Across the United States, parents are increasingly refusing to vaccinate their children against harmful childhood diseases. Many of these parents utilize expansive exemptions to school-immunization laws to keep their children unvaccinated. Even as their children become teenagers and develop their own informed opinions about vaccines, most state and local laws provide these minors with no avenue to override their parents’ objections and choose vaccination for themselves. However, this legal landscape may be changing, as creative laws like the District of Columbia’s Minor Consent for Vaccination Amendments Act of 2020 (MCA) have emerged that do allow certain minors to consent to recommended vaccines without parent permission, provided that they can meet an informed-consent standard.
This Comment argues that minors possess a qualified autonomy right to consent to recommended vaccines. It outlines the legal background of this autonomy right by discussing the history of vaccination laws, parental rights, and children’s rights in the United States. It also demonstrates how vaccine-resistant parents could attempt to challenge the exercise of this autonomy right by invoking the protections of highly restrictive religious-freedom laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Then, this Comment outlines the contours of the autonomy right itself. Finally, this Comment proposes a statutory solution, based in part on the District of Columbia’s MCA, that can vindicate this autonomy right while appropriately including parents in the consent process.