NHS senior 'very excited' to share vaccine story with Senate

Cary Ashby • Mar 4, 2019 at 3:51 PM

Norwalk resident Ethan Lindenberger now is taking his story about being vaccinated against his parents’ wishes to the U.S. Senate.

The 18-year-old Norwalk High School senior is scheduled to testify Tuesday with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about his experience. Lindenberger, who accepted the committee’s invitation, announced on Instagram on March 2 that he planned to speak about the importance of vaccinations.

“I grew up in an (anti-vaccination) household. My mom didn’t believe that vaccines were beneficial to the health and safety of society and believes that they cause autism, brain damage and other complications. This has been largely debunked by the scientific community,” Lindenberger said in a YouTube video posted Saturday.

The committee hearing is titled “Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?” Also expected to testify with Lindenberberger was John Wiesman, secretary of health for the state of Washington.

Lindenberger, in the YouTube video, said his testimony would address “preventable diseases, spreading and outbreaks of preventable diseases, as well as addressing misinformation that causes these outbreaks.”

“He’s excited; he’s very excited,” said Lindenberger’s father Joe, who took his son to the airport Monday. “It’s a big deal.”

The younger Lindenberger, who has a new suit for the occasion, prepared a five-minute speech and a narrative to share with committee members. His father said Ethan planned to talk about being an advocate for teens and the importance of being educated about vaccinations.

“He’s well spoken. He’s passionate about what he believes in,” added Joe Lindenberger, who believes his son will do well.

The teenager’s testimony comes as the U.S. has faced measles outbreaks in states — including Washington — that have been credited largely to skepticism surrounding vaccinations and unsubstantiated accusations of links between vaccines and autism, according to the website The Hill.

Ethan Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, previously told the Reflector that when it comes to vaccines, it’s important to “research it on your own” and “don’t go by the word of the CDC” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). She also said she respects her son’s decision to be vaccinated, but doesn’t agree with it and wishes her son had listened to her reasoning as much as he took into account the research he did.

Lindenberger told NPR News about his mother's reaction to information from the CDC.

“Her response was simply 'that's what they want you to think,’” he said. “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.”

Lindenberger’s story took off both in the international press and on social media last month after he posted on Reddit, an online forum, asking for advice on what steps he should take to get vaccinated. He and his mother did about a dozen interviews with various media outlets, including FOX, The Washington Post, CNN, reporters from Berlin and Australia, “Good Morning America” and coverage was in USA Today.

Joe Lindenberger was asked Monday how the media coverage has impacted his perspective on vaccinations. Noting that his son and ex-wife are much more passionate about the subject than he is and that Wheeler is “100 percent anti-vaccines,” he told the Reflector he is “now more in line with Ethan than I am his mother.” 

Lindenberger and Wheeler have four children — Isaac, 22, Ethan, 18, Noah, 16, and Emma, 14. Lindenberger said he and his children have had “interesting conversations” lately about vaccines.  

“I am more of a ‘yes’ than I am a ‘no’ now,” said Lindenberger, who doesn’t favor vaccinating babies and prefers that people educate themselves about vaccines. “I love babies. I want to protect them; I want to nurture them.”

The father said there’s a small percentage of cases when there could be “collateral damage” when someone takes medicine.

“I think it’s the same with vaccinations,” he added.

If one of his younger children approached him about wanting to be vaccinated, Lindenberger said he would allow them to do so. In fact, he added he believes his 16-year-old son Noah eventually will get his shots. 

“He’s more neutral because he’s not educated,” the father added.

Ethan Lindenberger said his decision wasn’t about going against his parents’ wishes, but doing what will keep him healthy and will keep other people from getting sick as well. He also told the Reflector he decided once he did a lot of research and discussed the matter with his doctor and many other people.

Regarding Ethan and what he has done, his father said he’s proud of him taking a stand and educating himself.

“People should respect that,” he said.