Teens of anti-vaxxer parents are taking a shot at immunizing themselves.

Ohio teen Ethan Lindenberger went viral last fall after starting the Reddit thread, “My parents are kind of stupid and don’t believe in vaccines. Now that I’m 18, where do I go to get vaccinated? Can I get vaccinated at my age?” On Tuesday, he went before Congress to call out social media sites for spreading the misinformation about vaccines that makes people like his parents afraid to vaccinate their kids, just one day after the American Academy of Pediatrics also urged the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Pinterest to filter vaccine misinformation from their platforms.

“For my mother, her love and affection and care as a parent was used to push an agenda to create a false distress. And these sources, which spread misinformation, should be the primary concern of the American people,” Lindenberger told the Senate subcommittee panel, which included Washington state Secretary of Health John Weisman; Dr. Jonathan McCullers of the University of Tennessee; John Boyle, president of the Immune Deficiency Foundation; and Emory University epidemiologist Dr. Saad Omer. They asked the government to put more funding toward vaccine safety research and PSAs to counter anti-vaccine messages.

“My mother would turn to social media groups and not to factual sources like the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” said Lindenberger, noting that his mom didn’t get her anti-vaxxer beliefs from Facebook. “It is with love and respect that I disagree with my mom.”

Don’t miss: Teen defies his mother and get vaccines

Lindenberger added that he didn’t blame his mom for not vaccinating him. In fact, he grew up agreeing with her that vaccines were harmful.

“As I approached high school and began to critically think for myself, I saw that the information in defense of vaccines outweighed the concerns heavily,” he said. He told lawmakers that it is important “to inform people about how to find good information” and to remind them how dangerous these diseases really are.

He’s one of at least three teenagers raised by parents who are against vaccinations who have asked Reddit for help in getting themselves immunized, the Washington Post reported, after doing their own vaccination research online has led them to worry about their health.

Lindenberger’s post was upvoted by more than 21.3K readers, and drew more than a thousand comments offering advice about navigating the health-care system, as well as recommendations for pharmacy chains and urgent-care centers that provide vaccinations, and the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule for kids and teens.

Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, is part the antivaccination movement that has been calling the safety and necessity of immunizations into question for “religious reasons, personal beliefs or philosophical reasons, safety concerns, and a desire for more information from health-care providers,” according to a 2016 report. She recently told NBC News that, “He’s a great kid. I love him very much, but I feel what he’s representing is wrong. It’s taken away our freedom of speech and my question is, what is going to be next?”


Some teens are questioning their parents’ antivaccination beliefs.

Wheeler previously lamented to online science magazine Undark that her son’s Reddit post “was like him spitting on me, saying ‘You don’t know anything, I don’t trust you with anything. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it.’” She believes that there are autism risks from vaccines a concern shared by many anti-vaxxers, and perpetuated by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, that is based on a 1998 study that has been widely discredited and was even retracted by Lancet last year. In fact, a 10-year study of 657,461 Danish children published in the American College of Physicians earlier this week also found no link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism, even among children with other risk factors for autism.

Don’t miss:The share of kids who aren’t getting vaccinated has quadrupled in the past several years

Still, 17 states, including Washington, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, allow parents exemptions from vaccinating their children for philosophical or personal reasons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while another 30 states allow parents to opt out of the shots for religious reasons.

A minor in Washington who didn’t identify their name or gender also posted on Reddit earlier this year that their mother “refuses to budge” on her anti-vaxx position, even though the teen wants to be fully vaccinated. “I don’t know what I am vaccinated against, and I don’t know what vaccines are currently available to me. All I know is that she declined any vaccine that contained mercury (which to my knowledge, is quite a few.) I feel personally enraged by this,” the teen wrote, asking the community what options he or she has. The comments noted that under Washington state law, any minor 13 and older has the right to outpatient treatment — such as getting vaccines — without the consent of their parents. And vaccines.gov also has an online search tool for finding where to go to get vaccinated.

And a Minnesota 15-year-old also asked Reddit for guidance in getting vaccinated without their anti-vaxxer mother’s consent.

The proportion of young kids who aren’t getting inoculations has roughly quadrupled over the past decade and a half, according to a recent CDC report. As a result, about 47,000 children (or 1.3%) born in 2015 hadn’t been vaccinated by 2017, compared with just 0.3% of kids in 2001 — even though the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends routine vaccination by age 2 against “14 potentially serious illnesses,” including polio, the measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and varicella.

Don’t miss: As measles outbreak spreads, one anti- vaxxer asks how to keep her child safe

Now measles outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and Georgia have some families rushing their pediatricians and area clinics in search of the vaccines, Kaiser Health News reported, with orders for two types of measles vaccines in Clark County, Washington, up almost 500% in January compared with the same time last year after at least 56 cases of the highly contagious virus were reported in Washington and Oregon. The outbreaks have led to lawmakers introducing a bill that would no longer allow children to be exempted from vaccinations due to personal or philosophical reasons.

Lindenberger has also noted that while he has received his vaccines, he is now concerned about his four younger siblings, who range in age from 2 to 16.

This article was originally published on Feb. 11, 2019, and has been updated with Ethan Lindenberger testifying before Congress.

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