An 18-year-old high school senior from Ohio testified before Congress on Tuesday about his decision to get vaccinated despite his mother's belief that immunization can lead to autism and brain damage.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Capitol Hill, Ethan Lindenberger told senators that he took it upon himself to research the benefits of vaccines, which he called a "medical miracle" that stop "the spread of numerous diseases and therefore saving countless lives."
Throughout his whole childhood, Lindenberger said his mother was vocal about her opinions on vaccinations both in person and online. She used online groups and social media to bolster her defense that vaccines are dangerous, he said.
It was when he joined a debate club in high school that he said he learned the importance of researching credible information in order to find "truth in a world of misleading facts and false views."
He said he consulted information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and various scientific journals to learn more about the benefits of vaccines.
When he confronted his mother with information from the CDC which states in large, bold lettering that "there is no link between vaccines and autism," Lindenberger said his mother responded, "That's what they want you to think."
In November, Lindenberger posted in a Reddit thread asking for advice on how to go about getting vaccinated.
In the Reddit post, Lindenberger wrote that his parents "think vaccines are some kind of government scheme" but that he now wants to get them on his own.
"My mom was especially angry, but my dad said because I’m 18 he doesn’t care that much. Although my mom's trying to convince me to not do it and saying I don’t care about her, I know that this is something I need to do regardless," he wrote.
Lindenberger started catching up on his missed childhood vaccines in December 2018.
Lindenberger's mother, Jill Wheeler, did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment but told Undark that her son’s decision was “like him spitting on me, saying, ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything.'"
Lindenberger went on to tell senators that his mother's opinions are not rooted in malice but stem from deep concerns for him. The anti-vax campaign has gained momentum, he said, by taking advantage of the fear mothers have over the well-being of their children.
"For my mother, her love, affection, and care of a parent was used to push an agenda and create false distress," he said.
He went on to say that a large part of the anti-vaxxer movement is based on stories, because personal anecdotes resonate with people more than data and statistics. He added that his mother would reaffirm her position by saying she "knows people and has seen the stories."
Lindenberger concluded his statement saying that anti-vaccine beliefs are "deeply rooted in misinformation" and that the sources that spread inaccuracies should be a top concern for Americans.
"Approaching the issue with concern of education and addressing misinformation properly can cause change as it did for me," he said.