While COVID-19 tends to have fewer impacts on children, vaccinating those 18 and younger is an important piece to fighting the pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chance that an individual will contract and spread COVID-19. They are also highly effective at preventing severe disease. According to Mayo Clinic, 59.7 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds in the US have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the least vaccinated age group. In Colorado, this figure is 64.5 percent.
Consent Laws and the COVID-19 Vaccine
Major/minor consent laws regulate who can consent to health services given to minors (either the parent/guardian or the minor themselves). This is dependent on the age of the minor, the health service being sought out, and the state the minor resides in.
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine is available to those aged 12 and older, there are very few states that allow minors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine (or receive many other healthcare services) without parental consent. In Alabama, those aged 14 and up can consent to COVID-19 vaccination without the permission of a parent or guardian. In Oregon, this age is 15 and in Rhode Island and South Carolina, this age is 16. The youngest a minor can consent is in the District of Columbia at 11 years old. In all other states (besides Nebraska where the age is 19), a person must be at least 18 years old to independently consent to COVID-19 vaccinations. There are a few states that have exceptions in which health care providers can waive parental consent. However, in most states, this is not the case.
Currently, in Colorado, minors are not legally allowed to get vaccinated without permission from a parent or guardian. Colorado is also not included in the list of states that allow providers to waive parental consent.
What the Experts Think About Major/Minor Consent Laws
A viewpoint article published in the JAMA Pediatrics medical journal argues that by the ages of 12 to 14, minors are mature enough to make decisions about their own healthcare. The authors state that by the age of 14, minors can assess the risks of healthcare services for themselves and, as a result, they should be able to independently consent to the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, children and adolescents contribute to COVID-19 transmission, so vaccinating this particular population would help reduce transmission overall. They recommend that those aged 12 to 14 be able to consent to vaccination with the approval of their clinicians and anyone aged 15 and up be able to independently consent to vaccination.
Another article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019, discusses the increased amount of measles outbreaks in relation to major/minor consent laws. Measles is a highly contagious disease with a highly effective vaccine. Two doses of the measles vaccine (the MMR vaccine) are 97 percent effective at preventing infection. Since minors do not typically have autonomy when it comes to receiving vaccinations, parental hesitancy leaves children more vulnerable to contracting and transmitting measles. According to the CDC, around 20 percent of people who contract measles end up being hospitalized. The authors argue that by not allowing their children to receive the measles vaccine, parents could potentially be putting their children’s health and the health of others at risk. Again, the authors recommend that minors be allowed to consent to vaccination beginning around the ages of 12 to 14.
The vaccination of those under 18 will be essential to reducing COVID-19 transmission. Many health and pediatrics experts recommend that minors of a certain age be allowed to consent to vaccination (especially COVID-19 vaccination) on their own. The most recent progression in major/minor consent laws in Colorado was the signing of a bill that allows minors certain freedoms in their sexual and reproductive health but it does not address vaccinations. Currently, there are no proposed bills to change this.