As an 18-year-old high school senior, Ethan Lindenberger decided it was time for him to get the vaccines he missed as a kid due to his anti-vaxxer parents.
In November 2018, the Ohio-based student wrote on Reddit that his parents “are kind of stupid and don’t believe in vaccines,” so he never got them as a child. “God knows how I’m still alive,” Lindenberger wrote in his post.
Lindenberger said he was taking matters into his own hands, and used his post, which appears in the r/NoStupidQuestions subreddit,to seek out the internet’s advice on how to get vaccinated. Reddit users were quick to respond, offering insurance guidance and suggestions for where to get the vaccines.
In the end, Lindenberger received more than 1,000 responses to his post, and he posted an update in January telling Redditors that he’d finally gotten his vaccines.
“I just know that [it’s] something I need to do for my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of people around me,” Lindenberger wrote. “I don’t want to be the reason some eradicated disease spreads again.”
Vaccines protect against diseases like the flu and measles
Lindenberger’s reasons for seeking out vaccines are supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Vaccines, which contain dead or weakened versions of the diseases they protect against, help a person develop immunity against serious and potentially deadly diseases like the flu, measles, and chickenpox.
In addition to protecting oneself from disease, vaccines play a crucial role for people with compromised immune systems, like those with cancer or HIV/AIDS. These people are physically unable to get vaccines, but if enough people in their communities get vaccinated, that can create herd immunity, which prevents disease outbreaks from spreading, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Yet some states offer vaccine exemptions that allow residents to forgo the shots for medical, religious, and/or philosophical reasons. Ohio, where Lindenberger lives, is one of 17 states that permit philosophical exemptions, which are granted to individuals who hold conscientious objections to one or more shots, according to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).
The following map breaks down vaccine-exemption rules across the US, using data from NVIC.
If enough people forgo a particular vaccine, that can lead to a resurgence of the disease, a scenario that has been playing out with measles. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) reported that global measles outbreaks increased by 30% compared to the year prior. The report attributed the trend to “gaps” in vaccine coverage.
Anti-vaxxers have claimed that vaccines are unnecessary, contrary to scientific evidence
In an interview with the Norwalk Reflector, Lindenberger said it wasn’t until he started using social media at around age 13 that he realized there was a major problem with his family’s stance on vaccines.
“I quickly saw there were online debates that would constantly take place where people would argue about this and this was a really heated discussion,” he said. He did more research on his own, found peer-reviewed studies, and determined that there was more evidence for vaccines than against them.
Still, when he showed his mother a CDC article that said vaccines don’t cause autism — a claim anti-vaxxers often make— “her response was simply, ‘that’s what they want you to think,’” Lindenberger said in an interview with NPR. In his Reddit post, Lindenberger also said that his parents viewed vaccines as a government scheme.
Lindenberger told NPR he has received his first round of vaccinations
Ethan Lindenberger did not immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment, but according to NPR, he wound up going to a local health clinic near his hometown of Norwalk, Ohio, for his first round of vaccinations. The shots included HPV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and influenza vaccines, according to NPR. The article did not say whether or not Lindenberger had plans to get a second round of vaccines.
Lindenberger told the Norwalk Reflector that following that initial round of vaccines, he feels perfectly healthy and stands by his decision.
Photo Credit: The Daily Dot