In 2019, there have been over 1,000 measles cases in 28 states. This is the largest measles outbreak in the US in almost 30 years. Public health officials say that the blame lies with parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids.
There are a few ways to curb this: one is by narrowing vaccine exemptions, the other is by taking the issue of vaccination out of the hands of parents completely.
Many states have been on the path to giving teenagers more vaccination rights for some time, long before this year’s massive measles outbreak. In Delaware, California, Minnesota, New York, and Washington D.C., minors have had the legal right to vaccines against STDs such as Hepatitis B for years.
In other states, minors have had the legal rights to make all of their own healthcare decisions for years. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, South Carolina, and Idaho.
As more ‘extinct’ diseases resurge and claim lives due to those who refuse to vaccinate, many states are considering changing their laws. Currently, the New Jersey General Assembly is debating a bill that would allow teens as young as 14 to get vaccinated without parental consent. City leaders in D.C. are working on a measure that would allow children to be vaccinated without parental permission and a similar bill just died in the New York legislature.
It is expected that more states will find ways to grant children legal autonomy over their own healthcare and bodies if outbreaks worsen, death tolls rise, and vaccination rates continue to decline.
However, the idea of giving children legal rights to make their own healthcare decisions is controversial. Many are opposed to it. David Lugas, executive director of the National Association of parents, claims that such measures would “introduce discord” into families.
Others, like Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, who sponsored the failed New York bill, believe that public health and the lives of children should come first. When states don’t have the ability to intervene, the consequences can be agonizing and deadly for children.
In 2017, a 6-year-old boy in Oregon nearly died of tetanus, an almost unheard of disease in the US, after he got a cut on the forehead. While most people are vaccinated against tetanus, this boy was not, and as a result, spent 57 days in the hospital in pain and racked up medical bills of over $800,000.
His parents still refused to have him vaccinated after his ordeal was over.
Featured image via Flickr