Ethan Lindenberger, 18, spoke before Congress to tell lawmakers how important it is to spread information about the benefits of vaccination. Ethan, who grew up in an anti-vaxx household, just got his own vaccines.
An 18-year-old from Norwalk, Ohio, is making headlines after speaking before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about his decision to get vaccinated despite growing up with an anti-vaxx mother. Ethan Lindenberger, appearing with a panel of doctors, told the committee on March 5 that it’s important “to inform people about how to find good information,” and to make them realize just how dangerous diseases like measles truly are. Learn more about Ethan and his riveting testimony:
1. He decided to get vaccinated after reading up on the benefits. After doing his own research and realizing that “my school viewed me as a health threat,” Ethan started studying the benefits and risks of vaccinations from sources like the CDC, the World Health Organization, and scientific journals. Ethan never got any of the standard vaccines for school-age students because his mother, Jill Wheeler, always exempted him (17 states, including Ohio, allow non-medical exemption for “personal, moral or other beliefs”). But, he decided to catch up on the vaccines in December 2018 against his parents’ wishes. He learned where and when to go through a viral Reddit post (read more on that below).
2. He said his mom got most of her misinformation about vaccines from Facebook. “My mother is an anti-vaxx advocate [who] believes that vaccines… do not benefit the health and safety of society, despite the fact such opinions have been debunked numerous times by the scientific community,” Ethan told the Senate committee. He said his mother’s “love, affection and care is apparent,” but online conspiracies were making him and his siblings at risk for fully preventable diseases like measles, which is experiencing a massive and dangerous resurgence due to the anti-vaxx community. His mom got her misinformation from conspiracy posts on Facebook, posts designed to “instill fear in the public.”
3. That got him some laughs. The Senate committee clearly liked Ethan and were impressed by his testimony. After explaining that his mom gets information from Facebook, and he, from accredited sources, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and others chuckled. Isakson said, “I’d love to have Thanksgiving dinner at your house. That’d be a heck of a discussion.”
4. His story became public after he posted about getting vaccines on Reddit. Ethan hopped on the subreddit r/NoStupidQuestions in November 2018 with a post titled “My parents are kind of stupid and don’t believe in vaccines. Now that I’m 18, where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age?” In the post, Ethan says, in part:
“As the title explains, my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme. 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. But, i’m a senior in high school now with a car, a license, and money of my own. I’d assume that I can get them on my own but I’ve just never had a conversation with anyone about the subject. I’m also afraid I’d go somewhere that up charges vaccines way more than somewhere just down the street. Any advice would be awesome.” Per a later edit, Ethan revealed that he had made an appointment with a doctor and would soon be getting vaccinated.
5. His mother doesn’t believe in his decision to testify. “Ethan has had no education at all in this,” Jill Wheeler told FOX8 Cleveland. “None, again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he’s sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he’s done on the internet?” She later told the Associated Press that she was proud of Ethan, but questioned why the government “made him the poster child for the pharmaceutical industry.”
In Ethan’s previously mentioned Reddit post, he said that his mother begged him not to get vaccinated, and even told him that doing so meant he didn’t care about her. His father, though, said that since he’s 18 he’s fine with it.