Teen Son of Anti-Vaxxer Mother Gets Vaccinated and Inspires Others

An Ohio teen has inspired others by going against the wishes of his mother and getting vaccinated.

An Ohio teen has inspired others by going against the wishes of his mother and getting vaccinated.

Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old high school senior, went on Reddit in November seeking advice on how to get vaccinated because "my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme," he wrote. His mother believes shots to prevent various diseases and viruses are linked to autism, he added.

As a legal adult, Lindenberger said he wanted to protect himself from measles, the HPV virus and hepatitis. And so he went on his own to get vaccinated and later updated his post to reflect his decision to ignore the wishes of his mom. His dad, he said in the update, didn't say much about it because he was now 18.

Other teens began writing in, sharing the same feelings. And in recent weeks, as Lindenberger began speaking publicly about the issue while an outbreak of measles has been reported in 10 states, older children are questioning the wisdom of their anti-vaxxer parents who didn't allow them to be inoculated.  

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 101 cases of measles, 55 of them in Washington state, the heart of the outbreak. Nearly all of the cases involve children younger than 10 whose parents kept them from being vaccinated, according to health officials. 

Now, teens are asking how they can get immunized if their parents are opposed to it. Lindenberger said he has been deluged with queries from contemporaries asking what to do. He never tells someone what they should do, he said. Rather, he advises them to do what they think is best, and to wait until they are 18 before deciding. 

"I've heard from kids my age who don't want to go behind their parents' backs and are afraid of getting kicked out or upsetting their parents," he told InsideEdition.com. 

Ohio is one of 18 states that allows non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for children attending public school. Washington state, the site of the worst current outbreak, has a "mature minor" provision that allows teens who demonstrate enough maturity to oversee their own health care, including getting vaccinated without their parents' permission. In Oregon, a teen 15 or older can be immunized without parental approval.

Measles, which is a viral infection, causes fever, sore throat and skin rash. In rare cases, measles can progress to acute encephalitis, which often results in permanent brain damage, according to medical experts. It also can cause fatal respiratory and neurological complications. 

Religious reasons are allowed in all but three states for opting out of required vaccines.

Fear of vaccines has gripped many areas in America. According to the Pew Research Center, one in 10 believe at least some vaccines are not safe. Another 7 percent aren't sure if they are healthy.

The unease stems in part from a now-debunked 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield published in The Lancet medical journal. Wakefield linked vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella to the appearance of autism. The article was later retracted, its research discredited, and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. 

Nonetheless, vaccination conspiracy theories abound, with some attesting that big pharma pushes vaccinations to inflate its profits, or that the government backs immunization to infringe the rights of individuals. Others have an environmental focus, namely that vaccines pump harmful substances into the bodies of children.

Such stories are boosted by celebrities, including former talk show host Jenny McCarthy, who espouses a possible link between certain vaccines and increased rates of autism and has established Generation Rescue, a national organization that helps families dealing with autism. In 2012, then-reality TV star Donald Trump chimed in on Twitter, saying, "Massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism."

Health experts say medical evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccines save lives. The CDC now devotes a section of its website to demonstrating immunizations do not cause autism. 

The government research posted there helped Lindenberger form his decision. He underwent his first round of immunizations in December and will undergo a second bout in the coming weeks.

"I said very calmly that I planned to get vaccinated because it was very important to me," he said. His parents said they couldn't stop him, now that he was a legal adult and his mother even allowed him to use her health insurance to pay for the shots.

Like him, other teens have taken to Reddit, saying they, too, want to be immunized but their parents won't allow it. An 18-year-old female wrote, "My mom is, and has always been, and anti-vaxxer, so going through middle and high school I never had a single one ... I have never been, and will never be, against vaccines, but as a child, I had no choice. Now that I am an adult, I am making my own decisions to get vaccinated to protect myself."

Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law and a vocal advocate of vaccination, said she knows of about 30 teens who are trying to get vaccinated despite their parents' objections.

Reiss has questioned whether parents who don't vaccinate their children should be held legally liable. She supported a 2015 California bill that abolished personal choice as an exemption for vaccinating children attending public schools.

"A lot of kids won't go public on social media because they don't want their parents to see it," she told InsideEdition.com. "That's the good thing about Reddit, because these kids can talk about it anonymously."

Things have calmed down at the Lindenberger house, Ethan said. "My mom and I still love each other despite disagreeing with each other. We're kind," he said. "I think people are set in their ways. What she has seen, she has really been swayed by. She's not going to change."

And neither, Ethan said, will he.