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When Parents Deny HPV Shots, Teens Have No Choice. States Are Changing That.

Some legislatures are trying to create a legal way for dependent teens to get the HPV vaccine without their parents' consent.

By Anna Almendrala

Jennifer Canada remembers when her pediatrician in Middletown, Maryland, recommended a vaccine that would protect her against a virus that is known to cause several types of cancer. But Canada’s mother, who had consented to all of the other recommended immunizations for her 13-year-old daughter, declined it, saying she'd heard rumors that the shots had caused the death of several girls.

The doctor didn’t push the issue, and neither did the young teen.

“Until college, I believed, like so many others, that the vaccine was not safe, and that it was far more suited to teens with risky behaviors,” Canada said.

It wasn’t until after beginning a career in cancer research that Canada realized how lucky she's been to avoid exposure to human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Now 26, she just finished the three-shot HPV vaccine series recommended for adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But even if Canada had wanted the HPV vaccine during that doctor visit, Maryland has no statute or regulation that allows dependent teens to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent. Neither do at least 23 other states. Generally, unless teens are legally emancipated, married or are already parents, they have no recourse when their parents or other legal guardians refuse vaccines, including the HPV shot, on their behalf.

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