After administrators at her boarding school informed parents they would be offering Covid shots, her mother gave permission. Her father forbade it. Upset, Elizabeth consulted the school nurse, who said she could not be vaccinated without approval from both. Elizabeth researched state laws, learning that she wasn’t old enough to consent on her own.
She showed up anyway. At worst, she figured, the school would just turn her away.
Apparently, they took note only of her mother’s consent. Saying nothing, Elizabeth stuck out her arm.
Now she is in a pickle. The school is requiring students to be vaccinated for the fall semester and she says her father has begun warring with the administration over the issue. Elizabeth is afraid that if he learns how she was vaccinated, he will be furious and tell the school, which will discipline her for having deceived vaccinators, a stain on her record just as she is applying to college.
Gregory D. Zimet, a psychologist and professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, pointed out the irony of an adolescent being legally prevented from making a choice that was strenuously urged by public health officials. Developmentally, he said, adolescents at 14 and even younger are at least as good as adults at weighing the risks of a vaccine. “Which isn’t to say that adults are necessarily great at it,” he added.
In many states, young teenagers can make decisions around contraception and sexually transmitted infections, which are, he noted, “in many ways more complex and fraught than getting a vaccine.”
Pediatricians say that even parents who have themselves been vaccinated are wary for their children. Dr. Jay Lee, a family physician and chief medical officer of Share Our Selves, a community health network in Orange County, Calif., said parents say they would rather risk their child having Covid than get the new vaccine.
“I will validate their concerns,” Dr. Lee said, “but I point out that waiting to see if your child gets sick is not a good strategy. And that no, Covid is not just like the flu.”