Children in Washington, D.C. as young as 11 may no longer need to get their parent’s consent for a vaccine, including the vaccination against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
A bill, overwhelmingly passed by the D.C. Council on October 20, would require doctors to send the medical record to a child’s school and seek compensation through insurance without the knowledge of parents. To become law, the bill requires a second vote and the signature of the mayor.
Several states have attempted to bypass parents to increase vaccination rates, with mixed success. A bill in New Jersey failed in 2019, but the New York Department of Health has been allowing teens to get HPV shots since 2017. Delaware, Minnesota, and South Carolina give similar permission and California allows minors to consent to the HPV vaccine under state health regulations. Internationally, the UK, Canada, and Sweden allow children to override a parent’s refusal to vaccinate if the child is mature enough to understand the consequences of their choice.
“Coerce Impressionable Minors”
Trayon White, Sr. was the only D.C. council member to vote against the bill.
“Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children,” White stated at the meeting. “Medical professionals and schools should not be permitted to coerce impressionable minors into procedures capable of causing injury or death behind their parents’ back.”
Parents are responsible for the care of children, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“If there is an adverse reaction, the municipality will have no liability, [whereas they might with consent override],” Orient said.
The implications of pre-teens needing to override parental consent to get a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection is not the only reason to object to the measure. Children may not understand possible adverse reactions, says Orient.
“How about death or neurological disability or infertility that might result?” Orient asks. “Whoever treats a child without the parent’s consent should take on responsibility for medical bills or other extraordinary expenses that result from the intervention, or compensation for things like premature ovarian failure.”
Orient says a brain does not fully mature until the mid-’20s.
“Minors are not capable of informed consent, whatever the subjective judgment of the authorities,” Orient says.
D.C. also allows teens to get access to mental health counseling and birth control without the knowledge of their parents.