Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its public opinion research indicates that we are reaching a saturation point with respect to COVID-19 vaccines, with a mere 9% saying that they hadn’t yet gotten a shot in the arm yet. While vaccine hesitancy among adults remains a problem, an even greater concern is the significant number of parents out there who are not interested in getting their older children vaccinated based on their own skepticism:
As the U.S. awaits authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for use in children under age sixteen, three in ten parents of children ages twelve to fifteen say they will get their child vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available, one quarter say they will wait a while to see how the vaccine is working, 18% plan to get their child vaccinated if their school requires it, and nearly a quarter say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents’ intentions for vaccinating their kids largely line up with their own intentions for getting the COVID-19 vaccine themselves.
Since then, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Cominraty) for youth aged twelve to fifteen years old. In clinical studies, the vaccine was found to be 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in that age group, and it is now available to young people on the same emergency basis as it is to adults in the United States.
The FDA’s decision is certainly good news for young people who have been eagerly anticipating getting vaccinated and protecting themselves against COVID-19. For those without supportive parents, however, like this individual in Arizona who was interviewed by The New Yorker, getting vaccinated isn’t necessarily as simple as signing up for an appointment or going to a drop-in clinic.
As Kaiser’s polling shows, many minors are in this quandary: they want to get the vaccine, but their parents will not sign off and let them do it.
Whether or not you are free to make your own decision about your body and your future depends on which state in the union you happen to live in, owing to the lack of federal laws protecting youth. The good news for teens in the Pacific Northwest is that Washington, Oregon, and Idaho allow many minors to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated. Read on for details.
Washington utilizes the mature minor rule, which allows health providers to treat teens as adults, “based upon an assessment and documentation of the youth’s maturity.” The assessment in use by Seattle-King County Public Health, the state’s largest local jurisdiction, is described here.
In other words, as explained by VaxTeen: “In Washington, minors of any age do not need their parent’s consent to receive all healthcare services, including vaccinations. This is called a ‘mature minor doctrine’ and essentially means that if you talk to your doctor/healthcare provider and they decide you are ‘mature enough’ to make your own health care decisions, you can.”
Oregon law specifies an age threshold for teens making their own healthcare decisions. If you are fifteen years of age or older, ORS § 109.640 says you can consent to being vaccinated. Here’s the law:
A minor 15 years of age or older may give consent, without the consent of a parent or guardian of the minor, to
(a) Hospital care, medical or surgical diagnosis or treatment by a physician licensed by the Oregon Medical Board or a naturopathic physician licensed under ORS chapter 685
(b) Diagnosis or treatment by a physician assistant who is licensed under ORS 677.505 to 677.525 and who is acting pursuant to a practice agreement as defined in ORS 677.495.
(c) Diagnosis and treatment by a nurse practitioner who is licensed by the Oregon State Board of Nursing under ORS 678.375 and who is acting within the scope of practice for a nurse practitioner.
Idaho also makes use of a mature minor rule, but unlike Washington, its rule is codified in Idaho Code § 39-4503. Here’s the law:
PERSONS WHO MAY CONSENT TO THEIR OWN CARE: Any person, including one who is developmentally disabled and not a respondent as defined in section 66–402, Idaho Code, who comprehends the need for, the nature of and the significant risks ordinarily inherent in any contemplated hospital, medical, dental, surgical or other health care, treatment or procedure is competent to consent thereto on his or her own behalf. Any health care provider may provide such health care and services in reliance upon such a consent if the consenting person appears to the health care provider securing the consent to possess such requisite comprehension at the time of giving the consent.
Again, what this means is that if you are deemed ‘mature enough’ to make your own healthcare decisions, you can get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Idaho, even if your parents aren’t supportive.
The vaccines are your best defense against COVID-19
With pandemic restrictions in the Pacific Northwest set to be lifted this week, other means of protecting yourself against COVID-19 — like masking — are not going to be as effective as in the past, because people around you won’t be relying on them for protection due to having been vaccinated.
Joining the ranks of the vaccinated is thus vitally important for your health.
Hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines have now been administered, and the science so far shows that nothing comes close to the vaccines in terms of offering protection against catching COVID-19. And, of course, as hopefully everyone reading this is well aware, COVID-19 is a killer. More than half a million people in the United States have lost their lives from this disease already.
And those who survive? They’re often left with long term health impacts.
Even mild cases of COVID-19 in young people often lead to lingering symptoms and health complications that drag on for six months or longer, according to a small Norwegian study published this week in Nature Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Bergen carefully followed 312 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 for at least six months. Of those, 247 had mild to moderate illnesses and isolated at home, never becoming sick enough to be admitted to a hospital.
Six months after testing positive, 136 of the 247 (55 percent) still had lingering symptoms. And those 136 weren’t only in the older age groups. In fact, in all the age groups between 16 and over 60 years old, between 50 percent and 60 percent of COVID patients reported persistent symptoms.
For instance, of those between 16 and 30 years old, 52 percent (32 of 61) still suffered COVID-19 symptoms after six months. The most common symptoms were disturbed taste and/or smell, fatigue, difficulty breathing, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
The study is small, and the exact percentages may not hold up in larger studies. However, it adds to a growing body of data finding that long-term symptoms from COVID-19 are common — even in young people and/or people who had mild or even asymptomatic disease.
COVID-19 is truly a terrible disease. Maximize your chances of never getting it by making a plan to get vaccinated today.
If you’re a minor in the Pacific Northwest with anti-vax or vaccine skeptical parents, know that you are not necessarily bound by their views and wishes. Seek out a healthcare professional as soon as you can and make the case that you’re mature enough to make your own decision about getting vaccinated.