A federal judge temporarily blocked the District of Columbia from enforcing a law that would have allowed children to get vaccinated without the knowledge of their parents, ruling the law violated parents’ religious liberties.
The law in question, the Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act of 2020, allows children as young as 11 years old to be vaccinated so long as a provider deems them capable of informed consent.
The decision, issued Friday, comes as health officials debate the merits of recommending additional COVID-19 booster shots, and as regulators and drug companies continue to analyze clinical evidence for COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 years old.
Under the law, children whose parents objected to vaccines on religious grounds would have access to their own medical records, and providers would be allowed to seek reimbursement directly from the insurer without parental knowledge or consent.
The law was initially aimed at allowing teenagers to have access to the HPV vaccine and the meningitis vaccine, as it was passed prior to COVID-19 vaccines becoming available. The law applies only to vaccines that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Parents brought two separate lawsuits in July that challenged the law.
One lawsuit, brought by the father of a teenager at a public charter school, alleged that the District created a “pressure-cooker environment, enticing and psychologically manipulating” their child to “defy their parents and take vaccinations against their parents’ wills.”
The father alleged that his child was “medically frail” and developed autoimmunity, alopecia (severe hair loss), asthma, and eczema after receiving vaccines. As a result, he said he is of the sincere religious belief that “he should not inject a foreign substance into his son’s body that may harm him,” and objects to the COVID-19 vaccine as well as all standard childhood vaccines.
The lawsuit did not identify the father’s religion. It was filed by Children’s Health Defense, an organization run by anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
A second lawsuit was filed by a Maryland resident who said his 16-year-old daughter sought a vaccine in D.C. in order to attend a summer camp, without his knowledge and despite his religious objections.
Judge Trevor McFadden, appointed by former President Trump, ruled that the parents in both cases have standing and showed a likelihood of success on the merits for those claims, because the law requires providers to hide children’s vaccination status from parents who invoke their religious exemption rights but not from other parents.
McFadden ruled the law “targets religious parents” by withholding information available to secular parents who file a medical exemption for their children and said it was preempted by the federal National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
McFadden said he doesn’t anticipate a wide ranging impact from the injunction.
The ruling “will not prevent children from being vaccinated. Nor will it prevent the District from continuing to advertise the importance of vaccines, incentivizing vaccinations, and setting up vaccine clinics in schools. The only impact will be that children will be unable to decide to get vaccinations without their parents’ consent,” he wrote.
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