News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We are experiencing technical issues that have caused WKMD 90.9 FM in Madisonville to go off air. We'll get it back up as soon as we can. We appreciate your patience. You can also stream online or on your phone at wkms.org.

Tennessee bill to ax policy giving teens access to vaccines without parental permission advances

Metro Public Healthy Molly Shine preps a vaccine while sisters Maya and Sara Gana wait at a Nashville mobile vaccine clinic in 2021.
Tennessee Lookout
/
John Partipilo
Metro Public Healthy Molly Shine preps a vaccine while sisters Maya and Sara Gana wait at a Nashville mobile vaccine clinic in 2021.

The policy, the so-called “Mature Minor” doctrine, was subject of GOP blowback during the height of the COVID pandemic

A bill that effectively ends the so-called “Mature Minor” doctrine that has allowed some Tennessee teens to get vaccines without parental permission advanced in the legislature Wednesday.

The bill, HB1380/SB111, by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge and Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma is an outgrowth of Republican backlash at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Tennessee’s former vaccine chief distributed a memo to healthcare providers outlining the state’s existing policy on vaccinating teens without parental consent.

That memo angered GOP leaders and got the former vaccine chief, pediatrician Dr. Michelle Fiscus, fired from her job at the state Department of Health. Fiscus’ controversial and public termination in 2021 remains the subject of ongoing litigation in federal court. A trial in that case is set for May 16.

I’ve sat on the health committee this year and heard many times parents didn’t have the right to treat their children for many things this year, but now it’s all about the parents.
Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville

The proposed new law would require the written consent of a parent or legal guardian before a healthcare provider could provide vaccinations. It would prohibits state agents — such as the Department of Children’s Services — from providing vaccines to kids in custody unless parental permission has been granted, or parental rights terminated.

The bill would also end a policy specific to COVID-19 that has allowed healthcare providers to administer vaccines without parental permission if a child was subject to abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian.

“Children belong to their families,” Ragan said Thursday. “Not the state. Not DCS.”

“Minors are restricted in a number of ways,” Ragan said. “Thirteen-year-olds can’t drive. Fifteen-year-olds can’t join the military. Seventeen-year-olds can’t smoke or get a tattoo. Quite honestly the law recognizes that at various ages, judgment is not sound enough to understand long term consequences and decisions.”

The bill, Ragan noted, would provide a path for children to petition a judge for permission to get a vaccine.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, pushed back on the plan, noting there are circumstances in which parents don’t exercise their own responsibility to ensure their children receive vaccines.

He also suggested that his Republican colleagues had a double-standard.

“I’ve sat on the health committee this year and heard many times parents didn’t have the right to treat their children for many things this year, but now it’s all about the parents,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell did not specify those previous discussions, but the House Health committee hearing the vaccine bill Thursday also voted in favor of legislation limiting gender affirming care to minors over the objection of parents of transgender children.

“If a child has a good sense to make certain they’re going to go get a meningitis vaccine or they’re going to got get a measles or mumps vaccine, or they’re maybe seeing millions of people dying around the world from a pandemic, and they’ve got a good sense to go get a vaccine and they’re 14 years of age or older…I don’t see how that’s bad for our society,” Mitchell said.

The bill will next be heard in the House Government Operations Committee; it has already advanced in the Senate and faces likely passage by the Legislature this year.

This story was originally published by the Tennessee Lookout.

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.
Related Content