A bill to allow children 12 years and older to vaccinate against COVID without receiving consent from their parents was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-0 with 4 abstentions 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.
SB 866 was one of several bills designed to expand vaccine availability and usage by Californians aged 18 or younger. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases in California drastically plummeted throughout the first several months of 2022, vaccine legislation efforts quickly lost steam. Support started drying up and the bills became more scrutinized for what the proposed bills and mandates would actually do.
Some of the more controversial bills, such as SB 871, which would have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all K-12 students, quickly fizzled out. Efforts by others to introduce similar mandates, including one by Governor Gavin Newsom, were also similarly delayed. By May, SB 866 was one of the few vaccine bills left, managing to stay in in part due to the bill simply adding on to existing laws that allow Californians at that age to get reproductive healthcare, mental healthcare, and a select number of vaccines, such as those for HPV and Hepatitis B.
During the Committee hearing on Thursday, Senators heard impassioned arguments from both sides of the issue. For those against the bill, a March decision by a federal judge in the District of Columbia that stopped a law allowing minors to be vaccinated without parental knowledge was pointed to as the new standard. Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute specifically addressed this, as well as the issue of informed consent.
“Providing students with true choice would be giving them a choice to attend school with or without a vaccine,” said McReynolds on Thursday. “That’s informed consent and that’s true choice.”
Nicole Pearson, a lawyer who also spoke during the committee meeting, added to the informed consent argument, saying, “Youthful advocates don’t know those times that we stayed up with you, wondering if you were going to live because of some adverse reaction you had to a vaccine. There are many solutions to this problem, and it is not removing the only people who have this knowledge to help their children to make informed consent.”
However, those in favor of the bill argued that those 12 and up should decide on their own health and that parental decisions against vaccinations could lead to adverse effects for them.
“We know vaccines save lives,” said Teens for Vaccines advocate Ani Chaglasian. “Because I did not have the authority to vaccinate myself, I lost my job, summer internship, and was unable to see my grandma when she was intubated.”
SB 866 passes Senate Judiciary Committee
After being passed on Thursday. Senator Wiener reiterated his point, Tweeting out “Teens should be able to protect their own health with vaccines – whether against COVID, flu, measles or polio – even if their parents refuse or can’t take them to get the shot.”
Teens should be able to protect their own health with vaccines – whether against COVID, flu, measles or polio – even if their parents refuse or can’t take them to get the shot.
Our legislation to allow teens to get vaccinated on their own (#SB866) just passed a key committee.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 5, 2022
Despite passing the Committee on Thursday, many observers noted that SB 866 is far from a done deal.
“There are still several Senate and Assembly votes ahead,” explained Michelle Wycliffe, a lawyer who has been tracking state-level COVID-19 vaccine measures, to the Globe on Friday. “Not only is it an election year, but it is a year where COVID-19 is becoming less and less of a concern. Even with recent bumps, the number of cases is still very low. That fear factor is no longer there, nor are laws that required vaccines to get into public places. Masking laws have also virtually disappeared.”
“A lot of other bills concerning vaccines in other states are dying out because the pandemic just is not an issue now. For this bill in California, it’s one of the few remaining, and even though it passed by a wide margin yesterday, public opinion may sway it later this year.”
SB 866 is expected to be heard in additional committees.