Teens Against Their Anti-Vax Parents: Who Is Right?
In the midst of a public debate over exemptions for childhood vaccines, there’s a movement afoot by kids raised in anti-vax households who are asking for advice on how to get immunized without parental consent.
As Washington state deals with a measles outbreak that has caused at least 53 cases of the highly contagious viral infection as of Tuesday morning – the majority of whom are unvaccinated children –numerous internet-savvy teens have asked how they can get vaccinated without their parents’ knowledge.
As these teenagers come of age, they are starting to form their own opinions and deciding that their parents don’t know best when it comes to their health and well-being. They have a credible reason to circumnavigate their anti-vax parents’ wishes, though: This year the number of measles cases in the U.S. has reached the triple digits in a little over a month – as of February 7, 101 measles cases had been reported in 10 states, according to federal health officials.
Several news outlets have reported that unvaccinated teens are taking to Reddit to ask adults for advice on how they can get the shots without their parents knowing.
18-year-old Laura from Colorado, who has not been vaccinated since she was two, told Salon she was seeking her own options because she needs a number of shots in order to attend college.
“I plan to get Hepatitis A and B, MMR, the flu, HPV, TDaP [tetanus, diptheria and pertussis], and many other immunizations that I was ‘exempt’ from,” she wrote in an email, adding that the re-emergence of measles has made her “seriously anxious.”
Romper and Fatherly both quoted comments purportedly submitted by minors on Reddit. User /u/Danny691261 posted, “I am writing because I am the 15 year old son of an anti-vaccine parent. I have spent the last 4 years trying to convince my mother that vaccines are safe. I haven’t succeeded. So instead I am trying to research how to be vaccinated without my mother’s consent.”
In a thread for those seeking legal advice, a user who claimed to be 13 years old wrote, “I haven’t got vaccines since elementary school, Dad fell down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, and my Mom agrees with him. Any and all advice is appreciated.”
Another teenager, who in September identified himself as a 15-year old from Minnesota, asked Reddit for help to parse state laws in an effort to gain immunization himself. “My parents are kind of stupid and don’t believe in vaccines,” he wrote. “Because of their beliefs I’ve never been vaccinated for anything, god knows how I’m still alive.”
According to an investigation by KREM-TV, teens under the age of majority are generally prohibited from obtaining shots without their parents’ permission in the U.S.
Even if health care providers were legally able to provide minors with vaccines behind their parents’ backs, “in most cases it would get billed to the parent’s insurance, likely causing conflict between the child and their families,” Fatherly pointed out.
There are, however, some exceptions under what is referred to as the “mature minor doctrine,” where teens who can prove a certain level of independence such as being emancipated or pregnant, for instance – and are able to find a health care provider willing to give them the shots knowing they could be sued.
For instance, in Washington – where officials in Clark County are fighting to contain the measles outbreak – young people can receive non-emergency medical services, including immunizations, if a physician considers them “mature minors.”
Similar exemptions exist in Alaska, Arkansas, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Children who are considered to be no longer under their parents control because they are married or homeless can receive medical treatment in most cases. In Alabama, for example, where someone who is at least 14, has graduated from high school, or is married or pregnant can consent to receiving health care services. The same can go for a young person receiving health care that is considered sensitive, such as procedures relating to pregnancy or the prevention of STIs.
Theoretically, children can enlist the help of medical professionals to advocate for them, too. As Dr. Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Public Health, wrote on the institution’s website: “Medical caretakers have an ethical and legal duty to advocate for the best interests of the child when parental decisions are potentially dangerous to the child’s health, imprudent, neglectful or abusive.”
Children who seek vaccinations could help stem an outbreak in the U.S. that William Moss, a specialist in epidemiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently told Newsweek risked becoming the worst since 1989.
“[This forecast] points to the fact that we are losing ground to this disease that once killed millions of children each year,” said Moss.
In the meantime, anti-vaxxers cite an array of reasons for forgoing the shots for their kids, including religious and personal beliefs. They are certain the government should not have the right to demand citizens receive jabs against their will and say they will “move out of the state, or go underground, but they will not comply” if the legislation passes, the Washington Post reports.