Washington, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced a bill in the D.C. Council to allow minors to get vaccinated without parental approval March 5.
The proposed legislation, entitled the “Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act of 2019,” would allow any minor who understands the need for and the nature of a vaccine as well as the risks associated with it to receive a vaccination from their doctor.
Current D.C. law allows minors to receive health services such as abortions, treatment for substance abuse and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. However, decisions regarding vaccinations require an individual to be at least 18 years old, according to a Feb. 5 news release by Cheh’s office.
Some families choose not to vaccinate their children because they believe that vaccines may cause autism or have other harmful health effects, according to Cheh.
“Vaccinations are perhaps our most effective and essential tool to prevent a number of communicable and deadly or debilitating diseases,” Cheh wrote in the news release. “Anti-science beliefs not only put unvaccinated children at risk of contracting deadly diseases, but lead to the spread of diseases that have been all but eradicated.”
The bill comes in light of an ongoing measles outbreak in 12 states and concern for the outbreak to spread into D.C., a large source of tourism in the United States.
The World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. The proportion of children who have not received vaccinations by the age of 24 months, though low, has grown, according to an October 2018 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
High school student Ethan Lindenberger, who chose to get himself vaccinated after his 18th birthday, testified in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions on March 5, according to USA Today. While Lindenberger’s mother was an anti-vaccination advocate, Lindenberger found scientific research which debunked her claims, leading him to get vaccinated.
“My mother is an anti-vaxx advocate that believes that vaccines cause autism, brain damage and do not benefit the health and safety of society,” Lindenberger said in his testimony. “As I began to approach high school and think more critically for myself, I saw that the information in defense of vaccines outweighed the concerns, heavily.”
A similar bill was introduced by New York State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D) in the New York State Assembly on March 8. Similar measures have already been adopted by California, Washington and Oregon.
Critics of the measures have cited concern over allowing minors to make their own health decisions. Laws in California and Oregon require the minor to be above the age of 14 or 15, depending on the state, or to be evaluated to ensure that the minor is mature enough to make the decision to vaccinate, according to WAMU, the primary NPR member station for D.C.
Children who wish to be immunized should have the right to receive vaccinations, Cheh said.
“A child who wishes to be immunized should not be put at risk when his or her parent is unwilling or unable to vaccinate,” Cheh said in the news release. “Access to these important and sometimes life-saving treatments should not be withheld in the District of Columbia.”
The bill currently has eight co-sponsors, among them former mayor and current Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and Chairman of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson (D). The next step for the bill is a review and markup in the Committee on Health, chaired by Gray.
There is no timeline currently set for the proposed legislation; however, the bill is expected to draw public attention as the bill must face a hearing and two council votes before being enacted as law, according to WAMU.