Facing Measles Outbreak, N.Y. Lawmakers Want to Let Teenagers Get Vaccines on Their Own
If passed and signed into law, the bill would make New York part of a group of states — including Oregon, South Carolina and Pennsylvania — that allow minors to ask for vaccinations without parental approval.
|A measles outbreak occurred at Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov in Brooklyn, New York after an unvaccinated child went to school.|
ALBANY — After a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County and amid growing concerns about the anti-vaccine movement, a pair of state legislators are proposing allowing minors to receive vaccinations without permission from their parents.
The bill would allow any child 14 years or older to be vaccinated and given booster shots for a range of diseases including mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, influenza, hepatitis B and measles, which seemed to be the primary reason for alarm after the recent outbreaks.
“We are on the verge of a public health crisis,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, citing lower-than-recommended inoculation rates in some communities, spurred by unconfirmed suspicions about vaccines causing autism. “We’ve become complacent over the last couple of decades.”
That sentiment was amplified recently by the likes of the World Health Organization, which listed “vaccine hesitancy,” as one of the Top 10 global threats. In Rockland County, officials are reporting 145 confirmed cases of measles, with the vast majority of those afflicted aged 18 and under. Of those, four out of five have received no vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella.
City health officials have also reported more than 100 cases of measles in Brooklyn, and a single case in Queens as well. As in Rockland County, most of those cases involved members of the Orthodox Jewish communities where vaccination rates typically lag well behind the norm.
If passed and signed into law, the bill would make New York part of a group of states — ranging from liberal Oregon to conservative South Carolina — that allow minors to ask for vaccinations without parental approval, though some states also require minors to be evaluated to determine if they are mature enough to make such a decision. The New York bill would not require such an evaluation.
Even more states, including New York, allow minors to seek out health care services on issues like substance abuse, mental health issues or reproductive health services.
The introduction of the bill came just days after dramatic Congressional testimony from an Ohio teenager, Ethan Lindenberger, who defied his mother’s wishes and got vaccinated after he became convinced that she had fallen prey to online conspiracy theories about the dangers of vaccines. Multiple studies have debunked such theories, including a major European report issued last week, which showed that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination does not increase the risk for autism.
On Monday, the New York chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics came out in favor of the bill, saying it comported with a longstanding idea known as the “mature minor” exception to parental consent as well as a more recent realization that young people are better at recognizing false online reports.
“Young people are often more conscious about the misinformation on the internet and can in many cases disagree with parents who have bought into unfounded and dangerous anti-immunization diatribes and pseudoscience,” said a memo from the organization in support of the bill. “These young people have a right to protect themselves.”
Highly contagious, measles can contribute to a range of serious health complications, particularly in children, including pneumonia and swelling of the brain. It can also be fatal in rare cases. The measles vaccine came into use in the 1960s and the disease was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000.
Most states allow religious exemptions to vaccination requirements, but some states have pushed back on such exemptions, including California, which barred them in 2015 after a measles outbreak and eroding rates of vaccination. Democratic lawmakers in Albany have also introduced a bill to eliminate religious exemptions, though it is not clear whether it will receive a vote.
Nationwide, vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella are still above 90 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the numbers are down incrementally from two decades ago. But as evidenced in Rockland County, some communities are practically uninoculated.
State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in Albany’s upper chamber, said that the bill would address not only minors put at risk by their parents’ prejudices against vaccines but also those without engaged adults in their lives.
“You’re talking about a pretty heavy level of maturity if you’re saying, ‘I want to get vaccinated even though I can’t get any adults in my family to understand why this is important,’” she said.
Ms. Fahy said she was “very sensitive to the rights of parents” to oversee their children’s health care but felt that the broader public health concerns were overwhelming.
“It’s not just the individual who is at risk when they are not immunized,” she said. “You are putting other people at risk.”