Ethan Lindenberger of Ohio spoke before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week on Capitol Hill. He believes anti-vaccine parents put other children at risk. JIM WATSON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

There is no excuse. Anti-vaxxers put us all at risk

Ethan Lindenberger.

Let that name sink in a bit because something tells me we will be hearing from him again. Soon.

Lindenberger is the 18-year-old from Ohio who shared his story last week about growing up in an anti-vaccine household. He spoke at a U.S. Senate hearing on vaccines and the outbreak of preventable diseases.

His mother, however well-meaning, never took him to get the standard vaccines that protect against measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella and other diseases.

Her love, affection and care were used to push an agenda to create a false distress, Lindenberger told the committee.

He believes his mother’s misinformation and fear put children at risk.

Reasonable people will agree with him. For proof, look no further than the recent measles outbreak.

The culprit? Low vaccination rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average one person with measles will infect 12 to 18 people in a susceptible population, which is a population without prior exposure to the measles virus either through vaccination or natural infection.

RELATED: Georgia health officials confirm three cases of measles

The disease is highly contagious; infectious droplets can remain in the air for two hours, meaning that one can become infected during that time period even without skin-to-skin contact. Some 90 percent of susceptible individuals exposed to the airborne droplets will become infected.

Lindenberger grew up debating these points with his mother but to no avail.

You can lead a horse to water, as the saying goes, but you can’t make him drink it.

Dr. Austin Chan, an assistant professor of infectious disease at the Morehouse School of Medicine, believes vaccines are one of the greatest preventive tools that have ever been developed against disease.

Many people, however, still point to a 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield that showed vaccinated children had increased rates of autism, Chan said. Even though that fact was later retracted because Wakefield altered the facts to support his claim, Chan said, the idea stuck.

“I think the anti-vaccination movement is incredibly dangerous, but for some reason, they’ve managed to convince some very high-profile celebrities, who then sway public opinion,” he said.

That’s baffling beyond words. Why would anyone trust a celebrity when it comes to their health? There’s a big difference between an entertainer and a doctor, and it’s not just between the ears.

Heck, they don’t buy half the stuff they’re allowed to sell. It’s given to them. But I digress.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What’s important to remember here is the notion that vaccines might cause autism was refuted nine years ago, when a British medical panel concluded in 2010 that Wakefield had acted with “callous disregard” in conducting his research.

More recently, researchers examined data for more than half a million Danish children born between 1999 and the end of 2010 that show the MMR vaccine not only does not increase the risk of autism but is not likely to trigger the developmental disorder in susceptible populations. Their findings were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine the day before the Senate hearing.

Like the rest of you, I’ve been watching these outbreaks pop up across the country for months now. By last count, six outbreaks are ongoing in the United States, according to the CDC. Georgia health officials have confirmed three cases of measles, all within the same metro Atlanta family.

That isn’t just scary. It’s as preventable as the disease itself. All one has to do is get vaccinated.

The moment Lindenberger became an adult, he was done with the back and forth with his parents. He did his research and, armed with the facts, not the hysteria you find on the internet, he decided to get vaccinated on his own.

RELATED: CDC warns of measles in 21 states, including North Carolina, Florida

Not only is he smart, he’s a great role model.

One news story I read said that after the hearing, he told reporters he’d done his best to “address misinformation without demonizing people,” and that he and his parents are still working through their differences.

His advice to other youths experiencing debates about vaccines within their families? “Just maintain respect and continue presenting evidence.”

The Senate also heard from Saad Omer, a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University; John Boyle, president and CEO of the Immune Deficiency Foundation; and John Wiesman, secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health.

Washington has had three measles outbreaks over the past 10 years. As of March 4, the state Department of Health had confirmed 70 cases of measles in Washington’s Clark County.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., expressed his opposition to mandatory vaccines during the hearing even though he said he vaccinated himself and his kids.

“For myself and my children, I believe that the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh the risks, but I still do not favor giving up on liberty for a false sense of security,” he said.

I wish I could say I understand his line of thinking but I don’t.

People certainly have the right to choose, but do they also have the right to jeopardize the health of others? Please, you tell me.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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