SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A California measure that would allow children age 12 and up to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent, including against the coronavirus, cleared its first legislative hurdle Thursday.
If the proposal becomes law, California would allow the youngest age group of any state to be vaccinated without parental permission.
Minors age 12 to 17 in California currently cannot be vaccinated without permission from their parents or guardians, unless the vaccine is specifically to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. California state law already allows people 12 and older to consent to the Hepatitis B and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
The bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee would lift the parental requirement for that age group for any vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener said his bill "will empower teenagers to protect their own health by getting vaccinated," but it was opposed by dozens of people who called into the committee hearing for well over an hour.
Wiener’s proposal is perhaps the most contentious measure remaining from Democratic lawmakers’ once-ambitious agenda, after several other proposals lost momentum as the winter pandemic wave eased — although cases are climbing again.
State Sen. Richard Pan last month said he would delay consideration of his bill that would have blocked students from using the personal belief exemption to avoid the coronavirus vaccine. The same day, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said it would postpone its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for schoolchildren until at least the summer of 2023.
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Pan also has stalled consideration of his bill that would block pandemic response funds from law enforcement agencies that refuse to enforce public health orders.
And in March, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks withdrew her bill that would have forced all California businesses to require coronavirus vaccines for their employees.
Wiener said his vaccine bill "is not a revolutionary idea. It builds on long-standing existing California law about the age of consent for receiving health care."
Those 12 and older currently can make decisions under certain circumstances, including for sexually transmitted diseases, abortions and birth control, along with substance abuse and mental health disorders, Wiener said.
Parental consent laws for vaccinations vary by state and region. Alabama allows such decisions for children starting at age 14, Oregon at 15 and Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16, Wiener said.
Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., allow children age 11 and up to consent to their own COVID-19 vaccines, and in San Francisco the age is 12 and older.
"We know vaccines save lives," testified Ani Chaglasian, an advocate with Teens for Vaccines. "Because I did not have the authority to vaccinate myself, I lost my job, summer internship, and was unable to see my grandma when she was intubated."
Arin Parsa said he founded Teens for Vaccines in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, during a measles outbreak. He urged lawmakers to pass the bill "so we can live without the fear of deadly diseases taking away our futures."
But Nicole Pearson, an attorney with a practice advocating for civil and human rights, said the youthful advocates "don’t know those times that we stayed up with you, wondering if you were going to live because of some adverse reaction you had to a vaccine."
"There are many solutions to this problem, and it is not removing the only people who have this knowledge to help their children ... to make informed consent," Pearson told the committee.
Matthew McReynolds, an attorney representing the Pacific Justice institute, a conservative legal defense organization, said providing students with true choice would be giving them "a choice to attend school with or without a vaccine. That’s informed consent and that’s true choice."
Children that young "simply do not have fully developed decision-making skills needed to weigh the risks and benefits and make a truly informed decision," said Sabrina Sandoval, a school psychologist who opposed the measure.
"Kids are going to be targeted and marketed to to get the vaccines," warned opponent Dawn Richardson, director of advocacy for the National Vaccine Information Center.
Senators of both political parties questioned whether California’s legislation might be affected by a recent Washington, D.C., court ruling that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act preempts state law on minors’ consent.
California legislative analysts disputed the ruling. Wiener and McReynolds agreed that the decision doesn’t constrain California, but McReynolds said it offers a roadmap to opponents for a similar legal challenge to Wiener’s bill.
Democrats on the committee generally said the benefits of a fully tested vaccine outweigh the risks, while Republican Sen. Brian Jones said he fears vaccine providers may not have children’s full medical history absent parents’ involvement.
The bill was approved by the 11-member committee on a 7-0 vote, with two members of each political party not voting, and now goes to the full Senate.
Other measures that are moving forward include one requiring school districts to develop COVID-19 testing plans and another addressing immunization information.