When teenagers rebel by sneaking out to take shots, they usually don’t have the support of the scientific community. But in the age of anti-science parenting, adolescents are desperately in search of a different sort of shot—routine vaccines that could save their lives. Now, the children of anti-vaccine activists are turning to Reddit for helping, asking how to get around medical consent laws (and their parents’ insurance policies).
“I am writing because I am the 15 year old son of an anti-vaccine parent. I have spent the last 4 years trying to convince my mother that vaccines are safe,” /u/Danny691261 posted about five months ago. “I haven’t succeeded. So instead I am trying to research how to be vaccinated without my mother’s consent.” On another thread, 13-year-old /u/GoCommitYeet wrote, “I haven’t got vaccines since elementary school, Dad fell down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, and my Mom agrees with him. Any and all advice is appreciated.” Both teenagers were seeking guidance from the subreddit /r/legaladvice.
It makes sense that teens are starting to ask these sorts of questions. It has now been more than 20 years since spurious claims by Andrew Wakefield that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism were completely debunked. But vaccine rates have still plummeted in the US, the UK, and Western Europe. Now, many of those kids have grown up. They can read, they know that the evidence is against their parents, and they want to be healthy. When these teens fail to convince their parents to let them get recommended vaccines, they turn to the internet, among other places, for help.
The problem these kids run into is that most states require parental consent for medical procedures, including vaccinations, until age 18. This is determined by state, not federal law, and many states make exceptions for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy prevention, pregnancy, substance use, or mental health issues for children between the ages of 12 and 16. However, with exception of of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which could be considered STD prevention, there is nothing on the books to protect kids who want to get vaccinated behind their parents’ backs—despite the fact that research shows that many providers would be willing to give children vaccines as young at 14 if they were legally protected.
Still, even if doctors could provide vaccines to children against their parents’ wishes, in most cases it would get billed to the parent’s insurance, likely cause conflict between the child and their families.
The only other options for the children of anti-vaxxers (outside of emancipation which also makes them legally and financially responsible for themselves from that point forward) is to hope that their state or school district requires vaccinations regardless of religious or philosophical reasons. Which is really not an option at all—and waiting until they turn 18 is, unfortunately, their best bet. As one Reddit user advised: “Consider it a birthday present to yourself.”
An unfortunate birthday present at that.