Ethan Lindenberger is a rebellious teenager. I don’t know if he smokes or drinks or stays out late, but in December 2018, he got himself vaccinated against the wishes of his anti-vax mother. So powerful was Lindenberger’s story that he was invited to testify this week before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday, alongside a panel of public health physicians speaking on the importance of vaccines. Even with some prominent medical authorities beside him, Lindenberger’s testimony stood out. Why? It was brave, personal, and generous. Lindenberger eviscerated anti-vaxxer thinking, but not anti-vaxxers. He was downright heroic. His mom — upset as she may be — should have been proud.
There’s really no dancing around this thing: Lindenberger is incredibly cool. He’s like a much more practical and intelligent Fonzi. He deserved every bit of the praise heaped on him by the Senators Tim Kaine, who applauded his critical thinking skills, Senator Bill Cassidy, who thanked him for protecting the health of others, and Senator Bob Casey, who commended him for his ability to speak the truth without demonizing those on the other side.
Those are all good, nice sentiments that seemed very appropriate for a Senate hearing. Let me add a thought that would have been a bit out of place: Ethan Lindenberger is a total badass. “My mother would turn to illegitimate sources that did not have peer-reviewed information,” Lindenberger told the panel. “And I saw the claims for myself were not accurate. And because of that and because of my health care professionals … I was able to make a clear, concise, and scientific decision.” Woof. The world is full of kids whose parents don’t understand how to consume information on the internet. Most of them just sort of dance around it. Not Lindenberg.
I can hear the anti-vaxxers moaning that it probably wasn’t so tough considering he was in a safe space, and his mom wasn’t around. And that would be true if the Senate was actually a safe space for logic and reason (spoiler: it’s not). Lindenberg didn’t just get cheered. He had to face down Senator Rand Paul — otherwise known as Dr. Rand Paul — who took it upon himself to speechifying amd clouding the issue.
Paul hit all the anti-vax power chord: the government pays billions for vaccines injuries (doesn’t prove the injuries were caused by vaccines), flu vaccines offer a “false sense of security” (sure, and also security), and that personal choice is paramount (true up until kids start dying). Despite the fact that Paul’s ramblings were greeted with enthusiastic applause from some in the audience, seated directly behind Lindenberger, the teen didn’t flinch. He stood firm and, later in the hearing, talked about the hypnotizing power of frightening vaccine injury anecdotes.
Take that, Senator Paul.
The only disappointing thing about Lindenberger is that there aren’t more kids like him. And maybe there will be. His performance on Tuesday offered an object lesson in how to resist nonsense with logic and class. Hopefully, he’ll inspire others to stand up. Hopefully, his mom was listening.