Vaccines: Should kids be able to make their own decisions?
With safety on everyone’s minds, the key question we ask today is about vaccines. As required, vaccine providers must provide information about vaccines and present the decision to someone, but who is and isn’t allowed to make such choices?
by Akshitha Sahu
With the word ‘vaccine’ on every tongue, its policies are often looked at with an open mind. In the D.C. council, a bill was passed to give kids from the age of 11 the right to get vaccines without parental consent. This sparked a discussion on whether kids should have the ability to decide for themselves, said The Washington Post.
To fully understand each argument, the words ‘consent’ and ‘assent’ must be understood. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains the difference between consent and assent. It’s important to notice that consent is a situation that is required by law where an individual must provide permission before medical procedures, including the use of vaccines. It’s also stated that the consenter must have the capability to make that decision, and this is where the meaning of this statement can be viewed differently by each party. Assent, in this instance, refers to the participation of adolescent youth in discussions about their health, and this is important to consider in this controversy.
The fundamental difference between what minors and parents think about minor consent laws is what they may believe about vaccines in general. ProCon.Org (by Britannica) explains how vaccines can save the lives of children, but also cause serious and occasional fatal side effects. This perspective argues that parental consent on vaccines stifles the beliefs of adolescents, and this is something that cannot stand.
Most agree with the VISs, or Vaccine Information Statements by the CDC. The CDC explains that this is a document that clarifies the risks and benefits of a vaccine to the patient, or their legal guardian(s). With the use of this document, recipients can better understand what procedure they will be undergoing. However, this is where we see the Trilemma. Should children be allowed to be vaccinated without parental consent or should healthcare specialists require parental consent? Or is there a middle-ground?
Minors should decide.
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons minors should have the ability to decide is that there is often a religious barrier that parents cite in objection to certain vaccines (The Washington Post). This religious barrier comes from the components of vaccines. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center explains that there are certain religions that object to the hurting of animals or the use of animal products. This implies the differences that exist within parents and their children, and in some situations where parents object to their child’s vaccine because of the religious barrier, or vice versa.
The Washington Post also explains that this legislation was brought to life because of the measles outbreak last year, and only grew as COVID-19 gripped our world. It’s made clear how important it is to have a secure plan in place, and minors argue that when their parents don’t allow them to get a vaccine, they should be able to.
Opponents of this side argue that minors cannot make a stable decision in a situation as important as this. It would be a mistake not to consider that international law supports children having a say in the discussion about their health as well as planning health provisions that are relevant to them (WHO). However, this statement does not claim that young children should fully participate in discussions about their health but pertains to adolescent youth who have the capability to effectively participate.
Doctors need to have consent from parents.
One of the most prominent arguments from this side is that children are not capable enough to make their own decisions about their health. Trayon White, a council member part of the decision-making process of the bill passed in D.C. (mentioned above) explains why he chose to vote against the bill. Having a young child of his own, he explains his understanding that kids in their young teens need guidance from their parents and are too young to make their own decisions. This side argues that it’s common knowledge that children don’t always know what’s best for them, and putting this much responsibility in their hands can be harmful.
With consent laws as they are, the WHO explains that the person consenting must have the ability to make the decision. Though it may ‘stifle the beliefs of adolescents,’ it would be safer for parents, knowing more than their children, to make the call. In the instance that an adolescent can decide, the possibility of the minor overindulging in their decision and being coerced by people other than their parent leaves a lot of backlash for the parents who nurtured the child in the first place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to ‘assent’ as a “moral obligation” more than a law. Some wouldn’t see this as any less than consent, which is well-informed permission of procedure. For consent to be valid, the decision must be well-informed. According to CDC “Consent [is] [derived] from the principle of autonomy and forms an important part of medical and public health ethics, as well as international law.” (WHO).
Giving authority to schools - A possible neutral.
While there are those who believe that giving adolescents the right to decide their health care is the right action to take, there are people who believe that children still require consent from their parents for vaccines. It should also be considered that adolescents often have perspectives that differ from their parents and letting them make their own choices helps them grow. However, giving children the opportunity to vaccinate without parental consent may not be safe for the children.
As seen with controversial issues, the side that sticks is the one that makes substantial compromises. As done in D.C., this solution is one that finds the middle-ground between both sides. For those who wish to keep the reliability of parents, the role of schools suffices. And for those who want their adolescent minors to grow and be able to make their own decisions, the school can be a place that allows more room for such discussions. The D.C. bill required the doctor to send records to the child’s school instead of seeking parents (The Washington Post). While this may still sit uneasy with some, parents may rest a little easier knowing that their child’s responsibility is being supervised by adults.