Metro Public Healthy Molly Shine preps a vaccine while sisters Maya and Sara Gana wait at a Nashville mobile vaccine clinic in 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A bill that effectively ends the so-called “Mature Minor” doctrine that has allowed some Tennessee teens to get vaccines without parental permission advanced in the legislature Wednesday.
The bill, HB1380/SB111, by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge and Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma is an outgrowth of Republican backlash at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Tennessee’s former vaccine chief distributed a memo to healthcare providers outlining the state’s existing policy on vaccinating teens without parental consent.
That memo angered GOP leaders and got the former vaccine chief, pediatrician Dr. Michelle Fiscus, fired from her job at the state Department of Health. Fiscus’ controversial and public termination in 2021 remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court. A trial in that case is set for May 16.
I’ve sat on the health committee this year and heard many times parents didn’t have the right to treat their children for many things this year, but now it’s all about the parents.
– Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville
The proposed new law would require the written consent of a parent or legal guardian before a healthcare provider could provide vaccinations. It would prohibits state agents — such as the Department of Children’s Services — from providing vaccines to kids in custody unless parental permission has been granted, or parental rights terminated.
The bill would also end a policy specific to COVID-19 that has allowed healthcare providers to administer vaccines without parental permission if a child was subject to abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian.
“Children belong to their families,” Ragan said Thursday. “Not the state. Not DCS.”
“Minors are restricted in a number of ways,” Ragan said. “Thirteen-year-olds can’t drive. Fifteen-year-olds can’t join the military. Seventeen-year-olds can’t smoke or get a tattoo. Quite honestly the law recognizes that at various ages, judgment is not sound enough to understand long term consequences and decisions.”
The bill, Ragan noted, would provide a path for children to petition a judge for permission to get a vaccine.
Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, pushed back on the plan, noting there are circumstances in which parents don’t exercise their own responsibility to ensure their children receive vaccines.
He also suggested that his Republican colleagues had a double-standard.
“I’ve sat on the health committee this year and heard many times parents didn’t have the right to treat their children for many things this year, but now it’s all about the parents,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell did not specify those previous discussions, but the House Health committee hearing the vaccine bill Thursday also voted in favor of legislation limiting gender affirming care to minors over the objection of parents of transgender children.
“If a child has a good sense to make certain they’re going to go get a meningitis vaccine or they’re going to got get a measles or mumps vaccine, or they’re maybe seeing millions of people dying around the world from a pandemic, and they’ve got a good sense to go get a vaccine and they’re 14 years of age or older…I don’t see how that’s bad for our society,” Mitchell said.
The bill will next be heard in the House Government Operations Committee; it has already advanced in the Senate and faces likely passage by the Legislature this year.
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