CLEVELAND, OHIO - The measles, once eliminated in the U.S. is making a dangerous comeback. The CDC is tracking cases in 11 states, along with six coast to coast outbreaks. It's part of the reason why a Norwalk teen who made worldwide news, for getting vaccinated against his mother's wishes was tapped to speak on a Senate convened panel Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
The focus of discussion in the hearing called, "Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks," centered around the importance of vaccines and the misinformation surrounding why they are so critical. It's a topic close to Ethan Lindenberger, 18, his mother identifies as a part of the anti-vaccine community.
"In one such instance where I approached my mother with information from the CDC that claims vaccines do not cause autism she responded with that's what they want you to think," said Lindenberger to senators.
A study, published this week of more than 650,000 children in Demark concluded the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine does not cause autism. Yet the myth prevails on the internet and through antidotes explained Lindenberger who says growing up his mother often said she heard stories about the dangers of vaccination.
"Internet fraudsters who claim vaccines are not safe are praying on the unfounded fears and daily struggles of parents and they're creating a daily health hazard that is entirely preventable," said Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Lindenberger sat on a panel of mostly doctors, where he delivered a personal account of the harm misinformation can do to the public.
"For certain individuals and organizations that spread misinformation, they instill fear into the public for their own gain, selfishly and doing so knowing that their information is incorrect," said Lindenberger. "For my mother, her love and affection were used to push an agenda that creates false distress."
Monday, Fox 8 spoke with Jill Wheeler about her son, who she says she supports but does not believe in his decision to testify.
"Ethan has had no education at all in this," said Wheeler. "None, again, he was asking three months ago where to go to get vaccinated and now he's sitting on a committee voicing his opinion for research he's done on the internet?"
Lindenberger says today was not about debating falsehoods, he simply wanted to shine a light on the truth and the power he says it has to eliminate the spread of preventable disease.
"Approaching this issue with the concern of education and addressing misinformation properly can cause change, as it did for me," said Lindenberger.
The high school student was commended by many elected officials during the discussion, including Sen. Bill Cassidy, who thanked Lindenberger for caring enough about his fellow students back home to get vaccinated.