By Kimberly Tsoukalas, Lister Hill Center Program Coordinator
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
In 1975, Alabama Code § 22‐8‐4 went into affect, giving medical autonomy to minors. The law reads:
When minor may give consent generally.
Any minor who is 14 years of age or older, or has graduated from high school, or is married, or having been married is divorced or is pregnant may give effective consent to any legally authorized medical, dental, health or mental health services for himself or herself, and the consent of no other person shall be necessary.
Alabama is one of only a few states to have such a law on file allowing for minors to make their own healthcare decisions. However, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced a challenge to this law in late June, stating that parental consent would be necessary for any child under the age of 19 to receive the Pfizer-Biotech COVID-19 vaccine at a state-run clinic. Earlier this fall, Representative Chip Brown (R-105) proposed legislation (HB19) during a special session to require parental permission for any vaccine, however it was not passed.
Presented to the Senate by Representative Arthur Orr and others, SB15 reads:
Notwithstanding Section 22-8-4, Code of Alabama 1975, no minor may receive a vaccination without the written consent of the minor’s parent or, if applicable, legal guardian. Institutions of education may not inquire into the vaccination status of a minor student without the written consent of the minor’s parents or, if applicable, the legal guardian. The Attorney General may commence a civil action to enjoin a threatened or continuing violation of this section.
Even with declining COVID cases, public health officials have continually stated the need for vaccinations. Dr. Nola Ernest, Legislative Chair for the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told WPMI there is no medical reason vaccinations should require parental consent and the regulations are causing delays in the process. For example, teenagers who can legally drive may not have a parent present when they wish to get the vaccine, or a college freshman may not be able to return home for an appointment.
Research has also encouraged giving enhanced medical autonomy in teenagers. Morgan, Schwartz, and Sisti (2021) report that “children and adolescents have the capacity to understand and reason about low-risk and high-benefit health care interventions. State laws should therefore authorize minors to consent to COVID-19 vaccination without parental permission.” The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (2013) states that “a requirement to obtain parental consent for vaccination can present a significant barrier to improving adolescent vaccine uptake across all health care settings in which adolescents access care. The ability of minors to consent to vaccination can influence whether adolescents receive indicated vaccines during adolescent health care visits when parents are absent and when adolescents are seen for confidential services.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed SB 15, along with SB9, into law on Friday, November 5. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials.
Want to learn more about Alabama healthcare? Check out these organizations.