Teens of Anti-Vaxxers Rebelling by Getting Vaccinated

Teen girl at doctor's office.
Photo: PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini/Getty Images/PhotoAlto

While kids typically aren’t enthusiastic about going to the doctor to get routine vaccinations, some children born of anti-vax parents want nothing more. In an attempt to take their health into their own hands, some teenagers are seeking out any information they can find online about how to get vaccinated, all without without mom or dad finding out.

Amid a growing number of entirely preventable disease outbreaks tied to low vaccination rates, the Washington Post reports that at least three teenagers raised by anti-vaxxers have turned to online forums, seeking advice regarding how they can obtain vaccines on their own. Because state laws regulate whether or not a minor can make medical decisions without their parents’ consent, though, this mission is far from a simple one.

One such teenager is 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger, who sought help on Reddit last November. As a child in Ohio, where parents can opt out of vaccinating their children, he had never thought anything of his mom’s decision to not vaccinate him; it wasn’t until he was older, when he started to notice that he hadn’t gotten shots like all his other friends, that he started to do some research into vaccinations. In a widely circulated post that has been covered by publications including Washington Post and the science journalism website Undark, Lindenberger writes that his parents believe vaccines are “some kind of government scheme,” which has sparked “countless arguments over the topic.”

“[B]ecause of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I’m still alive,” he writes. “I’d assume that I can get them on my own but I’ve just never had a conversation with anyone about the subject. I’m also afraid I’d go somewhere that up charges vaccines way more than somewhere just down the street. Any advice would be awesome.”

Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, 47 of the 50 states allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children because of religious beliefs; and of those 47, 18 permit parents to deny vaccinations based on personal, moral, or philosophical opposition. As one might expect, parents in that latter group of states have been taking advantage of non-medical exemptions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has in part led to both major measles outbreaks. Though anti-vaxxers all have different sets of beliefs, much of the anti-vax efforts stem back to 1998, when discredited physician Andrew Wakefield published a thoroughly debunked study claiming that vaccinations are linked to autism.

Because there is no federal guideline regarding consent and immunization, it is up to states to determine whether or not minors must get their parents’ approval beforehand. While most states have such a law, some states recognize “mature minors” — a person under the age of 18 whom medical professionals deem mature enough to make their own medical decisions. Washington state, for example, has such a doctrine.

Just one month ago, Lindenberger posted to Reddit that he “finally got [his] vaccines,” in which he referenced his “supportive” doctors and friends; at 18 years old, Lindenberger was legally permitted to make this choice. And though his father has found a way to accept his decision, Lindenberger told Undark, his mother told the publication that 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,” she said. “You did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it.”

Teens of Anti-Vaxxers Rebelling by Getting Vaccinated