When the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children ages 12 and above, Oregon was quick to adopt the guidelines. On May 13, minors in that age range became eligible for vaccines across the state — a hopeful step toward eventually ending the pandemic.
But at least a few Oregon counties, including Yamhill and Linn, are refusing to provide vaccines to youth age 15 and older unless they have parental consent. State legislators are pushing back saying, legally, those 15 to 17 years old can consent to their own medical care, then they become legal adults at age 18. The counties involved argue the law is vague and does not apply to vaccinations, leading to an ongoing discussion of civil rights and legal obligations.
State Rep. Marty Wilde says the law gives young people the right to decide for themselves.
“Children aren’t property; they have rights,” Wilde tells Eugene Weekly. “I would think that would be obvious.”
Wilde cites ORS 109.640 (2) which states that minors 15 years of age or older may give consent to medical treatment without permission from a parent or guardian. The only exception listed is getting contact lenses for the first time.
“I’m not trying to tell doctors they can’t have conversations if there is an element of conflict in the home, but they can’t deny care based on their own judgment, when a patient requests it,” Wilde says.
Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis says Lane County is requiring parental consent only in teenagers age 14 and younger.
“We are aligning ourselves with state law and making the vaccine as accessible as possible, knowing not all teenagers will have that vocal relationship with their parents,” he says. Davis adds they want to reduce barriers for people getting vaccinated as much as possible.
When Wilde heard about the two counties requiring parental consent for their vaccine clinics, he says he reached out to Marisa James, a senior deputy legislative counsel asking if it was legal for clinics to require consent and if the law was being violated.
In an email response, James writes that based on the language of the law, those who are 15 and older can give consent without parent or guardian permission to receive a COVID-19 vaccine “from a physician, naturopathic physician, dentist, physician assistant or nurse practitioner licensed in Oregon.” James adds that a local health department may and should get parental consent for someone younger than 15.
“A minor denied consent in violation of ORS 109.640 could bring an action for an injunction in circuit court,” James says.
But regardless of the law, Linn and Yamhill county leaders maintain their position of requiring consent. In an email sent to Rob Bovett, legal counsel and legislative director for the Association of Oregon Counties, Linn County says the statute is ambiguous and is seeking a second opinion.
Linn County also argues that because it is the county’s own clinic, it can decide whether or not to have parental consent.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Wilde says. “It [the county] isn’t required to offer vaccines but they cannot discriminate based on consent.”
Wilde received an email on May 17 from Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer in response to EW’s early online version of this story. In the email, Berschauer says that teenagers are incapable of making long-term health decisions, which is why they aren’t allowed to smoke until they are 21.
“And if you think for a moment that the parents in Yamhill County, especially mothers like myself who went through agonizing labor to birth and bring these children into the world, are going to accept that state bureaucrats can bribe our kids with pizza and iTunes gift cards in order to be injected with an experimental, trial vaccine without permission, you are out of your mind,” Berschauer tells Wilde.
In the email, Berschauer also perpetuates other COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, saying the vaccine has caused 45 deaths in Oregon and also is “far from routine and normal medical care.”
Wilde says disagreeing with the law is not a valid basis for breaking the law.
“People have rights, and when you are in public office, people are under obligation to uphold those rights,” Wilde says.
He adds that if 15 to 17 year olds are being denied vaccines, they should say it is their right to be vaccinated. They can also file a complaint with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Wilde says, because it’s a violation of civil rights.
Davis says that in Lane County, as with everyone else, teens can schedule an appointment or just show up to get vaccinated, whether someone is in a car or on foot. He also suggests that teens could ride public transportation.
“I just think we need to support our young people in making these health decisions,” Davis says, adding that this will help ensure teenagers are poised to make good health decisions in the future.
Wilde says he has reached out to Rosenblum to investigate the issue and make a statement.
“I’m just hoping that we shed some light on this, and it goes the way and they do the right thing,” he says.
For information on where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine in Lane County, visit LaneCounty.gov/Coronavirus. If you need help scheduling a vaccine appointment, call 541-682-1380.