Teenagers keep all kinds of secrets from their parents. To drink. Sex. Low notes.
But the secret that 17-year-old New York high school student Elizabeth hides from her peers is new to the teenage prank menu. She doesn’t want her parents to know she was vaccinated against Covid-19.
They are divorced and have the same decision-making power over their daughter’s health care. Although her mother is strongly in favor of the vaccine, her father angrily opposes it and has threatened to sue her mother if Elizabeth is vaccinated. The girl keeps the secret not only from her father, but also from her mother, so that she can deny the knowledge if questioned (Elizabeth asked to be identified only by her middle name).
Vaccination of children is crucial to achieve broad immunity against the coronavirus and to return to school and work. But although Covid vaccines have been approved for children 12 and older, many parents, worried about side effects and afraid of the novelty of vaccines, do not allow their children to take them.
A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 3 in 10 parents of children between the ages of 12 and 17 wanted to allow them to be immunized immediately. Many say they will wait for long-term safety data or an order from the school.
But many teens are anxious to receive the vaccine, which for them unlocks freedom denied during the pandemic, and there is great tension in homes where parents maintain firm denial.
Forty states in the United States require parental consent to vaccinate children under 18, and in Nebraska, 19 (some states have exemptions for homeless or emancipated teens). Today, due to the Covid crisis, some US states and cities are seeking to relax medical consent rules, mimicking laws that allow minors to be vaccinated against HPV, which prevents certain cancers caused by a sexually virus. transmissible.
Last fall, the County Council of the District of Columbia (the US Federal District) voted to allow children as young as 11 to receive recommended vaccines without parental permission. New Jersey and New York legislatures have bills that would allow 14-year-olds to consent to vaccines; Minnesota has one that would give some 12-year-olds the right to decide on inoculation.
But other states are moving in the opposite direction. While South Carolina teens can consent at age 16, and doctors can perform certain necessary procedures without parental permission on even younger children, a bill would explicitly prohibit providers from vaccinating minors of Covid. without parental consent.
In Oregon, where the age of medical consent is 15, Linn County has required county clinics to obtain parental consent to vaccinate anyone under the age of 18 against Covid. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks Covid-related bills, some states, such as Tennessee and Alabama, are working on legislation to prevent public schools from requiring anti-Covid vaccinations.
The question of who can authorize vaccination gives new context to the medical, legal and ethical questions debated for decades. When parents disagree, who is the arbiter? At what age are children able to make their own health decisions, and how should this be determined?
“Isabella wants to get the shot because her friends are taking it and she doesn’t want to wear a mask,” said Charisse, mother of a 17-year-old girl in Delray Beach, Fla., Who asked not to donate. Her last name. Charisse is concerned that the vaccine is having an effect on her daughter’s reproductive system (a mistake that public health officials have repeatedly refuted).
“Isabella said, ‘The body is mine.’ And I said, ‘Well, the body is mine until I am 18,'” the mother said.
As legal and family discussions unfold, those administering the vaccine in pharmacies, clinics and doctor’s offices are trying to decide what to do when a teenager shows up for the shot without a parent.
“Maybe we’re in a legal gray area with this vaccine,” said Dr. Sterling Ransone Jr., family doctor in Deltaville, Virginia. In your health care system, a parent can submit a signed consent form for a teen to be vaccinated. But the Covid vaccine is only allowed in emergencies, so the health system requires a parent to be present for people under 18 to take the vaccine.
More and more frustrated teens are looking for ways to get vaccinated without parental permission. Some found their way to VaxTeen.org, a vaccine information site run by Kelly Danielpour, a teenage girl from Los Angeles.
The site offers advice on state consent laws, links to clinics, resources such as simple information about Covid-19, and tips on how teens can involve their parents.
“Someone asks me, ‘I must be able to consent to a vaccination clinic which is open on weekends and is on my bus route. Can you help me?” Said Danielpour, 18, who will begin his first year at Stanford in the fall.
She created the site two years ago, well before the Covid. The daughter of a pediatric neurosurgeon and an intellectual property lawyer, she has found that most adolescents do not know the recommended immunization schedule or their rights.
“We automatically refer to parents, but not adolescents, as having opinions on this issue,” she said. “I decided I needed help.
Danielpour turned to experts to help him understand immunization and consent laws, and recruited teenagers to be “VaxTeen Ambassadors”.
“I want teens to be able to tell pediatricians, ‘I have this right,'” said Danielpour, who speaks at conferences for doctors and health officials.
As doctors try to instill confidence in the vaccine in parents as well as patients, there is little that can be done when parents oppose it. Recently, Dr. Mobeen Rathore, professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida, Jacksonville School of Medicine, told a patient, whose mother refused to allow, that she could not get the Covid vaccine. until after she turns 18, in three weeks. .
“She received the vaccine on her birthday,” Rathore said. “And texted me saying it was her gift to herself.”