Disproven and dubious theories about the safety of childhood vaccines are pitting an Ohio mother against her teenage son. High school senior Ethan Lindenberger recently defied his mother and got vaccinated, saying his parents' misguided beliefs put his health, and the health of his younger siblings, at risk.
For most of his life, Lindenberger thought it was normal for most kids not to get immunized, but about two years ago he began to see how the posts about vaccines his own mother was sharing on social media were dangerous.
"I question her judgment, but not her care," he said. "You have something like measles, which is a preventable disease that we can vaccinate against that I and many people believe is coming back because of opinions like the ones that have influenced my mom."
In November, Lindenberger asked strangers on Reddit, an online message board, where he could go to get up to date with his shots. "My parents are kind of stupid," he wrote. "God knows how I'm still alive."
His mother, Jill Wheeler, said she was "blown away" when she found out.
"There's a degree of feeling like, you know, he doesn't trust what I say as a parent," Wheeler said.
Her son said it was never his intention to blame his parents or make them look dumb, saying, "That came from a place of frustration and trying to deal with this issue and find common ground."
Lindenberger showed his parents scientific studies that showed vaccines were safe and effective, but his mother remained unconvinced.
"It was just straight up fear of him getting these immunizations and having a bad reaction … I think a lot of people look at this as a straight, black and white answer, and I don't feel like it is," Wheeler said.
Lindenberger is 18 and in Ohio, he's old enough to get shots without his parents' permission. In December, he got vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis, tetanus and HPV. His 16-year-old brother, who is now considering also getting his shots, will have to wait.
There is no federal law mandating children be immunized but only seven states and Washington D.C. allow minors to get vaccinations without parental consent.
"I'm very proud of him, for standing for what he believes in, even if it is against what I believe. He's a good boy. He's a good kid," Wheeler said.
Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories often use pseudo-scientific language, which makes them potent and enduring. As we've seen with the measles outbreak in Washington and Oregon, there is a very real risk when parents buy into those half-truths, according to CBS News' Dr. Tara Narula.
Narula recommends that parents who have questions about vaccine safety should visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website and HealthyChildren.org, which has dozens of studies debunking common myths about vaccines. She also recommends consulting with your healthcare provider.
For example, there's no evidence autism is caused by the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and no evidence it's caused by thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative sometimes used in vaccines.