Bill allowing vaccines for teenagers without parental approval

A California measure allowing children aged 12 and over to be vaccinated without their parent’s consent, including against the coronavirus, removed the first legislative hurdle on Thursday.

If the proposal becomes law, California would allow the youngest age group of any state to be vaccinated without parental permission.

Minors between the ages of 12 and 17 in California cannot currently be vaccinated without the permission of their parents or guardians, unless the vaccine is specifically designed to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. California law already allows people aged 12 and over to consent to hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations.

The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would eliminate the parental requirement for this age group for any vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Democratic Senator Scott Wiener said his bill “will give teens the opportunity to protect their health through vaccination,” but it was opposed by dozens of people who called to committee hearings for more than an hour.

Wiener’s proposal is perhaps the most controversial measure left over from Democratic lawmakers’ once-ambitious agenda, after several other proposals lost momentum as the pandemic’s winter wave eased, though the number of cases is rising again.

State Senator Richard Pan said last month he would delay consideration of his bill, which would prevent students from using personal belief exemptions to avoid a coronavirus vaccine. On the same day, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said it would delay its mandate to vaccinate schoolchildren against COVID-19 until at least the summer of 2023.

Ban also stalled consideration of his bill, which would block pandemic-fighting law enforcement funds that refuse to follow public health orders.

And in March Assemblyman Buffy Wicks withdrew her bill that would have forced all California businesses to require coronavirus vaccines for their employees.

Viner said his vaccine bill “is not a revolutionary idea. It is based on California’s longstanding age of consent for health care law.”

Those aged 12 and over can now make decisions under certain circumstances, including in relation to sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and contraceptives, as well as substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, Viner said.

Parental consent laws for vaccinations vary by state and region. Alabama allows such solutions for children starting at age 14, Oregon at age 15, and Rhode Island and South Carolina at age 16, Viner said.

Philadelphia and Washington DC allow children aged 11 and over to consent to their own COVID-19 vaccines, while in San Francisco the age is 12 and over.

“We know that vaccines save lives,” said Ani Chaglasyan, an activist with Teens for Vaccines. “Because I didn’t have the authority to vaccinate myself, I lost my job, my summer internship and couldn’t see my grandmother when she was intubated.”

Arin Parsa said he founded Teens for Vaccines in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, during the measles outbreak. He urged legislators to pass the bill “so that we can live without fear that deadly diseases will take away our future.”

But Nicole Pearson, a civil and human rights lawyer, said the young advocates “don’t know the times we didn’t sleep with you wondering if you’re going to live because of some adverse reaction you tested for a vaccine.

“There are many solutions to this problem, and this does not mean that the only people with this knowledge can help their children … give informed consent,” Pearson told the committee.

Matthew McReynolds, an attorney representing the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative advocacy organization, said giving students a real choice would mean giving them “the choice to go to school with or without the vaccine. It’s informed consent and a real choice.”

Children at an early age “simply do not have the fully developed decision-making skills needed to weigh the risks and benefits and make a truly informed decision,” said Sabrina Sandoval, a school psychologist who opposed the measure.

“Children will be harassed and trafficked for vaccines,” warned opponent Dawn Richardson, director of advocacy for the National Vaccine Information Center.

Senators from both political parties questioned whether California law could be affected by a recent court ruling in Washington, D.C. that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Law takes precedence over the state’s juvenile consent law.

California legislative analysts disputed the decision. Viner and McReynolds agreed that the decision did not restrict California, but McReynolds said it offered opponents a roadmap to similarly challenge Viner’s bill in court.

Democrats on the committee as a whole said the benefits of a fully tested vaccine outweighed the risks, while Republican Senator Brian Jones raised concerns that vaccine providers might not have a complete medical history of children without parent involvement.

The bill was approved by a committee of 11 members by a vote of 7 to 0, with two members from each political party not participating in the vote, and has now passed to the full Senate.

Other measures moving forward include one requiring school districts to develop COVID-19 testing plans and another regarding immunization information.

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