A federal judge has temporarily banned the mayor of the District of Columbia, the D.C. Department of Health, and D.C. public schools from enforcing a law that allowed minors to get vaccinated without their parents’ consent or knowledge. The Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act (MCA), passed by the D.C. Council in 2020, says a child as young as 11 can get a vaccine on their own if a provider determines they are capable of doing so. Nevertheless, last Friday, stating that the law violates parents’ religious liberty, Judge Trevor N. McFadden issued a preliminary injunction to keep the law from going into effect. 

Following the law’s passage, two separate lawsuits opposing the measure were filed by parents. One of the lawsuits, filed by Children’s Health Defense (CHD) on behalf of the father of a teenager at a public charter school, asserted Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser and other D.C. officials could not enforce the MCA because it “subverts the right and duty of parents to make informed decisions about whether their children should receive vaccinations.” The parent maintained the District created a “pressure cooker environment, enticing and psychologically manipulating” children (their child) to “defy their parents and take vaccinations against their parents’ will.”

After receiving vaccines, the father shared that his child was “medically frail” and developed autoimmunity, eczema, alopecia (severe hair loss), and asthma. As a result, he said he is of the sincere religious belief that “he should not inject a foreign substance into his son’s body that may harm him.” He objects to all standard childhood vaccines, including the COVID-19 experimental shot. Speaking of the Mar. 18 ruling, Rolf Hazlehurst, senior staff attorney at CHD, said:

“This is a major legal victory for children, parental rights, and informed consent. Government overreach such as this has dire implications for children’s health and the constitutional rights of citizens.”

“This preliminary injunction is part of ongoing litigation in an extremely important national precedent-setting case. The rights of parents to decide what is best for their children’s health is at stake. Government can’t be allowed to make such decisions for minor children.”

A Maryland parent filed a second lawsuit, stating his daughter traveled to D.C. without his knowledge and, despite his religious objections seeking a Tdap vaccine required for a summer camp she wanted to attend. The parent argued the D.C. law creates an “entire structure by which the health care provider, insurance company, school, and health department all engage in an elaborate and deceitful scheme.” Attorney James Mason remarked, “All parents have a right to be directly involved in medical decision-making about their children.”

To attend school in the District, public school children must receive immunizations against several diseases, including measles, mumps, and polio. Parents may seek medical or religious exemptions for their children from vaccines.

The D.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports children being vaccinated without parental knowledge or consent. Still, attorney Mason, vice president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, believes the law encourages schools and insurers to hide students’ vaccination status from parents.

Indeed, the law directs doctors to submit a student’s immunization record directly to the student’s school if a parent has submitted paperwork objecting to vaccines because of their religious beliefs. Furthermore, Healthcare providers who dispense vaccines to children without parental consent must seek payment directly from insurers without notifying parents.

According to the law, a child can only receive a vaccine without parental permission if a physician determines the child is capable of informed consent. This standard suggests that minors comprehend why they need the vaccine and understand “any significant risks ordinarily inherent in medical care.”

CHD points out that the Plaintiffs overcame a high legal hurdle that “threatened injury must be certainly impending” as established by the U.S. Supreme Court precedent Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l., partly by using a drawing entitled “Peer Pressure,” sketched by one of the plaintiff’s children. The drawing illustrates the dilemma children face at school when they do not want to get the COVID vaccine or have been advised by their parents not to take the shot. The child wrote:

“I feel like I’m being pressured into taking the vaccination because I feel like an outsider since everybody else has the vaccine, and not only that, but I feel like the vaccination is some sort of hall pass because I need the vaccination to go certain places which is very annoying.”

In making his ruling, Judge McFadden determined that the parents in both cases have standing. The Trump-appointed judge wrote the lawsuits showed a likelihood of success on the merits for those claims because the law instructs providers to hide children’s vaccination status from parents who invoke their religious exemption rights but not from other parents. McFadden declared the law “targets religious parents” by withholding information available to nonreligious parents who file a medical exemption for their children, which he said was preempted by the federal National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, who introduced the legislation, commented there’s no evidence the plaintiff’s children had been vaccinated without parental consent. “To have standing to sue, you have to have a concrete injury that’s immediate. It can’t be speculative. And there’s a lot of speculation in there,” she said.

Close to ten states have given teenagers some rights to decide whether to be vaccinated without parental consent. Some states, including Alabama, Oregon, and South Carolina, give teenagers the authority to independently consent to all healthcare decisions. Others, including California and New York, allow children 12 and older to consent to vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases.

Explaining what his ruling means, McFadden stated, “Removing the law would revert the District to the standard age of consent of 18.” Although the case is not yet final, the preliminary injunction reverts D.C. to the legal age of consent of 18. 

The D.C. Council began considering whether to let children obtain vaccines without parental consent before the pandemic. However, the Council adopted the measure with greater urgency as the coronavirus pandemic got underway. Meanwhile, as Pfizer and Moderna aim to push vaccines on babies as young as six months, children 12 and older have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 injection produced by Pfizer since May. As of Oct. 11, 2021, 42 states require parental consent to receive an experimental COVID-19 jab.