SACRAMENTO – Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act. SB 866 allows young people 12 years 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 healthcare and mental healthcare, among other health services. SB 866 would simply build on existing law to expand youth access to vaccines.
“Giving young people the autonomy to receive life-saving vaccines, regardless of their parents’ beliefs or work schedules, is essential for their physical and mental health,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “COVID-19 is a deadly virus for the unvaccinated, and it’s unconscionable for teens to be blocked from the vaccine because a parent either refuses or cannot take their child to a vaccination site. So many teens want to be vaccinated so that they can lead a more normal life — participating in sports or band, traveling, going to friends’ homes — but they’re prevented from doing so due to their parents’ political views or inability to find the time. Unvaccinated teens also make schools less safe and threaten our ability to keep schools open. In states like Alabama and South Carolina, teenagers are already allowed to get vaccinated without parental consent. Young Californians should also have the right to keep themselves healthy and safe.”
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 and 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, 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 minors 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).
“In my view, this change in California policy is so important because it’s not only for COVID, it’s for all vaccines that protect us,” said Nyla, 7th grade student in San Francisco. “I can’t think of a good reason why laws shouldn’t let people my age choose to lower our risk of getting really sick. And vaccines not only make us safer, they keep our friends and family safe, too.”
“We appreciate Senator Wiener hearing teen voices in California and around the country,” said Crystal Strait, Board Chair, ProtectUS. “Teens have the right to protect themselves from preventable death and disability. Under existing California law, minors 12 and older may independently consent to treatment for infectious diseases. It’s just common sense that they should be able to consent to vaccines that will prevent serious illness in the first place. This bill is a natural extension of existing laws in place to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID.”
“Ensuring students have fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical if we are to recover from this global pandemic,” said Alvin, a college first year and the Executive Director of GenUP. “Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is a matter of physical safety, potentially even concerning life or death. We need our students to be both safe and healthy on school campuses. Allowing students to self-consent to the vaccine will ensure all students, regardless of familial circumstances, will have the autonomy to protect their physical health and wellbeing. Let’s keep our students healthy!”
“As a pediatrician who has specialized in the care of adolescents and young adults in the Department of Pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital for over 40 years, I am pleased to be here to join with young people and Senator Wiener to support the Teens Choose Vaccine Act,” said Dr. Charles Irwin. “The Teens Choose Vaccine Act is an additional critical step for improving the lives of adolescents by enabling them to make healthy choices around essential vaccines that all young people should be able to get during the second decade of life without any barriers. Adolescence is a time of learning to assume increased responsibility for health care decision making for the rest of their lives. Laws should enhance access to care and not create barriers to getting essential care.”
“I have been a registered nurse working at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland for the last 35 years,” said Wendy Bloom, pediatric nurse. “I work in an outpatient infusion center now where we care for many very vulnerable, immunocompromised patients. Some are that way due to genetic diseases that make them vulnerable like Sickle Cell Anemia and some get medications that suppress their immune systems. Those children have cancer, rheumatological, gastrointestinal, neurological or endocrinology diseases. We care for children post-bone marrow transplant.
She continued: “I have on more than one occasion spoken with teens in these circumstances that want to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Many can’t even go to school due to their state of vulnerability. I have tried to convince their skeptical parents that vaccinating them is so important to protect them. The teens totally understand it and want to get it but without parental approval they have no choice but to remain unvaccinated. I had one teenager tell me she really wanted it but felt helpless to convince her parent to allow it. Her dad could not be moved. Senator Wiener’s bill is critical to help these teens.”
“We know how important vaccines are for protecting the health of teens and their families and communities,” said San Francisco Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax. “Our San Francisco teens have some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state and nation with more than 90% fully vaccinated, and they are now getting boosted. This age group has been a critical part of our response to ending the pandemic. This legislation would help increase vaccination rates among young people 12 years and older across California.”
“Teenagers are as essential to ending this pandemic as any other member of their community, and we’re hearing loud and clear that they want to be part of the solution,” said Assemblymember Wicks. “At this critical moment in our collective efforts to curb COVID, it’s unacceptable for this lifesaving vaccine to be excluded from the decisions California teens are already empowered to make about their bodies, their health, and their future. I’m proud to co-author this bill that will right that wrong.”
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
Vote: MAJORITY Appropriation: NO Fiscal Committee: NO Local Program: NO
The people of the State of California do enact as follows:
Section 6931 is added to the Family Code, to read:
(a) A minor 12 years of age or older may consent to a vaccine that is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and meets the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACIP) without the consent of the parent or guardian of the minor.