Providing Adolescents with Independent and Confidential Access to Childhood Vaccines: A Proposal to Lower the Age of Consent
92 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2019 Last revised: 6 Aug 2020
Date Written: September 9, 2019
The recent rise in rates of nonvaccination and vaccine-preventable diseases and the attendant risks to the public’s health require that lawmakers consider new policy solutions. This Article proposes one such solution. We recommend creation of a limited exception to parental decisionmaking authority by permitting certain older minors to provide legally binding consent for childhood vaccinations. We analogize this proposed policy to other statutory exceptions that permit certain minors independent access to services relating to contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health and substance abuse, and sexual assault without parental consent. In this interdisciplinary paper, we analyze the constitutional, policy, scientific, and practical issues relevant to this proposal, and provide lawmakers with a blueprint with which to enact the proposed legislative reform. We also suggest that, in the absence of legislative action, courts allow petitioning mature minors to consent independently to recommended childhood vaccinations. In addition, consistent with protections recommended for other treatment-specific exceptions to parental consent rules, we recommend protecting the confidentiality of minors who request vaccinations, both from direct disclosure of medical information without the minors’ consent and from dissemination of information by insurance companies that might cover the cost of the vaccinations.
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