Covid-19 Shots for Teens Can Hit Legal Snags and Parental Pushback

A 16-year-old in South Carolina can get a Covid-19 vaccine without a parent’s permission. A 17-year-old in New York can’t. In Oregon, anyone 15 or older can, but not if a pharmacist is the one giving a shot.

With children aged 12 to 15 newly able to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, the patchwork of state laws that govern whether minors can receive the shots without their parents’ permission brings a new wrinkle to inoculation efforts. And vaccine providers—from family doctors to drugstores—are sorting out how to navigate situations in which children want the shot but their parents say no.

The situation is creating consternation for some as the U.S. aims to speed its vaccination campaign.

“I was just on a call with doctors from other states and people were, like, ‘Maybe we do, maybe we don’t’ ” require parental consent for various ages, said Dr.

Elizabeth Mack,

a pediatric critical-care physician who is vice president of the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“I think most people just want to get shots out the door and are getting consent from everyone rather than trying to sort it out,” she said.

Getting young Americans vaccinated is viewed by health officials as a critical step in fully reopening schools and restarting the U.S. economy. Only the vaccine from

Pfizer Inc.



SE is cleared for use in minors, including teens aged 16 to 18. There are 25 million children between the ages of 12 and 17, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a group focused on children’s welfare.

Young people now make up a bigger share of Covid-19 cases. The number of children who cumulatively have tested positive for the disease increased 3% in the two-week period ended May 13, while children comprised 24% of cases reported last week, according to data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The definition of child relative to the data varies based on each state’s statutes.

Vivek Murthy, speaking at the WSJ’s Future of Everything Festival, says that ‘we’re moving in the right direction’ on significant metrics of vaccination and infection rates.

The disease is generally less severe in younger people, who comprise a far smaller share of Covid-19-related deaths and hospitalizations than older Americans, though increasingly people hospitalized for the disease are age 50 or younger, according to national data.

CVS Health Corp.

is requiring all minors to have a parent or guardian’s permission to receive a shot, no matter the state laws. The pharmacy chain asks vaccine recipients to disclose their age. Customers aren’t required to provide age documentation, although any teen younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.,

makes an exception in South Carolina for 16- and 17-year-olds, because 16 is the state’s age of consent for medical procedures including vaccines. Elsewhere, Walgreens requires anyone younger than 18 to have a parent or guardian present at vaccinations. The chain won’t turn people away if they don’t have proof of identity, a spokeswoman said.

Children generally follow their parents’ wishes when it comes to healthcare, medical providers say. With vaccines in particular, the more likely conflict is a parent who wants a child to receive a shot and a child who resists, family doctors say.

But Covid-19 vaccines have created family splits for a few reasons.

The vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is cleared for use in minors.


christopher aluka berry/Reuters

The vaccine’s status as a new drug approved under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency-use authorization has some parents nervous. Hesitancy is high among some segments of the population, creating fissures between parents and children who hold opposing views.

Teens see powerful motivators in gaining vaccinated status. Once-routine freedoms—from school sports to summer camp to attending concerts—might now require a shot. Other children are rattled by the thought of getting sick or infecting a loved one.

“There’s a lot more emphasis on getting the Covid vaccine than on other vaccines,” said Arin Parsa, the 13-year-older founder of the advocacy group Teens for Vaccines. “Schools have shut down, teens can’t go outside. They care about their parents or other older family members in the household.”

Arin said he is getting requests for help from teens who say they want the shot but their parents are opposed. Most are seeking advice on how to persuade their parents, while others want help getting a shot without their parents’ permission.

“I just want to be able to go to school in person, go outside and all of that,” a 16-year-old girl recently posted on a Reddit thread that Arin moderates. “I can’t change my parents’ minds about vaccines, they’re too deep in their own ideas about why vaccines are bad. I want to get a vaccine without them knowing.”

Doctors and vaccine advocates say getting teens and parents or guardians to agree on medical care is the ideal scenario. A number of websites offer teens advice about talking to their parents regarding Covid-19.


How is vaccination going with the teens you know? Join the conversation below.

Young people’s right to consent to medical treatment and services has long been a charged topic. Many state laws allowing minors to consent to medical care aim to ensure that young people have access to reproductive healthcare, mental-health services, or treatments and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Another common provision is to allow minors who live independently to receive medical care. A number of states allow minors to consent if a physician deems them competent to make such a decision.

Several states are debating legislation that would lower the age of consent for medical care, both generally or specifically related to vaccines. Washington, D.C., in December enacted a law that allows children age 11 and older to obtain vaccines without parental consent.

“The same logic that says a teen can access pregnancy and mental-health services may support them to choose to vaccinate,” said

Dorit Reiss,

a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, who specializes in vaccine policy. “Teens may have interests that aren’t in line with their parents’.”

Covid-19 Vaccine for Teens

Related coverage, selected by the editors

Write to Sharon Terlep at

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Source: WSJ – US News

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