By Bethany Bump
New York lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill that would allow children as young as 14 to get vaccinated without their parents' consent.
Proposed by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and Sen. Liz Krueger, the bill would enable older children to protect themselves from preventable diseases such as measles, meningitis and human papillomavirus in the event their parents opt out of vaccinating them.
The lawmakers appear to have been inspired by Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old from Norwalk, Ohio, who testified before Congress this week about his decision to get vaccinated against the wishes of his mother, who he said was heavily influenced by misinformation on Facebook.
"Lindenberger's case highlights the growing threat misinformation spread on social media can pose to public health," a news release from Fahy's office said. "His experience also demonstrates that oftentimes, teens and young adults have a stronger understanding of the benefits of immunization and the ability of misinformation to spread online."
New York is currently in the midst of one of its largest measles outbreaks in decades due to vaccine hesitancy, with more than 200 reported cases so far. Most cases have been reported downstate in New York City and Rockland County, and are concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities where not all parents vaccinate their children against the highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory disease.
Measles can be serious in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer from complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Severe complications may include pneumonia or swelling of the brain, which can cause death.
New York currently allows parents to opt out of vaccination for religious and medical reasons.
Some parents also oppose vaccinations for philosophical reasons. But a growing number of parents are opting children out due to medical misinformation that has proliferated on social media. That information repeats widely debunked studies that once linked vaccines with autism.
Meanwhile, a decade-long study out of Denmark published as this week once again debunked the myth.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization announced that the growing anti-vaccination movement poses one of the 10 greatest threats to world health.
"We are on the cusp of a serious public health crisis, with long eradicated diseases now threatening at-risk populations such as very young children and immunocompromised individuals with conditions like leukemia," Fahy said. "Encouraging teens to take an active role in their health care empowers our youth to think critically about information spread on social media and to control their own educational future."
Only seven states and the District of Columbia currently allow minors to receive vaccinations when their parents refuse. Fahy said a number of other states are considering changing their laws in response to the outbreak.
She also noted that minors who aren't immunized may have trouble enrolling in high school and college -- making teenage autonomy over the choice even more important.
"I don't introduce bills like this lightly because I have a fundamental respect for parents' rights," Fahy said Friday. "But when we're on the verge of a public health crisis, I think we have to put the importance of the public at large first."
(c)2019 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)