Nearly a million teenage Californians remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, which puts their own health at risk and makes classrooms less safe. COVID is a deadly virus for the unvaccinated, and it’s unconscionable for teens to be blocked from the vaccine because a parent either refuses or cannot take their child to a vaccination site. The children of working parents should not be penalized because a parent has to work long hours or isn’t able to take paid time off to take their child to a vaccine appointment.
So many teens want to be vaccinated so they can lead a more normal life — participating in sports or band, traveling, going to friends’ homes, working to make extra money — but they’re prevented from doing so because of a parent’s political views on vaccines or work schedule. Unvaccinated teens also make schools less safe and threaten our ability to keep schools open. In states like Alabama and South Carolina, teenagers are already allowed to get vaccinated without parental consent. Young Californians should also have the right to keep themselves healthy and safe.
SB 866 will also help us keep schools open and safe. School closures over the past couple of years have, sadly, led to negative impacts on teens’ mental health and academic achievement, and have widened class-based academic disparities. While school closures may have been necessary in the earliest phase of the pandemic, we now have tools to keep students and teachers healthy and in the classroom. Vaccines are perhaps the most important such tool.
Empowering teens to get vaccinated matters far beyond COVID. Measles, for example, spreads efficiently among unvaccinated youth, whose parents have sadly chosen to block them from receiving a potentially life-saving vaccine. Measles was, at one time, considered eliminated in the United States. But vaccine misinformation and hesitancy has allowed it to spread once again.
To be clear, we all want parents to be involved in their kids’ healthcare decisions. Open communication between kids and their parents about healthcare is incredibly important. And, even with this legislation in place, most teens will absolutely talk to their parents about vaccination. But, sadly, quite a few teenagers don’t have that kind of relationship with their parents and can’t have those conversations. And, their parents are simply not allowing them to be vaccinated. These teens should have the ability to protect themselves and their community by getting a vaccine.
Allowing teens to get vaccinated on their own is also a benefit to the many parents who have no issue with vaccination but who are working multiple jobs and struggle to make time to take their kids to vaccine appointments. It’s a benefit to parents to be able to suggest that their teenager stop by the neighborhood pharmacy on the way home from school to get a flu shot or COVID booster.
The science is clear: vaccines keep us safer and healthier. We should allow teenagers, who can already make important decisions about their sexual and mental health, to decide to get vaccinated. I’m proud to work alongside youth advocates to ensure their voices are heard.