With measles cases surging, bill allows minors to get vaccinated without parental consent

A skin rash caused by the measles virus. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.

With more than 215 confirmed cases of measles reported in New York state this winter, lawmakers are taking steps to permit children 14 and older to get immunizations that are currently required by law, without parental consent.

The anti-vaccination movement in recent years has led to a resurgence of diseases once eradicated in the United States. Parents opt their children out of state-required immunizations for religious reasons and a fear that ingredients in some vaccines can cause autism in children.

In January of 2019, the World Health Organization listed the anti-vaccination movement to be one of the top ten threats to global health.

In response to the recent measles outbreak in downstate New York, Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy have introduced a bill (S.4244/A.6564) that would allow minors age 14 and older to have the right, regardless of the consent from any parent or guardian, to request and receive those vaccinations listed in the state’s Public Health Law, which include poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, varicella, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), pertussis, tetanus, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease and hepatitis B.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a co-sponsor of the Assembly bill, recently wrote an opinion piece for City & State where he proposes ending the “non-medical exemption” that allows students to enroll in schools in New York, even though they have not been vaccinated.

“Parents with a true and honest religious prohibition on vaccines are entitled to not vaccinate,” Dinowitz writes in the Op-Ed. “However, they should not be entitled to put other people’s children at risk by enrolling their unvaccinated child in school.”

Dinowitz cites the 138 confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County, 73 confirmed cases in Brooklyn and four confirmed cases in Monroe County as of February 20 as a cause for concern.

While measles has a relatively low fatality rate, those with leukemia and other immuno-compromised individuals are at particular risk, according to the bill memo. The current outbreak of measles in New York illustrates the risk that a decline in herd immunity presents for an outbreak of even more serious diseases.

The bill sponsors also note that students bound for high school or higher education may be limited in their educational opportunities should their parents or guardians refuse vaccination. A purpose of the bill is to give mature minors the ability to get vaccinated so that they are not blocked from attending class.

In a 2019 case in Orchard Park, two students were prevented from attending public schools because their parents refused to update their immunizations. Most colleges and universities in New York require a panel of immunizations prior to registration, so under the current law, students who enroll in college before their 18th birthday may be unable to receive required vaccinations without parental consent.

Minors are currently permitted to receive vaccinations without parental consent in six states and Washington, D.C. These states utilize the “mature minor doctrine,” permitting minors the ability to make certain choices regarding their bodily autonomy and health, providing they have the capacity to give effective consent.

A Siena College poll released Monday shows that 79 percent of New York registered voters say parents should be required to have their children vaccinated before attending school, regardless of the parents’ religious beliefs.

“Four out of five voters say that parents — regardless of their religious beliefs — should be required to have their children vaccinated for measles and other diseases before they can attend school. The ‘weakest’ support is among independents, who support it 70-28 percent,” said Steven Greenberg, a pollster for the Siena research Institute.

The Senate and Assembly versions of the bill were introduced in early March and reside in the Health Committees in their respective houses.