Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
When Ethan Lindenberger from Norwalk, Ohio turned 18, his first concern wasn’t his newfound eligibility to buy a lottery ticket or get a tattoo. Instead, Lindenberger was interested in using this rite of passage as a way to get vaccinated for the first time without his parents' permission.
The entire ordeal gained traction quickly due to the growing debates over people’s beliefs regarding whether or not their child should be vaccinated and whether that should be left for parents to decide.
Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, made the decision to prevent him and his four younger siblings from getting vaccinated after she read online articles and posts stating vaccinations could lead to brain damage.
One of these posts originated from Cleveland, Ohio Local News where Doctor and Chief Operating Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, Dr. Daniel Neides, wrote a blog post declaring vaccines dangerous. Dr. Neides also stated these vaccines carried preservatives that increase the chances of neurological deformations and, more specifically, autism.
Since this, Dr. Neides’ claims gained support from parents across the country who decided to cease vaccinating their children or to opt out of vaccinating their children altogether.
However, Dr. Neides’ research has since been debunked and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has even stated vaccines do not cause nor are they linked to autism, citing a 2004 scientific research study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
He has continued to garner negative attention from those in the medical field for spreading misinformation to the public and eventually was forced to leave the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
Despite his departure from the Cleveland Clinic and this valid information being released by the CDC, many parents still reject the idea of giving their children the proper vaccinations they need.
What anti-vaccinators, known as "anti-vaxxers", neglect to realize is their decision of preventing their child from getting vaccinated can affect the other children around them.
According to the CDC, so far in 2019 there were 268 individual cases of measles confirmed through 15 different states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
The CDC lists one of the reasons the nation is seeing such an increase in outbreaks of this disease is due to “further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.”
According to the Washington Post, Wheeler was so enraptured in these online comments that supposedly proved the danger of vaccinations to the point where her son’s decision to get vaccinated felt like a betrayal to her.
Lindenberger’s father, however, does not see the situation the same way, stating, “Hey, you’re 18, you can do what you want and we can’t really stop you.”
These discussions aren’t just happening in his home, they’re also taking place on a much larger scale.
On Mar. 5, 2019, a congressional hearing was led by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions was held, where Lindenberger played a significant role by explaining his reasoning to go against his mother’s wishes and advocating for parents to stay informed and vaccinate their children.
Furthermore, a recent judicial ruling that took place in Rockland County, NY barred unvaccinated students from attending school, on account of the unprecedented measles outbreak, according to US News.
This among other disagreements on a nationwide scale has led anti-vaxxers to protest, insisting it is their choice to not vaccinate their kids.
Specifically, in Washington, hundreds of people gathered to stand in support of their right to not vaccinate their children after Washington lawmakers proposed a bill that would prevent parents from opting out of vaccinations for their children under the age of 18.
This is due to a similar outbreak of the measles that occurred in the state earlier this year and is still occurring and spreading.
However, many of these protesters still believe vaccinations are more of a threat to their children than the measles.
It’s evident the battle between the two sides will not cease any time soon, but what’s important to note is those on both sides each want what’s best for their children.
To do so, we need to protect the future generation by giving them the proper vaccines.
If not, more children will die and more vaccine-preventable outbreaks will occur.
We need more advocates like Ethan Lindenberger, who has seen both sides of this debate and chose to help make a difference by sharing his experience as an unvaccinated child and educating the public on the dangers of being unvaccinated.
Overall, parents should stay informed and work actively to assure their child remains in good health, to further prevent the spreading of diseases and illness and, most importantly, death.
There should never be another case where children aren’t receiving the proper vaccinations and subsequently, falling ill and where parents fear autism more than they fear the loss of their child.