Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Allow Teens to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent Passes Senate
SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act, passed the Senate by a vote of 21-7. It will now head to the Assembly for policy committee hearings.
SB 866 allows young people 12 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. SB 866 applies to all vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that meet the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young people 12 and over are already allowed to make critical decisions about their bodies without parental consent, including getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B vaccines, accessing reproductive health care and mental health care, and other health services. SB 866 builds on existing law to expand youth access to vaccines.
“Teens should be able to protect themselves from deadly viruses, with or without parental approval,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “So many teens aren’t getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and other deadly viruses because their parents are victims of anti-vaccine misinformation, are neglecting their kids, or simply don’t have time to get their kids vaccinated. We shouldn’t allow misinformation – or parental neglect – to prevent teens from getting the vaccines they need to stay healthy and participate in their communities. The Teens Choose Vaccines Act will help improve teen health across the state.”
With the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread availability of highly effective and safe vaccines to treat serious COVID-19 illness, it’s more important than ever that young adults be able to access vaccines. Over a quarter of young people ages 12 and 17 — nearly a million young people — remain unvaccinated. These low vaccination rates can have dire consequences for teens; a recent study found that almost all teenagers who needed intensive care for COVID-19 were unvaccinated, and all who died were unvaccinated.
Under existing law, young people ages 12 to 17 cannot be vaccinated without parental consent, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a disease that is sexually transmitted. This serves as a significant barrier to teen health in California, particularly in situations where parents and children hold conflicting views about vaccines. Parental consent requirements for vaccines are also a barrier in cases where a child is experiencing medical neglect, or simply because working or otherwise busy parents are not available to take their children to medical visits. Low-income children may experience longer waits to get vaccinated because their parents may work longer hours — often without paid time off — and can’t take them to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
Young people age 12 and 17 can also get birth control and abortions (which have no age limit), as well as medical treatment for sexually transmitted infections, drug and alcohol-related disorders, injuries resulting from sexual assaults and intimate partner violence, and mental health disorders – all without parental consent. In addition, various states already allow teens to access vaccines without parental consent, including Alabama, South Carolina, Washington, DC, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
This problem has implications far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Measles, for example, spreads efficiently among unvaccinated youth, whose parents have sadly chosen to block them from receiving a potentially life-saving vaccine. Measles was, at one time, considered eliminated in the United States. But vaccine misinformation and hesitancy has allowed it to spread once again.
Allowing young people to get vaccinated is critical not only for physical health, but for mental health, too. The United States Department of Health and Human Services found that adolescents ages 12-17 are seven times more likely to experience a new or recurring mental health issue after getting sick with COVID-19. And studies have found that school closures over the past couple of years have led to negative impacts on teens’ mental health, and academic achievement, and have widened class-based academic disparities. While school closures may have been necessary earlier in the pandemic when vaccines weren’t widely available, we now have the tools to keep students and teachers healthy and in the classroom.
Senator Wiener is a member of the California Legislature’s Vaccine Work Group. SB 866 is sponsored by ProtectUS, Teens for Vaccines, GenUP (Generation UP), and MAX the Vax. Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) is a joint author of SB 866. Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) is principal co-author of SB 866, and it is also co-authored by Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Campbell), Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), and Senator Josh Newman (D-Orange County).