A vaccination can save your life. Simple as. But a number of young people are being denied the opportunity of being immunized because of their parent’s hostility towards vaccinations. While the "anti-vax movement" remains totally discredited by science, there has been a hugely damaging resurgence of these ideas in the age of social media.
Just recently, a Twitter thread highlighted how teens in the US are now searching for legal advice on Reddit because they want to be immunized against deadly diseases, but their parents won't provide them with their consent.
Like any medical treatment, receiving a vaccine should only be undertaken if the patient has a full understanding of the procedure. Many teenagers around the world feel like they are mature and informed enough to make this decision but are not legally considered an adult yet, so the issue of consent to medical procedures becomes tricky.
If you are under the age of 18 in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia (our four largest viewership areas), but you're unable to receive your parent or guardian's consent for a vaccination, here’s everything you need to know.
The United States
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do in a number of US states. From age 16 you are legally entitled to a confidential doctor's appointment without your parent's consent, however, many states stipulate you must be over 18 to give your own consent for medical procedures, such as a vaccination.
However, as highlighted by Vaxopedia, it is possible to receive a vaccination without parental or a guardian’s consent in as many as 15 states. Although the circumstances in which this applies can vary from state-to-state, it generally goes that you can give your own consent for medical procedures provided you are mature enough to understand and appreciate the consequences of your decision.
The 15 states include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia.
If you are under-18 and not living in one of these states, it’s worth talking to your school nurse who will be able to advise you on your options and might be able to talk to your parents. The US CDC and The World Health Organization also provides some good advice for talking to skeptical people about vaccines.
The United Kingdom
Things are notably more relaxed and flexible in the UK. In England, anyone under the age of 16 is able to consent to their own treatment, without their parent’s permission or knowledge, as long as they are “understand fully” what is involved in the proposed procedure (what’s known as being Gillick competent). You can simply make your own doctor's appointment or go to a walk in clinic, and your parents will never know anything about it.
“Young people aged 16 and 17 are presumed, in law, to be able to consent to their own medical treatment,” according to The Green Book, the latest information about vaccinations published by Public Health England.
“Younger children who understand fully what is involved in the proposed procedure (referred to as ‘Gillick competent’) can also give consent, although ideally their parents will be involved. If a person aged 16 or 17 or a Gillick-competent child consents to treatment, a parent cannot override that consent... There is no requirement for consent to be in writing.“
There are several differences in the way England and Scotland deal with consent, age, and vaccinations. However, people in Scotland under 16 can still consent to healthcare treatments “provided that they are capable of understanding its nature and possible consequences.”
Wales are currently in the middle of reviewing their policy on the matter, however, they will be working closely with the wider UK Department of Health.
Most Canadian provinces have a similar take to the UK, although, there are subtle differences in the law between provinces.
In British Columbia, there is what’s known as "Mature minor consent” meaning a person under 19 can consent to healthcare treatments, including vaccinations, as long as they have been assessed by a health care provider as having the necessary understanding of the procedure.
Ontario appears to have fairly relaxed laws regarding age of consent and medical treatment. A guide from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth says: “In Ontario, the law is that everyone, even people younger than age 12, can make their own decisions about their health, including choosing ‘alternative treatments,’ traditional medicines and culturally appropriate treatment,” according to The Toronto Star
As a side-note, parents in Ontario have to complete educational session before their kids can be exempted from vaccinations.
Alberta is considering similar measures. In this province, they generally argue that anyone should be able to receive medical treatment, including vaccinations after they have “developed sufficient intelligence and understanding to appreciate the nature and consequences of a proposed medical treatment.”
In Québec, anyone 14 years of age or over can give their consent for vaccination, however, children under 14 years of age must receive permission from parent or guardian for vaccinations. That said, children can even ask their school nurse to provide their parents with educational materials and advice to help them make a more “informed decision.”
As a general rule, Australia is relatively understanding of mature young people wanting to receive vaccinations and other medical treatment without their parent’s permission. However, once again, it varies between jurisdiction and the law isn’t always crystal clear.
In Queensland, a child can consent to vaccination if they fully understand the proposed treatment. Healthcare professionals typically expected children of 15 years and over to have sufficient maturity, intelligence, and understanding to fit this quota and provide informed consent. Children younger than 15 can still be considered, provided they display an appropriate attitude, level of maturity, and understanding.
In Victoria, it’s generally followed that people under 18 need parent/guardian consent to be vaccinated. However, young people can also give consent for vaccinations as a “mature minor.” There is no strict definition of what a “mature minor” entails, but relevant factors include age, level of maturity for their age, and understanding of the issues.
In New South Wales, people can consent to their own treatment once they are 14, while South Australia says they can consent to their own treatment over the age of 16. Although the law isn’t totally clear, both territories will also children to consent to treatment provided they are mature enough to do so.
There is no clear legal information available about the Northern Terrorities, Western Australia, and Tasmania, but it is assumed to be similar to the rest of Australia: provided a child is mature enough to understand their choice, they can provide their own consent to vaccination.