SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
An outbreak of measles in the Pacific Northwest has again put the issue of vaccinations front and center. Most of the people infected have been children who were not vaccinated. Parents can choose whether or not to vaccinate their children. And children, by and large, are bound by that decision.
Ethan Lindenberger is one such youngster. He is now a high-school senior from Norwalk, Ohio. His parents are opposed to vaccinations. But when he turned 18, he decided to rethink that decision.
ETHAN LINDENBERGER: What mainly happened was I had grown up just listening to my mom and what she had told me and just assumed that was the case - that I wasn't vaccinated because vaccines are bad, and they cause all these bad effects.
And - but as I grew up and spoke to friends and saw how online, there was a large debate and heated argument between both sides of this issue, I saw that this was not as much of a black-and-white universal truth. And when I started to look into it myself, it became very apparent there was a lot more evidence, you know, in defense of vaccinations - in their favor.
SIMON: Was there a moment when you said to your mother and/or father, look; it's not safe not to get vaccinations?
LINDENBERGER: For sure. I remember I approached my mom with an article by the CDC and asked why, according to the CDC, vaccines don't cause autism and why mercury is not this extremely dangerous substance and poison found in vaccines that, you know, some people like herself would claim. And her response was simply, that's what they want you to think.
And I was just blown away that, you know, the largest health organization in the entire world would be written off with a conspiracy theory-like statement like that. And so moments like that I can recall back to, where I just thought, like, the concern with the evidence is not here.
SIMON: When did you get vaccinated? When did you start?
LINDENBERGER: I had two vaccines when I was 2 years old. My mom claims that one of those did not happen, or it happened against her will, and the only vaccine I should have gotten was a tetanus shot when I was 2. And that was it. Alongside that, I've never got any other vaccines - hepatitis, polio - anything.
And the vaccines I did get were hepatitis A, hepatitis B and a few other vaccines, including a tetanus shot. And I have more this month.
SIMON: How are things at home?
LINDENBERGER: Strange. When I got my vaccinations, my mom had always known I disagreed with her and figured that that was going to pass, but it didn't. And once I actually had finally went out and got vaccinations, it caused some stress in the house where she looked at it as me getting vaccines for a gesture of rebellion and not for my own sake and for the sake of people around me.
SIMON: Your mother said in the digital science magazine Undark - she emphasized that she had made this decision because she thought it was the best thing for you. And then she called your decision...
SIMON: ...Quote, "a slap in the face" and then said, it was like him spitting on me. Must hurt to hear those words from your mother, even thirdhand.
LINDENBERGER: Not necessarily. I mean, my mom is a very strong-willed person. And it's something to where I disagree with her very wholeheartedly and very politely. And even if it does hurt, I know that that's not a reaction that is deserved. So I try not to take it too much to heart.
SIMON: Yeah. You don't doubt her love, but you do question her judgment.
LINDENBERGER: Yeah, absolutely. That's a great way to put it. And I think a lot of people that are in a similar situation as mine can question a parent's, you know, love or care for their child to deny them a medical procedure. And some people can even compare vaccines to something like a seat belt. How would you love a child and deny them the safety of a seat belt?
But from her point of view, you can see how, if these things are truly to be believed, that it would make sense to try and push and defend and avoid something as dangerous as vaccines if it's causing polio, if it's causing autism, if it's causing brain damage. But it's simply just not true. And so I have to try and make amends with that.
SIMON: Ethan Lindenberger, high school senior in Norwalk, Ohio - thanks so much for being with us.
LINDENBERGER: Thank you.