Can teenagers get a COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent? It depends

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

As some parts of Idaho have opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all residents, regardless of age and medical conditions, there are still questions regarding children who don’t have parental consent.

One of the three COVID-19 vaccines in use — the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — can be administered to people ages 16 and 17. But, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is leaving it to the provider’s discretion about whether they should vaccinate minors whose parents haven’t given them permission. 

In a Tuesday press conference, IDHW administrator of public health Elke Shaw-Tulloch said it was a decision that the state will leave to the provider administering the vaccine. She said providers are encouraged to ask their legal counsel if they can vaccinate teenagers without parental consent. 

Idaho law does have exemptions for teenagers who are emancipated from their parents, which includes juveniles who are or have been married or juveniles who are actively serving in the military

Juveniles could apply for a court order, asking to be emancipated from their parents. If granted, they could then make their own medical choices about the vaccine.

Under Idaho Code 39-3801, providers are allowed to treat a minor, age 14 and older, if the juvenile has contracted a communicable, contagious, or infectious disease that is a disease that must be reported to public health. This would include diseases such as tuberculous, measles, hepatitis, Lyme disease, or sexually transmitted diseases.  

“The consent of the parent, parents, or legal guardian of such minor shall not be necessary to authorize hospital, medical and surgical care related to such disease and such parent, parents, or legal guardian shall not be liable for payment for any care rendered,” according to the law.

But vaccinations are a preventative action, not a treatment for active cases of coronavirus, so some health care providers do not believe a vaccination could be administered without a guardian’s consent. 

In Southwest District Health’s region of Idaho, which includes Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, and Washington counties, the health district supported that idea.

“In Idaho, minors must have consent from a parent or guardian to receive a vaccination unless the minor meets a statutory exemption or obtains court approval to provide their own consent,” said Katrina Williams, a spokesperson for SWDH, on Wednesday. “Health care practitioners 

should consult with legal counsel if they do not (intend) to require parental consent for minors.”

Competency is something that providers can take into consideration when vaccinating teenagers for any disease, not just COVID-19.

In Central District Health’s region, which includes Ada, Valley, Elmore, and Boise counties, some non-COVID vaccines can be given to teenagers 14 or older without a parent present. 

CDH spokesperson Christine Myron said Wednesday that providers should make that decision within their own organization. 

The CDH office does provide COVID-19 vaccinations to patients, but their allocation doesn’t include Pfizer shots. Those vaccines are being provided to various other locations across CDH’s four counties.

“We do administer childhood vaccines outside of COVID, and for minors age 14 and older, our clinicians assess a patient’s ability to comprehend health information, and if deemed competent, they are able to receive a vaccine as neither parental consent nor notification is required for a teen to receive this service,” Myron said.

In Idaho, as of Tuesday, available data on vaccines did not break out how many people ages 16 and 17 had received a COVID-19 vaccination. But, 8,633 people between the age of 15 and 24 were fully vaccinated and 8,236 people in that age range had received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Of Idaho’s more than 180,000 coronavirus cases, IDHW reports that 10,375 of those cases were people ages 13-17.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that the Pfizer vaccine was estimated to be 95% effective in combating COVID-19.

Trials are still ongoing for COVID-19 vaccinations for children younger than age 16. 

The Idaho House of Representatives proposed multiple pieces of legislation this year regarding vaccines, including House Concurrent Resolution 14, pitched by Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, that opposes any forced vaccinations. The resolution states forced vaccinations “against that person’s will would violate fundamental human rights and personal liberty.” 

HCR14 has passed the House and is yet to be approved by the Senate. 

Gov. Brad Little has repeatedly said he does not plan to mandate vaccinations in Idaho.

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