Norwalk, OH resident Ethan Lindenberger appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday March 5 to talk about how he decided to get vaccinated against the wishes of his mother, who is anti-vaccine.
Lindenberger, who is now 18, grew up without common immunizations before finally getting them in December.
He described being pulled out of class on many occasions, to be told he needed to get said immunizations, but his mother, who is an anti-vaxxer, always opted out for him.
Most states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for religious reasons, and seventeen states allow parents to opt out for personal or philosophical reasons.
The Norwalk High School senior told the committee:
“In one such instance when I approached my mother with information from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) that explained that vaccines do not cause autism she replied with, ‘That’s what they want you to think.’”
Ethan went on to add: “Skepticism and worry took the forefront in terms of information.”
Ethan took to Reddit for answers, saying “My parents are kind of stupid,” and went on to ask where he could get vaccinated. He inferred on the post that his parents thought that vaccinations were “some kind of government scheme.”
“My mother would turn to anti-vaccine groups online and on social media, looking for her evidence in defense rather than through health officials and credible sources.”
Lindenberger cited Facebook as a landmark in his mother’s change in opinions regarding vaccinations, saying that he believed his siblings that predated Facebook were vaccinated, but that his younger siblings had not been.
“I didn’t agree with anything he said,” Jill Wheeler, Lindenberger’s mother, told the Associated Press. “They’ve made him the poster child for the pharmaceutical industry.”
Facebook was brought up many times throughout his testimony before Congress on Tuesday.
“Does your mother get most of her information online?” asked Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
“Yes. . . . Mainly Facebook,” Lindenberger replied.
“And where do you get most of your information?” Isakson asked.
“Not Facebook,” Lindenberger said, laughing. “From CDC, World Health Organization, scientific journals and also cited information from those organizations . . . accredited sources.”
The Lindenberger story comes at the tail end of six ongoing measles outbreaks across the United States, including major outbreaks in Washington and Oregon.
Most of those outbreaks centered in Clark County Oregon, an area outside of Portland that has been dubbed a “hot spot” due a high rate of nonmedical exemptions for required vaccinations.
Facebook has shared a large brunt of that scrutiny, as health advocates and law makers have criticized the social media site over ads and anti-vaccination groups on its network.
U.S. Representative from California, Adam Schiff wrote to Mark Zuckerberg last month, along with Instagram, suggesting that the sites were “surfacing and recommending messages” that discourage immunizations.
The company told The Washington Post it has “taken steps to reduce the distribution of health related misinformation on Facebook, but we know we have more to do.”