that his mother is reading posts and watching videos on Facebook that warns parents of the supposed harm of vaccination.

Sarah Myriam of New Jersey holds her daughter Aliyah, 2, as they join activists opposed to vaccinations outside a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the safety of vaccines, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Her actions came from a place "of loving her children and being concerned", he said.

Lindenberger said one of the main challenges now is to counter the online anti-vaccination sites that peddle conspiracy theories.

On the topic of online information, Lindenberger emphasized how necessary it is to teach people, especially adolescents, how to find credible sources.

John Boyle, president and CEO of the nonprofit Immune Deficiency Foundation, said at the hearing that "the current decline in vaccine usage is literally bringing back plagues of the past".

So far, the outbreak has cost Washington more than $1 million, Wiesman said.

Facebook told the Washington Post in February that they've "taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do".

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