Tennessee and Vaccinations

There’s gotta be one timeline where we’re doing the right thing…right? RIGHT?

If you’re part of the Twitterverse there are probably two things you’ve heard about in the past few days. Loki spoilers, and the fact that Tennessee stopped marketing vaccines to children. At this point I don’t wonder if we’re on some sort of branching timeline where everything has gone terribly wrong and you don’t know how to reach the variant you’re in love with.

Anyway, Tennessee has decided to pull all vaccine outreach materials aimed at teens. This goes for any vaccine, not just the Covid vaccine. The decision came in the aftermath of the firing of Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s top vaccine official. From what I can tell this means that schools will no longer hold vaccination fairs, they will not provide flu outreach clinics, and materials disseminated by schools about back to school vaccines will be stripped of the Tennessee Department of Health logo, to be replaced by the Tennessee Department of Education logo.

There are a number of disturbing things here, but I think the fact that the health department is no longer “supporting” childhood vaccinations is a frightening, and a coup for anti-vaxxers. Especially coupled with attacks on education.

I think we can all agree that it’s clear Tennessee Republicans have gone full scale anti-vaxx specifically because vaccines, science, and public health was politicized by Trump and the GOP. I think it’s less clear why, specifically, outreach directed at teens has been so firmly and quickly halted.

It has to do with consent, specifically teen consent.

Tennessee has something called a “mature minor doctrine.” It states the following:

“Between the ages of 14 and 18, there is a rebuttable presumption of capacity, and the physician may treat without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions”

The doctrine goes on to state that vaccinations are included in the list of services minors can choose for themselves.

There are a number of grey areas when it comes to children and how much say they have in their medical care. Generally, starting at the age of 12, minors do not need to gain parental consent for specific services. These services vary in each state, but it’s something that most parents or caregivers don’t know about. I only knew because I worked in healthcare for a number of years.

Tennessee is one of a handful of states in which children have the right to choose to vaccinate themselves. So while parents squabble over masks or whether Covid actually exists, kids 14+ have the right to say “screw the adults, I’m trusting the science” and go get themselves vaccinated.

This terrifies adults. Free will…of children? NEVER!

Of course, parents don’t tend to love when teens rebel. At some level, we want children be clones of ourselves, believing what we believe, and agreeing with the decisions we make for them. Parents also tend to think that they have full control and autonomy over their children. For those particular parents who set themselves up as dictators…well…I’m sure that’s going to work out well for you and your relationship with your kid.

Ok…so what?

Consent – specifically who’s consent – is the crux, and new apparent front, of the anti-vaxx issue. Rather than open, real conversations with children, Tennessee has gone full blown “kids can’t make correct choices so even though our laws allow them a choice, we will only affirm sexual vaccine abstinence.” It’s fear mongering, and it’s going to further attacks on medicine and educators.

And look, this issue of consent, especially amongst teenagers, should apply to all parents. If your kids are nervous about the vaccination, talk to them. I believe with my whole heart that if you are eligible for vaccination, then you should get vaccinated. That applies to the Covid vaccine, as well as the HPV and MMR vaccine. However, teens should have the right to be informed. It goes both ways.

Teaching children about wise decisions, teaching them about consent, this is all part of helping them grow into adulthood. Tennessee Republicans have chosen to hide the fact that teens have a choice. Because God forbid that they read…and start thinking

So what can you do? Well, find out what the laws in your state are. What medical autonomy for teens is allowed in your state? What treatments can teens pursue without parental consent? Are you an influential person for at least one teen (either your own or others)?

If you are, then be honest with them. Tell kids what their rights are. Help them understand what they can and can’t do. I have four kids, it’s scary to give them that kind of autonomy, but you know what? If you’re honest about things, they will likely involve you the decision making process. And if they don’t? Well, at least they know they have the right talk to a medical professional alone, and not their friend Tina, whom you probably hate.

If you obfuscate, and only give kids one option…well maybe they’ll follow you blindly…or maybe they’ll go behind your back. In the end, everyone has a choice. Kids are much smarter than we often give them credit for. So don’t be dumb, instead know your rights, and know their rights. Not only that – tell kids what their rights are. They’ll thank you for it…probably…later…after they’re done with the teen years.

By mshipstory


I'm Lindsay Adams. I'm passionate about history, teaching, and writing.

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