Youth COVID-19 vaccination will likely be a family decision for most, but there is an exception

WINNIPEG — Doctors in Manitoba say each family will make their own decision on whether their children will receive a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available.

However, there is an exception, called the mature minor doctrine, that would allow people under 18 to get a vaccine on their own, without the consent of a parent or a guardian.

On Wednesday, Canada was the first country to give Pfizer its approval to use its vaccine for the 12 to 15-year-old age group.

Manitoba was quick to add the age group onto its vaccine rollout which is going in descending order by age. It is expected that eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines in the province will open up to all people 12 and older by May 21st.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the Vaccine Implementation Task Force, explained when vaccinating minors, there is an established process for consent that has been set up through the school-based and annual vaccination programs.

“We also, within the health-care system, have long-established consent processes for mature minors, as well,” she said at this week’s vaccine news conference Wednesday.

“In the school-based systems, we do send consents home to have parents sign them. But we also recognize that there are times where someone who is under 18 may choose to seek medical services without parental consent.”

Dr. Reimer said it is the job of health-care providers to ensure the patient can make that informed decision if their parent isn’t available to provide that consent along with them.

“In Manitoba, you reach the age of majority when you are 18 and your consent is both a necessary and sufficient condition for any medical treatments, so if you’re 18, you get to call the shots, assuming you are competent,” explained Arthur Schafer, professor & founding director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at University of Manitoba.

He said if you are under 18 and are what the law considers a mature minor, then you have the right to make medical decisions on your behalf even without parental consent, as long as you are capable of understanding the treatment, its benefits, and risks.

“But otherwise parents get to decide for their minor children,” he said. “It’s the parent’s obligation and the parent’s right to protect the best interest of their kids.”

He said family agreement and harmony are a good thing, but Schafer suspects there may be some unusual cases where the wishes of a mature minor are different from their parent.

“When those situations arise, if the child is judged to be competent to make the decision, then by law they will get the vaccine,” he said.

Community pediatrician Dr. Grant MacDougall said his phone has been ringing a lot since 9 a.m. Wednesday. He said parents, even vaccine-hesitant ones, are calling to ask for information on when and where they can get their teens vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I don’t know the answers to those yet,” he told CTV News. “But it is exciting and there is a lot of interest in the community for getting adolescents done because kids want to go back to school. They’d like to have that guarantee that they can go back to school in the fall.”

Dr. MacDougall said vaccinating children is largely a decision made by the family unit.

“Children do have veto power, but typically they go along with their parents. But every family situation is different, so you have to respect them as individuals but treat them as a family,” he said.

Dr. MacDougall said the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a situation not seen since the polio vaccine because there is this community push to get people vaccinated quickly.

“There is a lot of emotionality about the Covid vaccine but I think the vast majority realize it’s a good thing and that is the path to normality is to get children and adults vaccinated.” 

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