New York City’s child welfare agency has told certain service providers they should go ahead and vaccinate 16- and 17-year-olds living in close quarters with one another against the coronavirus — even if they don’t have parental approval.
The Administration for Children’s Services’ memo this month soon drew objections from parents and lawyers for the affected children, most of whom are Black or Latino. The memo’s existence was first reported on Sunday by The City, a nonprofit local digital news organization.
The ACS memo to nonprofit service providers says they may proceed with vaccinations “even if a parent cannot be located or affirmatively objects,” the news organization reported.
The agency said it considers the administration of the Pfizer vaccine part of the “routine medical care” to which many of the children’s parents have given blanket consent.
The new policy applies only to 16- and 17-year-olds who live in group foster care homes or youth detention centers and was only issued after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for people who are at least 16. More than 600 children live in the covered facilities.
The city considers “medical, dental, mental health and hospital services which are customarily given as part of preventive health care and/or for ordinary childhood diseases or illnesses” to be routine care.
Although the ACS memo also urged service providers to seek the teens’ agreement “whenever possible,” families and lawyers say that’s not good enough. They fear that youth who aren’t comfortable getting the shot will be ignored and that parents will be shut out of any chance to weigh in.
According to The City, attorney Dawne Mitchell of the Legal Aid Society wrote to ACS officials on Sept. 14, urging providers to require explicit parental and child permission for COVID-19 shots. She argued that children and families deserve the same right to medical autonomy as anyone who is not involved in foster care or the juvenile justice systems.
Before the memo came out — and before full FDA approval of the Pfizer shot — parents had to agree in writing to a child’s vaccination, the letter said. Plus, it noted, coronavirus vaccines aren’t required for 16- and 17-year-olds to go to school in the city.
Christopher Rucas, an ACF spokesperson, said in a statement to The City that the agency was interested in acting quickly after full FDA approval because the case rate among young people has climbed.
“ACS consulted with a leading biomedical ethicist, and then determined we would treat the Pfizer vaccine for youth over the age of 16 just as we would handle any other routine vaccine: that a youth’s affirmative assent will be sought, and vaccination will not be administered if the youth objects,” Rucas wrote. He added that the agency continues to stress the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to the children “so they can make informed decisions about getting vaccinated.”
In response to Mitchell’s letter, Administration for Children’s Services Deputy Commissioner Julie Farber stressed that teens wouldn’t be inoculated if they say no. “The updated policy changes the protocol for seeking the parent’s consent, not the youth’s assent,” Farber wrote.