Op-Ed: Empowering teens to take a more proactive role in their own health

August 24, 2022

By Shannon Udovic-Constant, MD., a pediatrician and Chair of the California Medical Association (CMA) Board of Trustees.

Like many physicians, I’ve spent the last three years fighting to keep my patients safe during the ever-evolving COVID pandemic.

In the early days, we fought this unknown disease through trial and error, applying all of our medical training to save lives.  As we shared information from our experiences with COVID patients, best practices rapidly progressed, and we developed life-saving treatments and techniques.

But every physician knows that prevention is the easiest, fastest and most reliable way to save lives. This week the California Assembly will consider SB 866, a bill grounded in prevention that can help us save lives.

Vaccines are at the top of the physician’s prevention toolbox.  Millions of people have avoided sickness and death from the astounding scientific miracle of vaccines.

California has done well in vaccinating adults against COVID, especially older people and those with compromised immune systems, who are most susceptible to serious illness or death. 

But we're lagging behind in vaccinating teenagers. California has vaccinated 86% of seniors over age 65, but only 67% of teenagers.

While teens have lower rates of serious illness and death, we know that people with mild symptoms can still unknowingly transmit COVID.  For vulnerable populations, such as cancer patients with compromised immune systems, COVID isn’t just “a bad case of the flu” – it can be deadly.

So why would government stand in the way when older teens want to get vaccinated?

Under current law, teens who want to get vaccinated against COVID must get parental consent. This week, the California Assembly will consider SB 866, that would allow older teens, at least 15 years old, to consent to the COVID vaccine. 

As a physician, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with parents, the risks and benefits of medical decisions for their children because I believe these discussions should take place within the trusted doctor-patient relationship. Unfortunately, some parents are misled by extremist disinformation, and may deny their teens the protections that vaccines provide. It is important that older teens are afforded the opportunity to take a more proactive role in their own health care and future and be able to make their own decisions about being vaccinated. 

SB 866 is not a mandate. This does not mandate a single vaccination. SB 866 merely empowers older teens by allowing them to get the care they need from their existing physician while also taking control of their own health and their own future.

This bill enjoys broad support from the medical community, including the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics California.  

As physicians, we've worked hard to explain the safety of the COVID vaccines to our patients, because patients deserve to know the facts. 

And the facts are clear. With more than 600 million vaccine doses administered so far in America alone, the COVID vaccines are remarkably effective in reducing the likelihood of serious illness. 

The COVID vaccines represent a truly remarkable moment in history - scientists and physicians working together, with bipartisan support within government, to deliver life-saving vaccines in record time. 

We can honor that remarkable scientific achievement and protect vulnerable populations by allowing older teens to choose on their own whether to get vaccinated.  I join my colleagues in urging the Assembly to pass SB 866.




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