Teens Are Going Around Their Anti-Vaxxer Parents by Doing Their Own Research Online

Luke Darby
Thankfully, the Internet isn’t 100 percent trolls and conspiracy theorists.

Given the state of health care in the U.S., it's not unusual for people to have to take matters into their own hands online. Sometimes that involves trying to crowdfund lifesaving treatment. But recently, numerous teenagers have been doing something more roundabout: finding ways to get themselves vaccinated despite what their anti-vaxx parents want. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Ethan Lindenberger posted on Reddit that he was looking for advice on how to handle getting vaccinated himself. The post opens:

As the title explains, my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme. It's stupid and I've had countless arguments over the topic. But, because of their beliefs I've never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I'm still alive. But, i'm a senior in high school now with a car, a license, and money of my own. 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.

This isn't even a strictly American phenomenon: Teens in Australia are doing the same, according to the Daily Beast. As Lindenberger told The Washington Post, he noticed years ago that his mother was posting anti-vaccination videos on social media, and that led to him seeking out medical journals and trying to independently work things out himself. "It was clear there was way more evidence in defense of vaccines," he said. Lindenberger's mother didn't take the news about his decision well, telling the online science magazine Undark, "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. You did make a bad decision and I’m gonna go fix it.'"

Lindenberger and his family live in Ohio, one of a handful of states that lets parents opt out of vaccinations based on "personal beliefs," which means for non-medical and non-religious reasons. Another such state is Washington, which is currently in the middle of a massive measles outbreak and is seeing parents who previously refused now scrambling to get their children vaccinated. Washington is One doctor told NPR that some of the parents he sees are from the former Soviet Union and have a distrust of the government, which is an understandable reaction to surviving an authoritarian regime. But, he added, many others are making their decisions based on crackpot Internet sources. "It's the Google monster, unfortunately," he said. "Once people Google, they find all these warnings and adverse reactions. And it can sometimes blur what's really important for the child or even people to get."

So while their parents are falling into deep pits of algorithm-delivered misinformation, teens are using the Internet to bone up on actual medical studies and to solicit help for how to take their health into their own hands. Thankfully, this is one more reason to think that this new generation actually has their shit together.