The D.C. Council voted last week to allow 11-year-olds to consent to vaccinations without their parent’s approval. This is the same Council that, in 2018, voted against moving forward on a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote.
In a 12-1 vote, the Council approved the bill last week, allowing it to move forward for a second and final vote before it goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval. Ward 8 Council member Trayon White cast the single vote opposing the bill, despite earlier signing on as a co-sponsor. “I have reevaluated my initial support for this legislation,” White explained, “because I believe parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care for their children.”
We concur with the Council that it is in the District’s best interest to protect its citizens from infectious diseases, particularly amid a pandemic, and that vaccines can provide that protection. When Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced the bill in March 2019, the CDC issued warnings about a national measles outbreak, the greatest in the U.S. since 1992, and the majority of cases were among unvaccinated people. Meanwhile, D.C. health and school officials were also engaged in efforts to address the declining rate of immunizations among school-aged children.
Studies show that more Americans are concerned about the safety of vaccines, in general, and polls show that a growing number of Americans are unlikely to take the first round of COVID-19 vaccines until it is proven to be safe. Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray acknowledged African American’s wariness against vaccines due to the infamous Tuskegee experiment but suggested the vaccines 11-year-olds will consent to are safe. The Council believes a child’s right to be vaccinated is greater than the rights of their parents to make that decision for them, and that 11 years old may be mature enough to make such decisions with the approval of a physician.
We disagree and encourage the Council to reconsider its minimum age. Further, why would the Council deem a working, tax-paying 16- or 17-year-old lacks the reasoning and maturity to vote, but that an 11-year-old is mature enough to make their own medical decisions, albeit with a physician’s approval?
Lastly, we take note of the view of D.C. health officials who suggest this bill will not fulfill its intended results. Enforcement of the requirement that no child can be admitted to school without their required immunizations is a proven and better method of ensuring children are immunized against deadly diseases.