Not against tetanus, polio or measles: Ethan Lindenberger spent his first 18 years without any vaccine. But in December, against the advice of his mother, he went to get vaccinated, an act of rebellion that has earned him an invitation to the United States Congress, where he has explained his case. Since he first reported it in public last November, the young man has become a hero of activists in favor of immunization in the United States. The rise of anti-vacuum movement It has caused several outbreaks of measles in places like France, Italy, Brazil and Ukraine.
"I grew up with a mother who believes vaccines are dangerous, and who spoke openly about her views both on the Internet and in person," this high school student testified Tuesday to US senators, along with experts and a public health official. . "It was a slow progression until I started seeing the tests," said Lindenberger, in a suit and tie before the Senate Health Committee. "I was intrigued that so many people refuted my mother."
It was on Facebook where his mother inquired about the subject. He, on the other hand, began to inform himself in the Center for Disease Control (CDC), health authority in the United States, as well as public health organizations and scientific journals. But when she showed her mother scientific articles that pointed out, for example, that the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps and rubella) did not cause autism, she would reply: "That's what they want you to think."
Lindenberger became famous in November, when he published an article in the news website Reddit entitled: "My parents are a bit stupid and do not believe in vaccines, now that I am 18 years old, where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age?" Ethan received thousands of responses, to the point that his publication went viral and was collected in various media.
Many vaccines are theoretically compulsory in the United States to go to school. But 47 of the 50 states allow exemptions for "personal", "philosophical" or "religious" reasons, including, Ohio, where the youth lives. In California, Mississippi and West Virginia is only allowed for medical reasons. According to World Health Organization (WHO), It is necessary that 95% of the population is vaccinated to reach the threshold of immunity of the group to a disease.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Health Committee, joked about the tension that the issue must generate in the young man's home. "I'd like to be invited to the Thanksgiving dinner at your house," he said. "I greet his critical spirit," said another senator, Democrat Tim Kaine.
Lindenberger's mother did not testify publicly. "I keep trying to be as respectful and friendly as possible to her and to show her the truth," Ethan said after the hearing. "I think she understands that this is important to me, that's enough for the relationship," she added.
In fact, the young man, who lives with his father and wants to be a pastor, firmly believes that his mother's rejection of immunization was based on a good feeling. "People do not really react to numbers and data," said the young man. "My mother reaffirmed that her position was correct because she knew cases, but the correlations are not the same as causality." And he said: "The sources that spread disinformation should be the main concern of the American people."
According to Lindenberger, personal stories must be answered by equally personal stories about deaths and complications of infectious diseases against which vaccines exist. "Convincing parents that (…) their children are in danger is the best way to get people to change their minds," he said. He himself has four younger brothers and sisters, and tries to persuade them. "Until now there has been a substantial inclination towards my side," he assured.