State legislation proposed to expand vaccination age of consent

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Provided by Office of State Senator Dr. Richard Pan

California State Senator Scott Wiener introduces California Senate Bill 866 (SB 866), which would allow individuals 12 years old and older to receive vaccinations without parental approval, on Jan. 21 at a press conference in San Francisco. “I think we have a shot for getting it passed,” Weiner said. “It’s not guaranteed, the California legislative process is very complicated.”

by Lucy Ge, Co-Managing Editor

California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-CA) introduced California Senate Bill 866 (SB 866), which would allow individuals 12 years old and older to receive vaccinations without parental approval, on Jan. 21 at a press conference in San Francisco.

“This is how we protect our health care system and save lives — by people getting vaccinated and boosted,” Wiener said in an interview after the event. “And we have to empower people to be able to do that.”

Representatives of GENup, a student-led national educational advocacy organization and a co-sponsor of the bill, spoke at the press conference. GENup National Director of Innovation and Strategy Cady Chen (12) and Director of Strategic Partnerships Saanvi Arora (12) both expressed their support for the bill, highlighting the need for vaccine autonomy during the pandemic and the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on education.

“Vaccination autonomy will allow us to seize agency over our own education, our own safety and our own futures,” Cady said during the press conference. “From our peers, we have learned of too many scenarios where current vaccination protocols that require parental consent prevented them from getting vaccinated.”

I think we have a shot for getting it passed. It’s not guaranteed, the California legislative process is very complicated.”

— California State Senator Scott Wiener

SB 866, also known as the Teens Choose Vaccines Act, would lower the vaccination age of consent from 18 to 12 years old.

“I do think that 12 [year olds] and older are smart enough to make their own decisions, medically speaking,” Varun Bhupathi (9) said.

In order to become law, SB 866 will need to pass committees and house floor votes in both the California State Senate and the California State Assembly and receive approval from Governor Gavin Newsom.

“I think we have a shot for getting it passed,” Weiner said. “It’s not guaranteed, the California legislative process is very complicated. There are many opportunities for even non-controversial bills to trip up and not pass, so we’re never guaranteed. And obviously there’s controversy around this bill, as there are all vaccine bills.”

Four days after SB 866 was co-introduced by Wiener and California State Senator Richard Pan in the state legislature on Jan. 20, Pan co-introduced SB 871, which would mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all California students without a personal beliefs exemption if passed. Weiner says that there will be more pro-vaccination bills introduced in the California Senate this year.

“We have the opportunity to build momentum to pass these various bills,” Wiener said.

Cady and Saanvi both worked with Wiener’s office on the planning process of SB 866 and with Pan’s office on SB 871 and are now working on mobilizing students to support the bills.

GENup Director of Strategic Partnerships Saanvi Arora (12), National Director of Innovation and Strategy Cady Chen (12) and Executive Director Alvin Lee express their support for Senate Bill 866 during a Jan. 21 press conference in San Francisco. As part of GENup, a student-led national educational advocacy organization, Saanvi and Cady are working with Wiener’s office on passing SB 866, which would allow individuals 12 years old and older to receive vaccinations without parental approval. (Provided by Office of State Senator Dr. Richard Pan)

“We’re really doing everything that we can to make sure we don’t have to go back online, because it causes a severe backsliding in the quality of education across the state,” Saanvi said.

Upper school history and social science teacher Carol Green notes that there is precedent for SB 866. As noted in the bill’s factsheet on Wiener’s website, 12 to 17 year olds can currently receive human papillomavirus and hepatitis B vaccinations and gain access to reproductive health and mental health treatment without parental approval in California. She also recognizes that SB 866 would impact a non-voting population, a factor that California lawmakers may take into consideration when voting on SB 866.

“The only concern that I have with that, when you’re watching the news, and when you’re listening to these different debates about it, then, is that the people who do vote are not the ones that necessarily directly impacts,” Green said. “If there’s a lot of parents who voice concern, then it’ll be up to these elected officials to do what is in the interest of the community at large.”

Additional reporting by Arely Sun.