Needle match: US teens defy anti-vaxer parents
They take vaccination into their own hands as country is on track for its worst year for measles in a quarter century
Like a growing number of teenagers in the US, Ethan Lindenberger reached the age of 18 without receiving most government-recommended vaccines. “God knows how I’m still alive,” he wrote online in November, explaining that his mother believed the injections caused brain damage and autism.
Approaching his 18th birthday, when he would no longer need parental consent, Lindenberger made a major decision: he would defy his mother and get vaccinated.
“I had done the research and I believed I was doing what was best for me,” he said.
Lindenberger’s tale made national headlines, leading to him giving evidence to Congress in an emotional testimony. But his story if far from unique. The US is on track for its worst year for measles in a quarter century, as pseudo science conjured up by anti-vaccination groups spreads among anxious parents through social media.
This week, a New York county was forced to ban all unvaccinated children from public places in the most draconian action yet to control a disease effectively eradicated in the US by 2000. But children are increasingly taking their health into their own hands, with some as young as 13 meeting peers to find how to get around the need for parental consent for vaccines.
“I am the 15-year-old son of an anti-vaccine parent,” one writes on Reddit, a discussion website. “I have spent the last four years trying to convince my mother that vaccines are safe. I haven’t succeeded. So instead I am trying to research how to be vaccinated without my mother’s consent.”
Some states want to help by attempting to introduce controversial laws to allow children to act without approval from their parents. In Connecticut, a bill currently under consideration would allow children to have HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines without telling their parents. Two more bills propose further restrictions on the non-immunised.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more of that with kids making their own decision,” says Lindenberger. “I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for children being allowed to do things without their parents’ consent, but you’re talking about a public health concern. Should a child be allowed to bring themselves to a hospital? Yes. You’re talking about premeditated safety. I think at that point it makes sense.”
In New York, where 214 cases of measles have been registered since October, lawmakers have put forward a bill that would ban all non-medical vaccine exemptions for children. This has enraged the other side who argue it is akin to a human rights issue and threatens the right to practise religion protected by the US constitution.
Despite the US government and the World Health Organisation warning of the threats posed by not immunising, vaccine-sceptic parents insist that not enough has been done to rule out the risk of injury.
Jason Hommel, 48, said he researched the matter extensively before coming to a conclusion, because “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if my child should get polio, for instance. I do understand that there is a huge media fear about measles, but measles is a benign, safe rash,” he said. “Nobody has died from it in the last 10 years. Everybody who’s getting measles, half the people at least, probably, were already vaccinated.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)