In the age of so-called anti-vaxers, legislation in Annapolis may allow a small number of Maryland minors to receive immunizations without consent from their parents.
If enacted, the bill would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to consent to receive vaccines without permission from their guardians, should their health care provider determine that they are independently capable of making informed decisions.
The Senate cross-file, sponsored by Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), will be heard later this month.
As the law stands now, guardians can transfer consensual authority to other adult family members or caregivers. These individuals may not give consent if they know that the parent has or would have refused to allow the child to receive the vaccine.
Individuals under 18 can currently give their own medical consent if they are married, are themselves a parent or are financially independent and live away from their guardian.
Bill sponsor Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery), who said that he entered college at age 17, pointed to the university vaccine requirement, which mandates that most individuals entering college show proof of immunization for diseases like Hepatitis B and Meningitis, among others.
“As you’re aware, to go to most institutions of higher education in the state — and really around the country … you’re supposed to be vaccinated,” Korman said, adding that while his parents offered their consent, “that’s not the case for everybody.”
Proponents of the bill — largely medical professionals — cited a number of benefits during their testimony, including slowing the spread of measles and other crippling diseases to vulnerable communities. They also said that having patients who actively participate in their own medical decisions is key.
“As a future doctor, I know it’s important to allow patients to participate in their own health decisions, including teenagers,” said testifying second-year University of Maryland School of Medicine student Leslie Gailloud.
Panelist and Sinai Hospital pediatrician Dr. Susan V. Lipton cited instances where children tried to advocate for their own health but were met with parental barriers, including the story of a girl who tried to get a Human Papilloma Virus vaccine after having been raped.
Lipton said that “these are kids who are thinking like adults.”
Del. Brian A. Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) told Korman that his bill has 51 parties in opposition.
“We typically don’t see numbers like that, which speaks volumes to me whenever I see a number like that,” he said.
Chisholm asked where the disconnect was, saying that the immunization community — who he said he was hearing from the panel’s testimony is “smarter than the parents” — is not doing a sufficient job of communicating their information.
“Are parents just not smart enough to get that message?” he asked. “Or are we taking that freedom away from the parents?”
Korman responded that no one on the panel said that parents aren’t smart enough and that there are a multitude of reasons why teens and their guardians may disagree on decisions surrounding their health.
In a later question, Lipton addressed Chisholm’s inquiry, calling skeptical parents “some of the most loving parents” she knows.
“They’re protective — overprotective — but they’re worried about their children and they’re worried about things that are now coming to the forefront,” she said.
Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City) asked panelists if the “distance from the experience” of endemic disease could be one of the reasons for the growing dissent towards vaccinating kids in the U.S.
Lewis said she went to Niger as a volunteer for the Peace Corps, where she witnessed the death of children because of an inability to keep vaccines at a controlled, low temperature.
Lipton, who said she vaccinated thousands of Orthodox Jews after the April 2019 measles outbreak in Pikesville, answered in the affirmative.
“All it would take is going on a mission,” she said, adding that everyone is just trying to do their best in the age of “disinformation.”
“We’re all the good guys in this,” Lipton said. “But the disinformation is huge, and I think, in some ways, our tech-savvy kids have become better at sifting out what’s real science from what’s out there, and everybody needs a voice.”
Concerned parents and advocates also delivered testimony, noting things like the alienation of parental rights, insurance and cost concerns, the potential financial gain to be had on the part of pharmaceutical companies, teen immaturity and, in a few instances, unforeseen medical complications.
Emily Tarsell testified before the committee that her daughter, Christina, received three rounds of Gardasil 9 shots at the recommendation of her gynecologist when she was 20-years-old.
“My daughter agreed, got all three shots and died 18 days after her third injection,” said Tarsell.
“Now imagine finding your child lifeless.”
Gardasil 9 is an inoculation that prevents Human Papilloma Virus — a disease transmitted through sexual contact that can produce genital warts and cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the vaccination for pre-teens.
The Human Papilloma Virus vaccination was a hot topic at the bill hearing. Several opponents to the bill mentioned its lack of necessity and side effects, and a few said that they think the legislation is targeted at promoting the sale of the vaccine.
“There’s an influence of money, and I think that that is driving this bill,” said Tersell. “Do not sacrifice our children for a fistful of dollars.”
Bill proponent Lipton said that Gardasil 9 is less her concern than the vaccines that could cause a rash of viral epidemics, like measles, varicella, pertussis and the like. She also said that the adoption of this bill could lead to important conversations between parents and their children.
“HPV is the least of my worries,” she said, “but I urge the dialogue between kids and their parents. Because a lot of the time the kids who want to desperately [be vaccinated] are not telling their parents things their parents ought to know about.”