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An Ohio teen who said he went his entire life without numerous vaccines testified Tuesday before Congress on the dangers of misinformation and ideas that fuel the anti-vaccination movement.
Ethan Lindenberger, 18, got vaccinated without his parents’ permission once he was old enough, acting against his mother’s incorrect belief that vaccines cause autism, brain damage and other ailments.
“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,” Lindenberger told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
According to the latest federal government statistics, 206 individual cases of measles have been recorded in 11 states so far. That’s more than the number of cases combined in 2017. About 70 cases of measles have been recorded in the Pacific Northwest alone, one of the strongholds of the anti-vaccination movement.
Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.
Lindenberger, a high school senior, told Senate lawmakers that he grew up understanding his mother’s beliefs, but that “seeds of doubt were planted and questions arose because of the backlash my mother would receive.”
He said as he approached high school, he began to think critically for himself and presented information, including statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that challenged his mother’s anti-vaccination ideas.
“She responded, ‘That’s what they want you to think,'” Lindenberger recalled his mother saying. He added that she turned to anti-vaccine groups online and on social media “looking for her evidence in defense” of her argument rather than relying on information provided by health officials or other credible sources.
But Lindenberger said his mother wasn’t acting out of malice. Her actions came from a place “of loving her children and being concerned,” he said.
The teen told lawmakers there should be more focus on the individuals and organizations that knowingly spread misinformation about vaccines.
They “instill fear into the public for their own gain selfishly, and doing so knowing their information is incorrect,” he said.
READ MORE: 3 global health challenges to watch in 2019
Joshua Barajas is a senior editor for the PBS NewsHour's Communities Initiative. He also the senior editor and manager of newsletters.
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