Washington, D.C. — Late Thursday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the Washington, D.C. chapter of the AAP, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia (MSDC), and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) filed an amicus brief in support of the District of Columbia’s Minor Consent Act, a public health law protecting minors’ access to medical care. The groups filed this brief and a separate brief on August 6 in two related cases brought in federal court last month challenging the law. The briefs filed in both cases urge the court to dismiss the challenges and uphold the Minor Consent Act. Democracy Forward represents the medical groups.
D.C.’s Minor Consent Act permits minors capable of informed consent to obtain vaccines if they so choose in specific circumstances. The standard of care for physicians is to involve parents in medical decisions for their minor children, including vaccines. But, occasionally, parental involvement is impossible, impractical, or even harmful. The brief highlights situations in which “[m]inors may be effectively independent, such as when they are married, in the military, or unaccompanied and homeless. A minor’s guardian may be unable to participate in a minor’s care due to work, illness, or other issues in the home.”
Minors may also have reason to believe a parent would punish them for wanting to get vaccinated or for seeking other medical treatment like mental health services. When such situations arise, the brief argues that minors should be able to access potentially life-saving care.
“The current Delta variant surge of COVID-19 is an alarming reminder that vaccines save lives and protect communities, as the majority of those who are severely ill and dying from the virus currently are unvaccinated,” said AAP President Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP. “We saw nearly double the number of children contracting the virus last week from the week before, and we have a safe vaccine available for children ages 12 and up. I live and practice pediatric medicine in DC, and I am grateful that its minor consent law covers those rare instances when a minor child is seeking a life-saving vaccine.”
The growing threat of vaccine hesitancy has led to steep declines in vaccination rates in the United States. Recent outbreaks have occurred for measles and pertussis, both primarily afflicting unvaccinated children. Allowing minors capable of informed consent to obtain safe and effective vaccines if they so choose is an important step toward reversing these trends.
“Physicians are well able to assess whether a minor is sufficiently mature to understand and give consent for medically appropriate vaccinations,” said AMA President Gerald Harmon, MD. “The medical community, federal and state law have long recognized that minors can be capable of informed consent for other health care services without parental consent. To maximize immunization opportunities for children, legislative policies should be encouraged and preserved that allow mature minors to give informed consent for vaccinations recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.”
The brief explains that the Minor Consent Act is entirely consistent with medical best practices, public health, constitutional requirements, and federal law. It highlights that vaccines are effective, extraordinarily safe, and undergo constant and thorough study by the Food and Drug Administration.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, childhood vaccination rates have decreased alarmingly. Lower immunization rates lead to outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough,” said D.C. AAP Chapter President Lenore Jarvis, MD, MEd, FAAP. “Allowing minors to consent to routine child immunizations helps to prevent these outbreaks, especially within schools.”
“We worked closely with the Council of DC and our health care partners to pass this legislation and we believe strongly in its purpose,” said MSDC President EW Emanuel, MD. “We are proud to work with the other organizations on this amicus to ensure good, medically guided law helps patients in the District for years to come.”
“D.C.’s Minor Consent Act is important to ensuring access to life-saving health care, is consistent with the law, and is informed by best medical practices and public health guidance,” said Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman. “We’re proud to continue our work with these leading medical groups to urge dismissal of the flawed challenges to D.C.’s Minor Consent Act.”
The amicus brief was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 12, 2021.
American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.
Robert J. Mills
American Medical Association
The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care. The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 to litigate challenges to unlawful executive branch action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and reversed dozens of harmful policies. Democracy Forward is expanding its work, building on its success to confront unlawful threats to democracy and social progress.
D.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
The DC AAP is the local Washington, D.C. chapter of the national American Academy of Pediatrics. The DC AAP has approximately 450 members including pediatricians, residents, and medical students from the District’s hospitals, community clinics, and school-based health centers. The Chapter’s mission is to promote the optimal health and development of children and adolescents of Washington, D.C. in partnership with their families and communities, and to support the pediatricians who care for them.