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Do US teens have the right to be vaccinated against their parents’ will? Depends on where they live

1 7 1
03.09.2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone aged 12 and up. And yet, 12- to 15-year olds are the least vaccinated age group in the country, with 1 in 3 having received one dose and just 1 in 4 being fully vaccinated – about half the rate of the population as a whole.

In some states, minors can legally decide for themselves whether they would like to get vaccinated. In Tennessee, for example, state law allows teens 14 and older to make medical treatment decisions without parental consent. But earlier this summer, state health officials fired their vaccination director after she wrote a memo explaining the law to state medical providers.

I teach vaccine law, so I know the principle that certain minors may be vaccinated without parental consent is woven into our country's history.

It is also in line with the recommendations of the medical profession in general. In 2013, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine advocated "policies and strategies that maximize opportunities for minors to receive vaccinations when parents are not physically present."

However, there's no federal law mandating this right in the United States. Instead, there's a state-by-state patchwork of widely varied regimes. In some, parental consent is always mandatory. In others, there are laws that establish the conditions under which minors can decide for themselves – although, as the Tennessee situation shows, even this right can cause controversy.

Parental consent is the norm

Generally, parents or legal guardians have primary legal authority to make health decisions for their children, including vaccination decisions. When a state legally allows parents to request exemptions for legally mandated childhood vaccinations, these laws universally require that the parents are the ones to take steps to obtain it.

When minor children disagree with their parents' opposition to vaccination, they must look to statutes or case law for assistance, and may find it........

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