One Ohio teenager whose mother never had him vaccinated decided to investigate the facts regarding vaccinations, then defy her and get himself vaccinated once he turned 18 in order to protect against six diseases, including mumps and hepatitis.
Ethan Lindenberger, 18, from Norwalk, Ohio, was reportedly never vaccinated before because his mother, Jill Wheeler, who owns a children’s theater company, believed the now-discredited claims that vaccines routinely cause autism and brain damage. Ethan had no idea that he was an outlier among his friends until he spoke to them and discovered that he was the only one who hadn’t been vaccinated. The vaccination he finally got guards against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), chickenpox and polio; polio can cause paralysis and in some cases lead to death.
After he discovered that most people get vaccines, Ethan researched the issue, later offering his mother evidence he hoped would change her mind, including a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told NPR that his mother remained defiant, saying, "That's what they want you to think.” He continued, “I was just blown away that you know, the largest health organization in the entire world would be written off with a kind of conspiracy theory-like statement like that,” adding that his mother 'kind of fell into this echo chamber, and got more and more misinformation.”
Ethan said, “I’m a very obedient child. I don’t really try and go against my mom. Even though I’m 18, I don’t pull that card.” But his mother had an incendiary response to Ethan getting vaccinated, saying it was “a slap in the face … It 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.’”
Wheeler, who said that records showing Ethan getting two shots in 2002 are mistaken, that he only got a shot for tetanus after he cut himself, has some strange ideas of her own, asserting, “Polio, if you really research polio, it was almost completely eradicated, almost gone, there was almost no cases of polio when they introduced the oral vaccine. The oral vaccine started giving people polio. And it went from almost completely eradicated, to the numbers were shooting, sky-rocketing back up, from immunizations.”
Yet before the push for eradicating polio worldwide began in 1988, 350,000 children were paralyzed by polio each year, while according to the World Health Organization, in 2018, there were barely 100 cases of vaccine-derived polio in the entire world.
Ethan has discussed the importance of vaccinations with his siblings; his 16-year-old brother is sympathetic but his 14-year-old sister is siding with their mother. In Ohio, the age of consent to vaccinations is 18.
According to The Daily Mail, Wakefield published a study in 1995 in The Lancet that claimed children vaccinated against MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) were more likely to have autism. Then in 2004, the editor of The Lancet termed Wakefield's research as “fundamentally flawed” and noted that Wakefield had been paid by attorneys who wanted to sue vaccine manufacturers. In 2010 The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield's research paper; only months afterward, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practicing medicine in Britain. Further research showed none of the children in Wakefield’s study had autism within days of receiving the MMR vaccine.
Meanwhile, children across the United States are at increased risk of contracting diseases because of parents refusing to get their children vaccinated. At the end of January, Washington state declared a public emergency after a measles outbreak that has infected at least 53 people, primarily children. According to the Washington Department of Health, nearly one in four Clark County kindergarten students during the 2017-18 school year did not get all their immunizations; at three different elementary schools, over 40% of kindergarteners did not get vaccinated before they started kindergarten.
In 2015, at least 95 cases of measles were reported nationwide by the end of January.
As IFL Science explains regarding measles vaccinations, the concept of herd immunity, meaning getting enough people vaccinated in population so that no sustained chains of transmission can be established, requires that vaccination coverage needs to be higher than 95% of the population, IFL Science writes:
Herd immunity against measles requires that 90-95% of the entire population are immune, whereas vaccination coverage is measured as the percentage vaccinated of the target population – which only includes people who are eligible for vaccination. This means that to achieve 95% immunity in the population for measles, vaccination coverage needs to be higher than 95%. This is the scientific argument for a public health policy that aims at 100% vaccination coverage.
The CDC notes:
Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of these, approximately 500,000 cases were reported each year to CDC; of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles. Since then, widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era.