Vaccinating Teens Against Parental Consent is ‘Ethically Permissible’: Experts

By Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang is based in Melbourne and focuses on Australian news. Contact her at marina.zhang@epochtimes.com.au.
January 26, 2022 Updated: January 26, 2022

Research conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital, the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has concluded that it is “ethically permissible” to vaccinate teenagers aged 12 and over who are requesting a COVID-19 vaccine, even if their parents do not provide consent.

Traditionally, parental consent is needed for the vaccination of children, even those in high school. When this consent is withheld, vaccine providers are usually reluctant to vaccinate, fearing legal consequences or complaints against them.

However, the federal and state government have developed practice frameworks that allow medical practitioners to treat mature minors without parental consent.

Professor John Massie from the University of Melbourne stated that he and his colleagues interpreted that it is ethically permissible for vaccine providers to vaccinate a young person from 12 years of age requesting a vaccine.

“This recommendation will have implications for other situations, including when unvaccinated young people from vaccine-hesitant families seek catch-up vaccines,” the team wrote. “We suggest this recommendation should be accepted as the standard of practice in Australia,” they concluded.

The first set of frameworks to sidestep the necessity for parental consent is the Gillick decision, also known as the mature minor doctrine, where the law recognises that minors may be sufficiently mature and capable of making their own decision.

Therefore, when a minor requests a COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent, their request may override their parental opinion, provided they are determined to be of the ability and maturity to weigh up the benefits and risks of vaccination.

The team, led by Massie said that getting vaccinated is within the patient’s best interests as well as in line with good public health practice. Thereby, determining that vaccination may often lay within the best interests of the young person, the authors inferred that the principles of Gillick competence are directly applicable to young people seeking COVID-19 vaccination.

However, the report recognised that it is also important to recognise that teens vaccinated against their parent’s wishes may generate conflict within the family and this can be mitigated through a combination of privacy and pre-vaccination counselling.

Nonetheless, the authors recognised that there were limits to the authority of parents and saw parents refusing COVID-19 vaccination for their children as not being in the “best interests of the child based on medical recommendations and, further, could be conceived as harmful by failing to reduce the risk of disease.”

The team noted that other factors come into play in relation to the Gillick decision such as privacy, the best interests of the patient, and of public health.

President of the Australian Parents Council, Jenni Rickard told the Epoch Times that whilst she saw the “ethical dilemma” and recognised that it was important for children with agency to make their own decisions in special circumstances where parents cannot give consent; most families are able to come to a conversation with their children.

She also voiced concern about the 12 years as the minimum age requirement for self agency.

“12 to 17 years is a very large age range and very different developmentally; I would say categorically that kids in that 17 age group would be able to make their own decisions [in vaccinations] and kind of forgiveness from their parents rather than permission, and it would be okay, rather than a 12 year old.”

“I would say that for my own kids at the age of 12, they did not have the agency or the ability to make those choices. I would absolutely say that they were capable of engaging in a conversation with their parents and representing their views to us as parents.”

“They’re in a situation where that is the relationship; that’s it. That’s our everyday life; they don’t need to break out of that and do something different because that is the relationship.”

Nonetheless she recognised that if a 12-year-old “walked into a vaccine hub that there would be a lot more due diligence and care taken” to ensure that child had the agency to make the decision.

Rickard also pointed out the “separation” of parents from their children’s vaccination and medical records from 14 years old.

“I think that is probably a concern of a lot of parents and especially the difficulty involved in the extra steps involved in getting the vaccination certificate.”

“I have to admit I’m a little bit uncomfortable that my 15-year-old son had to set up a myGov account to get his vaccination record.”

At present in Australia, teens can currently schedule an appointment with a doctor and request treatment without their parents’ knowledge, even if they are on their parents’ Medicare card. Additionally, there will be no details of a consultation appearing for children over 14 years of age. Teenagers aged 12 to 13 can also request for the consultation to be made private.

For children over 14, they would need to set up their own myGov account to access their vaccination records and certificate, which would be separated from their parents.

The Australian Immunisation Handbook has also been clear that common law practices such as the mature minor principle are respected, with some states having specific legislation that covers the treatment of minors such as a criterion for assessment of capacity. The Handbook also referenced refusal of vaccination for young people and suggested that refusal should be respected.

As of Jan. 26, 33.44 percent (pdf) of 5 to 11-year-olds have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, with 35.09 percent of Australians 18 years old and over who have received their booster shots.

Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang is based in Melbourne and focuses on Australian news. Contact her at marina.zhang@epochtimes.com.au.