A bill that would allow children 12 years and older to vaccinate without receiving consent from their parents was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.
Senate Bill 866, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would specifically authorize minors 12 years and older to consent to vaccines that meet specified federal agency criteria. Vaccine providers would be green-lit to administer the vaccines, but SB 866 would not have vaccine providers give any other service outside their scope of practice. The bill would not only allow the COVID-19 vaccine, but any vaccine approved by the federal government that meets CDC immunization recommendations.
In addition to increasing immunized and booster receiving population in California, Wiener wrote the bill to allow students who would be barred from jobs, sports, clubs, and other activities without the vaccine to be able to more easily receive it. In a press release, Wiener also said that many students who want the vaccine can’t get it due to parental beliefs about vaccines, or many parents are working and too busy to physically bring them to places that offer vaccinations and consent.
He also pointed out that those 13 and up already have the right to get reproductive healthcare, mental healthcare, and a select number of vaccines, such as those for HPV and hepatitis B. Supporters said that rather than being an outright new law, SB 866 is simply building on current ones.
“Giving young people the autonomy to receive life-saving vaccines, regardless of their parents’ beliefs or work schedules, is essential for their physical and mental health,” said Senator Wiener on Thursday. “COVID-19 is a deadly virus for the unvaccinated, and it’s unconscionable for teens to be blocked from the vaccine because a parent either refuses or cannot take their child to a vaccination site. So many teens want to be vaccinated so that they can lead a more normal life — participating in sports or band, traveling, going to friends’ homes — but they’re prevented from doing so due to their parents’ political views or inability to find the time. Unvaccinated teens also make schools less safe and threaten our ability to keep schools open. In states like Alabama and South Carolina, teenagers are already allowed to get vaccinated without parental consent. Young Californians should also have the right to keep themselves healthy and safe.”
In a later statement, Wiener added that he expected strong opposition to the bill, noting “We know we have the fringe anti-vaxxers who oppose any bill that expands access to vaccines.”
Support for, opposition against SB 866
Wiener quickly received support on Thursday from many students and medical officials, echoing Wiener’s reasons.
“We know how important vaccines are for protecting the health of teens and their families and communities,” said San Francisco Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax on Thursday. “Our San Francisco teens have some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state and nation with more than 90% fully vaccinated, and they are now getting boosted. This age group has been a critical part of our response to ending the pandemic. This legislation would help increase vaccination rates among young people 12 years and older across California.”
While some anti-vaccine groups did oppose the bill on Thursday, parents groups and some school organizations quickly opposed the legislation, noting that statewide mandates are already in place and that those under 18 are still not legally adults and may not fully understand what a vaccination entails for them.
“These are big life decisions, and many younger people may just decide on impulse to get one rather than look at the pros and cons, what other options are, and other variables with the vaccine,” said Chip Garnett, a parental group leader at a school district in San Diego County, to the Globe on Friday. “Many of us aren’t anti-vaxxers. In fact, me and my family have already vaccinated, with many getting boosters. But we know from talking with our 13 and 14 year-olds that they don’t get too much about the vaccines other than people are getting them and that if you want to go to school in-person you need them.”
“If the bill passes, parents would have to convince their children not to take them. I mean, many are doing so now, but they would have to compete against what they’re hearing from school. It’s removing what should be a parental decision, or at least something that the parent should know about, at the very least for filling in medical history or alerting to allergies or side effects in the family.”
If passed, California would have the second youngest vaccination consent age in the U.S., trailing only the District of Columbia which has age 11 as the minimum. SB 866 is expected to be heard in the Senate soon.