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Can You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine Without a Parent’s Permission?


We’ve come a long way since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. After 16 months of hand sanitizing and mask-wearing, there are now three vaccines—Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen—in use protecting individuals from serious COVID-19 illness in the U.S. However, only one, Pfizer, is available to anyone 12 years and older. 


My parents are divorced and one of them is anti-vax. Can I still get vaccinated?

Parents and guardians who are not together likely have a formal custody agreement in place, and that agreement will include details about medical decision-making. Morgan Fraser Mouchette, a matrimonial and family attorney in New York City, explained that until the COVID-19 vaccines are mandated the way vaccines like the measles and polio vaccines are, “the custodial parent would be the parent, presumably, to decide whether or not a child is vaccinated.” She also doubts that, during this “gray period” of vaccine approval, a judge would look the other way if your non-custodial parent violated their custody agreement by taking you to be vaccinated. So, if your mom is the parent who gets to make major decisions about your health and won’t allow you to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get vaccinated right now, even if your other parent wants to take you. 

However, when the vaccine is formally approved by the FDA, and if it becomes, say, a requirement to attend school, Mouchette believes that, in general, it will be more difficult to opt out of the vaccine, even if the parent who won’t consent to the vaccine is the custodial parent. “Most judges will look at the actual rationale that each party has for why they think this child should be vaccinated or unvaccinated, the recommendation of the CDC, statements by the FDA, the requirements of a child’s school and the recommendation of the child's treating pediatrician, for example,” she said.

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“Can You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine Without a Parent’s Permission?” by Suzanne Zuppello was published in Vice on July 22, 2021.