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A World Health Organization document about vaccinating kids discusses implied consent — that’s consent inferred from, say, sending your kids to school on a vaccination day. But the 2014 document isn’t binding. Instead, it offers guidelines for countries and states to consider when developing their own parental consent requirements for vaccination.
All 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have parental consent requirements for kids to get vaccinated. None permit children to be vaccinated using “implied consent,” according to a Johns Hopkins University public health professor. Instead, they use other types of consent, like forms.
Now that the U.S. has authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11, children across the country are getting vaccinated. But some people are claiming that schools can vaccinate kids without their parents’ consent.
In a video by Infowars, a far-right conspiracy oriented website, host Harrison Smith said that by sending their kids to school, parents are giving schools "implied consent" to vaccinate their kids for COVID-19.
"They might send out a consent form and try to get you to sign it for your child," he said in the video. "But even if you don’t sign it, you should know that sending your child to school that day is implied consent."
TikTok identified videos with similar claims as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)
Smith cited a World Health Organization document that discussed implied consent for vaccinating kids. That’s a real document that describes three types of informed consent — written, verbal and implied — for kids to get vaccinated.
For implied consent, the document says that parents are notified of upcoming vaccinations for their kids and that the presence of their kids at a vaccination session "is considered to imply consent." It says parents are expected to take steps — like not allowing their kids to go to school on a vaccination day — if they don’t want their kids to be vaccinated.
But the Infowars video takes that WHO document out of context. For starters, the document is from 2014, long before the COVID-19 pandemic. It also isn’t meant to serve as binding rules for the world as the Infowars video suggests. Instead, it gives countries and states guidelines to consider when developing their own parental consent requirements. So WHO isn’t making the rules. Countries and states are.
In the U.S., there’s no federal requirement for informed consent relating to vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But all of the states and Washington, D.C., have rules for parental consent for kids to get vaccinated.
States do not use implied consent for vaccinations, said Stacey Lee, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University.
"Implied consent is usually used for emergency-type situations, well-grounded in the U.S. value that we respect life, and that if you’re unconscious, you would want to live," said Lee.
For vaccinations, states typically require that parents actively consent before their minor children can be immunized. Such consent requirements usually take the form of the parent providing verbal or written permission, though there are exceptions — for children who have been emancipated or who don’t live with a parent or guardian, for example. The age of consent for vaccinations varies by state, though most states put it at 18, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In Wyoming, "written parental consent is always required," a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health told PolitiFact in an email. "There is nothing like ‘implied consent’ here." Kids under 18 in Wyoming need consent from at least one parent to get vaccinated, with some exceptions.
In New York, parental consent for kids 16 and 17 can be given in person, over the phone and sometimes in a written statement. For kids 5-15, an adult caregiver also should be present for the vaccination. Implied consent is not an option.
"Parents in New York State are not giving schools implied consent to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 by sending their children to school," a spokesperson for the New York Department of Health told PolitiFact in an email.
While most states — including Wyoming and New York — require parental consent for kids under 18 to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a handful of states plus Washington, D.C., have variations on that requirement.
A few states, such as Washington, adopted what is known as "the mature minor doctrine," which allows providers to waive parental consent for minors deemed sufficiently mature. Others, like Oregon, have lower consent ages, from 14 to 16, while Nebraska puts it at 19. In Washington, D.C., the age of consent for vaccines is 11.
There have been rare occasions when states haven’t adhered to their own parental consent requirements for vaccines. Louisiana requires parental consent for kids under 18 and has a COVID-19 vaccination consent form for parents to sign. But in late October, a Louisiana parent said her 16-year-old son was vaccinated without her consent at his school, where there was a mobile vaccination clinic. The clinic operator, Ochsner Health System, apologized and told the son’s school system that it was investigating the incident.
The Infowars video cites a WHO document about parental consent to argue that U.S. schools are using implied parental consent to give kids COVID-19 vaccines.
The 2014 WHO document is guidance, not binding law. Countries, states and cities make the rules. And in the U.S., no states use implied consent for vaccinating kids.
We rate the video’s claim False.
Kaiser Family Foundation, State Parental Consent Laws for COVID-19 Vaccination, Oct. 11, 2021
Zoom interview with Stacey Lee of Johns Hopkins University, Nov. 9, 2021
World Health Organization, Considerations regarding consent in vaccinating children and adolescents between 6 and 17 years old, 2014
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Requirements & Laws, Nov. 15, 2016
Infowars, UN Announces Plan To Vax Children without Parents consent (archived), Nov. 4, 2021
WWL-TV, Kenner mom threatens lawsuit after teen son vaccinated at school without permission, Oct. 22, 2021
Louisiana Department of Health, COVID-19 Vaccination Consent Form, Nov. 5, 2021
San Francisco Department of Public Health, ORDER OF THE HEALTH OFFICER No. C19-19, April 28, 2021
New York State Department of Health, Guidance for The New York State COVID-19 Vaccination Program: Vaccination of Children Ages 5-11, Nov. 8, 2021
FindLaw, Wyoming Statutes Title 14. Children § 14-1-101. Age of majority; rights on emancipation, Jan. 1, 2017
Council of the District of Columbia, B23-0171 - Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act of 2019, accessed Nov. 9, 2021
Washington State Department of Health, Vaccinating Youth and Adolescents, accessed Nov. 10, 2021
SAGE Journals, Adolescent Consent to COVID-19 Vaccination: The Need for Law Reform, Sept. 21, 2021
Email statement from New York State Department of Health to PolitiFact, Nov. 9, 2021
Emails from Oregon Health Authority to PolitiFact, Nov. 8, 2021 and Nov. 9, 2021
Email from California Department of Public Health to PolitiFact, Nov. 9, 2021
Email from Ohio Department of Health to PolitiFact, Nov. 9, 2021
Email from Wyoming Department of Health to PolitiFact, Nov. 9, 2021
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