Opinion | On Oct. 7, 2020, during a hastily scheduled virtual meeting,1 four District of Columbia Council members making up the Health Committee2 amended and unanimously passed a minor consent bill, B23-0171.3 The bill would not only permit children aged 11 years and older to give consent for doctors and other vaccine administrators to give them vaccines without their parents’ knowledge or consent, but would also require insurance companies, vaccine administrators and schools to conceal from parents that the child has been vaccinated.
On Oct. 20, 2020,4 the entire DC Council voted in favor of the bill 12:15 on the first reading in yet another virtual online meeting6 with no public testimony. It was announced that the second reading, which will be the final vote, will take place on Nov. 10, 2020.7
Committee Chair and Bill Sponsor Admit “Imminent” COVID-19 Vaccine is Reason for Sudden Push to Eliminate Parental Rights
NVIC issued an alert8 through the online NVIC Advocacy Portal when the bill had it’s first public hearing in June of 2019 advising opposition to the bill, which violated parental medical informed consent rights. Testimony was taken,9 and NVIC submitted testimony against the bill.10 B23-0171 then sat for over a year untouched and unmoved.
In a revealing statement Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), the chair of the DC Health Committee which passed the bill, explained why the bill was all suddenly being revived and pushed through so quickly. Gray was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “the hope of an imminent coronavirus vaccine gave the bill new urgency.”11
Primary sponsor of this bill, DC Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), emphasized that coronavirus vaccines were her the main reason why she wants to remove parents from the process of vaccinating children. Advocating for passage of her bill, she stated:
And given our ongoing pandemic and the incredible work being done to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s more important than ever I think that we reduce any and all barriers to these treatments and this legislation aims to do just that by increasing access to vaccines for minors who choose to get vaccinated but have not been able to do so.12
If this bill passes, it is clear that minor children will be at risk of being pressured and coerced into getting a COVID-19 vaccine behind their parents’ back once it is available and added by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to the childhood vaccine schedule recommended by the U,S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) .
Violation of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and Parental Rights
B23-0171 permits minor children 11 years and older to consent to any vaccine recommended by ACIP without a parent’s knowledge or consent (bill lines 27-30).
Federal legislative history provides evidence that Congress never intended for a minor child to make decisions to get a vaccine without parents’ knowledge or consent. When the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 198613 was passed, the Act clearly stated that before the administration of vaccines14 to a child, a health care provider shall give a copy of the CDC’s vaccine information materials to the, “parent or legal representative of any child to whom the provider intends to administer such vaccine…”
The CDC confirms that there is a requirement that their Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is provided to the parent/legal guardian prior to vaccination of a minor child on their VIS Q&A page.15 Under the question, “Is there a requirement to verify that parents/legal representatives have actually received and reviewed the VIS,” the answer is a clear “YES”.
These requirements under federal law for a parent to be educated with CDC materials prior to their minor child being vaccinated will not be met if a child is allowed to make these decisions on their own.
The United States Supreme Court has recognized the right of parents to be an active and integral part of their children’s lives as “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (U.S. 2000)16
B23-0171 Endangers the Health and Well Being of Children
A minor child is far less likely than an adult parent to understand personal and family medical history, including vaccine reactions, allergies, and autoimmune or neurological disorders.
Children do not have the same kind of critical thinking skills or emotional maturity required to make a well-informed vaccine benefit-risk decision compared to an adult. Vaccines can cause injury and death as evidenced by the creation of a federally operated Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which has paid out over $4.4 billion dollars to vaccine victims.17
If a child consents to vaccination without their parent knowledge and has a reaction, the parent may not recognize vaccine reaction symptoms and the reason for their child’s sudden personality change and decline in physical, mental or emotional health, and this lack of knowledge could be life threatening for the child. The parent’s lack of knowledge about the fact that their child was given vaccines that carry a risk of injury or death may well prevent the parent from seeking immediate medical care.
Under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act18 Congress gave partial liability protection to vaccine manufacturers in 1986 and then added an amendment giving vaccine administrators liability protection from vaccine injury lawsuits in 1987. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court judges in Bruesewitz et al v. Wyeth et al19 affirmed that government licensed and recommended childhood vaccines were “unavoidably unsafe” and effectively removed all remaining liability from vaccine manufacturers. Today, pharmaceutical companies making and selling vaccines and doctors and other vaccine administrators have no legal accountability or financial liability in civil court when a mandated vaccine causes permanent injury or death.
There is no justification for the state to eliminate a parent’s legal and moral right to make an informed benefit and risk decision about vaccination on behalf of a minor child, especially when doctors and other vaccine providers have no liability or accountability for what happens to the child after vaccination.
Violates Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)20
B23-0171 compels schools (bill lines 52-54) to conceal vaccine administration from parents, whose children give consent to receive vaccinations on their own, even when their parents have already declined one or more vaccines for health risk reasons or have filed a religious vaccine exemption.
FERPA, 34 CFR § 99.1021, guarantees parents the right to have access to their children’s education records. The definition of “education records” include health and vaccine records at the K-12 level22.
While B23-0171 blocks parents from getting access to their child’s vaccination status, the bill does permit schools to share the child’s vaccination record with the DC Department of Health or the school-based health center (bill lines 53-54).
This is also in conflict with FERPA because 34 CFR §99.30 requires prior written parental consent before personally identifiable information (PII) is disclosed to others and requires schools to provide copies of those records disclosed.23 While FERPA does allow for release of PII under the health and safety emergency exception, the release of information that personally identifies the student is extremely limited.24
Bill Conflicts With Religious Exemption, Requires Falsification of Records
Section 5300.11 of the DC Municipal Regulations states, “The immunization requirements subject to this Chapter, shall not apply to any student whose parent or guardian objects in writing to the immunization on grounds that the medical treatment or medical test is forbidden by their religion or religious beliefs and practices25.”
Granting vaccine providers the ability to vaccinate children in the absence of parental consent conflicts with the already codified religious exemption rights of parents.
There are other serious legal issues creating the potential for criminal violations and civil liability lawsuits: the bill requires vaccine providers and insurers to conceal the fact that the child was vaccinated and it requires the falsification of official medical records by vaccine administrators.
The bill (lines 37-41) requires providers to seek reimbursement from the parent’s insurance company but prohibits insurers from sending an Explanation of Benefits. Lines 48-52 requires a health care provider to leave part of the immunization record blank concealing from the parent the fact that their own child was given vaccines.
DC Vaccine Bill Part of the Dangerous Agenda To Remove Parents From Vaccination Decisions for Minor Children
Veteran vaccine safety and informed consent advocates with decades of experience, including time spent serving as consumer representatives on federal advisory committees, were denied the ability to testify. However, a teenager, who had no expertise in the area of vaccine safety and law and whose only experience related to the subject being discussed was recently criticizing his mother on social media28 for not vaccinating him, was invited to testify.29
After the hearing, the mainstream media published multiple similar articles promoting the ill-conceived concept of doctors being given the power to convince minor children to receive vaccines without their parents’ consent, often quoting the teen’s testimony as justification for why parents should be cut out of the vaccination process for their minor children.30 Medical trade groups representing liability-free vaccine administrators also endorsed the concept of giving children liability free vaccines without parental consent.
Doctors, who are frustrated with having to spend time talking with educated parents about vaccines, have identified minor consent as a way to coerce children into consenting to vaccines on their own. Pre-adolescents and teenagers are vulnerable to peer and authority-figure persuasion. An opinion piece expressing support for removing parental informed consent rights was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 31 and the American Medical Association passed a resolution supporting state laws to allow minors to consent to vaccination.32
This coordinated effort resulted in 13 minor consent bills being introduced in state legislatures in 2019, and there was a big jump to 21 similar bills being introduced in 2020.
Legislators listened to parents and rejected a total of 33 minor consent bills filed in 2019 and 2020. The DC minor consent bill in is the only one moving.33
What Happens if the Bill Passes on November 10th?
If the bill passes a second reading in the City Council, it goes to the DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has up to 10 days to sign the bill, let it go into effect without her signature, or veto it. If Mayor Bowser vetoes the bill, the City Council can override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
The final step before becoming law is the bill must be sent to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate for a period of 30 days before becoming effective as law. During this period of review, the U.S. Congress may enact into law a joint resolution disapproving and negating the legislation. If, during the review period, the President of the United States approves a joint resolution by Congress disapproving the DC legislation, it will be prevented from becoming law. If, however, upon the expiration of the congressional review period, no joint resolution disapproving the Council’s Act has been approved by the President, the bill finally becomes a law and is assigned a law number.34
Litigation is also likely if the DC Council passes B23-0171. In an Oct. 21, 2020 update by ParentalRights.org, “DC Council Would Discard Constitution, End Parents’ Rights,” Executive Director Michael Ramey asserts this bill is contrary to the U.S. Constitution and lays out existing U.S. Supreme Court precedent to back this up. He says, “For nearly 100 years, consistent Supreme Court precedent has held that parents have both the duty and the right to direct the care, custody, and control of their minor children.”35
What Can People Do To Help Defeat This Legislation?
Families living or sending their children to school in the District of Columbia should contact all thirteen members of the DC Council36 and tell them to Vote NO on B23-0171 in the second and final reading. Specific directions, talking points, and contact information is published in the alert on the NVIC Advocacy Portal.
Everyone else can help get this information to people they know in DC. NVIC anticipates that there will be similar minor consent bills filed in other states in 2021. Registered users of the free online NVIC Advocacy Portal will receive action alerts with talking points when vaccine related bills like this one are introduced in 2021 so they can take action in their own states to protect their informed consent rights.
Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.
1 Council of the District of Columbia. Virtual Health Committee Meeting. Oct. 7, 2020.
2 Council of the District of Columbia, Committee on Health.
3 Council of the District of Columbia. B23-0171 – Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act of 2019.
4 Council of the District of Columbia. Committee of the Whole Meeting Agenda. Oct. 20, 2020.
5 See Footnote 3.
6 Council of the District of Columbia. Thirty-seventh (Additional) Legislative Meeting. Oct. 20, 2020.
7 Council of the District of Columbia. Calendar. Legislative Meeting Scheduled for November 10, 2020.
8 The NVIC Advocacy Portal. Action Alert Opposing B23-0171. June 22, 2019.
9 Council of the District of Columbia. Public Hearing. Committee on Health. June 26, 2019.
10 Richardson D. NVIC Testimony Against B23-0171 submitted to the Council of the District of Columbia. July, 2, 2019.
11 Zaumer J. D.C. Council approves bill allowing children to get vaccines without parents’ consent.
12 See Footnote 1.
13 Congress.gov. H.R.5546 – National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.
14 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine Information Statements. Instructions for Using VISs.
15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine Information Statements. Frequently Asked Questions.
16 Frank RJ. The Constitutional Right to Parent. The Law Firm of Robert J. Frank & Assoc. LLC.
17 Health Resources & Services Administration. National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. January 2020.
18 National Vaccine Information Center. Federal Law.
19 Supreme Court of the United States. BRUESEWITZ ET AL. v. WYETH LLC, FKA WYETH, INC., ET AL. Feb. 22, 2011.
20 Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. PART 99—FAMILY EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS AND PRIVACY. Oct. 22, 2020.
21 U.S. Department of Education. Protecting Student Privacy. FERPA.
22 U.S. Department of Education. Protecting Student Privacy. What is an Educational Record?
23 See Footnote 21.
24 Rooker LS. U.S. Department of Education. Family Policy Compliance Office. Letter to Ms. Martha Holloway. Feb. 25, 2004.
25 D.C. Municipal Regulations. Section 5-E5300. PUBLIC SCHOOL IMMUNIZATION PROCEDURES AND REQUIREMENTS.
26 U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Hearing on “Confronting A Growing Public Health Threat: Measles Outbreaks in the U.S. Feb, 27, 2019.
27 U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Hearing: Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks? Mar. 5, 2019.
28 Lindenberger E. Reddit. No Stupid Questions.
29 Lindenberger E. An awesome update!
30 Norwood C. For Teens Who Want Vaccines, Some States Let Them Choose. Governing June 27, 2019.
31 Silverman et al. Vaccination over Parental Objection – Should Adolescents Be Allowed to Consent to Receiving Vaccines? NEJM July 11, 2019.
32 Ohio Young Physician Section. Model Language for Mature Minor Consent to Vaccination. Apr. 8, 2019.
33 NVIC Advocacy Portal. Bills to Watch.
34 Council of the District of Columbia. How a Bill Becomes a Law.
35 Ramey M. DC Council Would Discard Constitution, End Parents’ Rights. Parentalrights.org. Oct. 21, 2020.
36 Council of the District of Columbia. Councilmembers.