Michigan teens need parental consent to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Should they?

Posted at 9:30 AM, Jan 13, 2022

(WXYZ) — In Michigan, teens who have to get the COVID-19 vaccine have to persuade their parents to allow them to get it.

The lowest vaccination rates nationwide are among children. Michigan is in the bottom half of states in vaccinating 12-17-year-olds, ranking 33rd in the country. But, we have the 13th highest hospitalization rate.

Some think one way to fight the pandemic is to boost vaccination rates in teens, and it has some asking, should those minors be able to make the choice to vaccinate or not on their own.

Terri Adams, the director of immunizations at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said vaccinating teens will be key in slowing the spread.

"They are active, they are in school, they are in activities. and they can become seriously ill. But in Michigan, that decision is up to parents," Adams said.

Many agree that the parents should make the decision, and you don't get to make it until you turn 18 and become an adult.

But, should older teens be able to decide for themselves? It's an ethical issue that's even making the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The argument is that teens should be able to decide on their own, in part because they suffer disproportionate pandemic costs like school closures.

"A lot of people will initially, sort of balk at the idea of a minor making a medical decision for themselves," Dr. Abram Brummett said.

Brummett is a bioethicist at Oakland University's William Beaumont School of Medicine. He said teens are already allowed to make some medical decisions without parental input. Those decisions include mental health, substance abuse and STD treatments, issues teens may be too embarrassed to bring up with parents.

"Not seeking treatment for those sorts of interventions could have a really negative impact on the minor's life, and oftentimes have public health consequences," Brummett said.

Eight states either don’t require parental consent for the vaccine, or allow providers to waive consent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Michigan is not one of these states.

"A teen must have their parent consent to receive a vaccination. They cannot go and seek vaccination without their parents' consent," Adams said.

Brummett says physicians see issues like this all of the time. Consent comes down to understanding. Doctors call it decision-making capacity.

"So applying it to themselves and sort of thinking through how it would affect them in their lives," he said.

Many healthcare providers say teens as young as 14 have the ability to make their own decisions for care at the level of approved vaccinations.

Adams says one of the biggest concerns she hears from parents are the rare cases of myocarditis - and treatable inflammation of the heart muscle, primarily found in young men. It’s enough to keep some parents and their teens on the sideline.

The only teens who don't need parental consent are emancipated teens, married teens and homeless teens.

The vaccine has been proven to be both safe and effective in preventing severe disease and death.

There are lots of resources to help teens with what can be a touchy and possibly a political conversation.

MDHHS has great information about the vaccine, and so does a website called VAXteen. It was created for teens and covers all routine vaccines, not just the COVID-19 shot.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

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