Since the D.C. Council approved legislation allowing the vaccination of children under the age of 11 without parental consent, parents in the District and beyond have pivoted their attention to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who must sign Bill 23-0171 before it enters the congressional review process.
For some local parents like Melinda Woods, compelling the mayor’s veto of Bill 23-0171 has become a matter of protecting one’s right to control their child’s affairs.
She told The Informer that the legislation doesn’t take into account children’s lack of knowledge about their medical history, and impact of flu-like symptoms and other reactions emerging in those vaccinated without parental consent.
“As a parent, I am the primary care manager of my child,” said Woods, a Southeast resident and parent of a 10-year-old child. She recounted first learning about Bill 23-0171 at a town hall her son’s charter school hosted. Since July, in discussions about reopening, that institution has been stressing the need for immunizations, Woods said.
“How can one finite decision be kept from me and you effectively be able to be the care manager?” Woods added. “It makes no sense. Where’s the infrastructure to take care [of those issues] after? I hope there would’ve been more substance to speak to all of these issues.”
For more than a week, an online petition by Kymone Freeman of We Act Radio demanding Bowser’s veto of Bill 23-0171 has made its rounds. Conversation about the bill has unfolded at a time when Bowser is petitioning the Trump administration for the infusion of COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers.
While she alluded to the difficult choice before her on a recent edition of the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Bowser didn’t explicitly indicate whether she would sign Bill 23-0171. The Informer was unable to establish contact with Bowser’s office for comment on this matter.
The D.C. Council first deliberated Bill 23-0171, also known as the Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act, last year amid a nationwide measles outbreak. However, the legislation gained traction this year during a pandemic that has infected more than 23,000 people in the District and killed more than 700.
If signed by Bowser and approved by Congress, Bill 23-0171 would allow minors to consent to vaccination approved by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. To facilitate this process, D.C. Department of Health would be required to create an age-appropriate vaccination information sheet.
Under Bill 23-0171, medical providers administering vaccinations can also receive insurance reimbursements without parental approval. In cases where parents are refusing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine or utilizing a religious exemption, medical providers can also seal students’ immunization records and send them directly to schools. Similar processes for minors under the age of 12 currently exist in the District for abortions, contraception, prenatal care and mental health services.
During the final reading on Nov. 17, the D.C. Council approved Bill 23-0171 by a 10-3 vote with an amendment introduced by Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) absolving insurance companies, once notified about vaccinations administered under this law, of the responsibility to send documentation to parents explaining their benefits.
Council members Robert White (D-At large), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) voted against the measure. White and McDuffie joined their Ward 8 colleague who rejected Bill 23-0171 at the initial reading out of a concern that minors, like his son, aren’t old enough to make sound medical decisions without parental guidance.
Freeman said he had similar concerns.
The local activist, whose son would also be affected by Bill 23-0171, countered concerns about what some supporters of the bill have characterized as a widely anti-vaccination stance.
Citing the polio vaccine and Spain’s ability to secure a high rate of vaccination without a mandate, he said his apprehensions about the legislation stem from the rushed development of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the need among some council members to twist Black Washingtonians’ arms.
“This issue in D.C. has fallen along racial lines. The majority who are for it are white and elitist. The people who are against it are Black and don’t have the same resources,” Freeman said, adding that the state’s assumption of parental rights and hiding of medical records could diminish trust in new vaccines.
“The Black community doesn’t have the same experience of the system caring for us,” Freeman added.
“The [COVID-19] vaccine has been rushed. It hasn’t gone through the clinical vaccine trials. There’s no financial incentive for them to come up with a cure. If it’s a treatment, you’re a repeat customer. The U.S. medical health system is based on capitalism.”