Teen who got vaccinated despite parents blames Facebook for spreading misinformation

A teenager who testified before Congress on Tuesday about his decision to get vaccinated against his mother's wishes blamed Facebook and other websites for spreading misinformation about the risks of vaccines.

Ethan Lindenberger, a high school student in Ohio, told the Senate Health Committee that his mother's views that vaccines were unsafe were bolstered after reading information shared on Facebook by "illegitimate sources."

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He specifically referred to "anti-vax" pages on Facebook, citing a study by The Atlantic that found that seven anti-vax pages generated 20 percent of the top 10,000 vaccination-related posts in a three-year period.

"With my mother it continues to influence her views, along with countless Americans," Lindenberger said.

"I bring this up to show how in my own personal life this misinformation reached my family. Not only that, it led to the people I care about being put at risk," said Lindenberger, who caught up on his vaccinations after turning 18.

Lindenberger said he went through childhood without being vaccinated against diseases like measles and polio because his mother believes vaccines cause autism and brain damage, despite numerous studies that show the risks are minimal.

Lindenberger, who went viral after a Washington Post article featured teens who got vaccinated on their own, said he was pulled out of class every year and told he could not attend school if he didn't get his shots.

But his parents were allowed to opt him out of immunizations every year. In Ohio, state law allows parents to claim religious or personal belief vaccine exemptions for their children.

"The information leading people to fear for their children, for themselves, and for their families is causing outbreaks of preventable diseases," Lindenberger said.

Lindenberger stressed that he doesn't think that individuals who oppose vaccines are "evil."

"Her beliefs were not true, and propagating these lies is dangerous. However, it is not necessarily ill-natured," he said.

But he specifically blamed organizations and individuals who spread misinformation "for their own gain."

"Anti-vaccine leaders and proponents of misinformation which knowingly lie to the American people are the real issue," he said.

Public health officials and experts lay part of the blame for the ongoing measles outbreak to vaccine skepticism.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 206 measles cases so far in 2019, with six outbreaks in four states.