As Washington deals with a measles outbreak that has caused at least 53 people—the majority of which are unvaccinated children—to fall ill with the potentially deadly disease, young people are asking how to get vaccinated without their parents’ knowledge.
What is known as vaccine hesitancy not only stands in the way of youngsters receiving the MMR shot (which is proven to safely protect against measles, mumps and rubella), but the attitude is also a barrier to a range of other immunization programs, from HPV to the flu.
According to the Vaxpodia website—which was established by a certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics to raise awareness of the life-saving power of immunization—vaccines are generally classed as a medical procedure. That means, in most cases, parents need to give their consent for minors to get shots.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for an unvaccinated young person to get protected without their parents knowing. The right for an individual legally considered a minor to give their informed consent to a medical procedure is dictated by state and federal laws, and the professional opinion of clinicians.
For instance, in Washington—where officials in Clark County are fighting to contain the measles outbreak— young people can receive non-emergency medical services, including immunizations, if a physician considers them a “mature minor.”
Similar exemptions exist in Alaska, Arkansas, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Children who are considered to be free from the control of their parents because they are married or homeless are able to receive medical treatment in most cases. One such example is in Alabama, where a young person who is aged 14 or older, has graduated from high school, or is married or pregnant can consent to receiving healthcare. The same can go for a young person receiving healthcare that is considered to be sensitive: such as procedures relating to pregnancy or the prevention of STIs.
Theoretically, children can enlist the help of medical professionals to advocate for them, too. As Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Public Health, wrote on the institution’s website: “Medical caretakers have an ethical and legal duty to advocate for the best interests of the child when parental decisions are potentially dangerous to the child’s health, imprudent, neglectful, or abusive.”
Children who seek vaccinations could help stem an outbreak in the U.S. that William Moss, a specialist in epidemiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently told Newsweek risked turning into the worst since 1989.
“[This forecast] points to the fact that we are losing ground to this disease that once killed millions of children each year,” said Moss.