By Arnuv Batra and Tamara Kasikovic, 2022 Governor's STEM Scholars
Earlier this year, I participated in a high school extracurricular event. Like most events, a COVID-19 vaccination and a negative test were required. An unvaccinated student from my school frantically tried to contact the event organizers, talk to our school’s principal, and discuss the situation with the trip advisors, all as the trip and registration date got closer and closer. Despite his best efforts, he ended up not being allowed to attend.
As teenagers, we are being constantly told by parents, teachers, and coaches to be self-reliant, responsible, and independent. Despite this, teens are still not allowed to receive a COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent in New Jersey. Today teens are buying clothes, obtaining driver’s permits, and working in stores, but they still need their parents' consent to protect their own lives.
Currently, not only are teens encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, but they are also eligible for the Pfizer booster dose. Emergency use authorization was granted for those ages 12-17 by the Food and Drug Administration on May 11, 2020. Through time and testing, it has become clear that vaccines are safe for teens.
In New Jersey, minors can obtain contraception, mental health services, and abortions without parental consent, justified by the belief that denying any of these forms of care could negatively affect an adolescent's life. The same is true of COVID-19 vaccines. Young adults have an increased rate of transmission in schools and the risk of spreading the illness to fellow students and teachers. If teens are not able to be vaccinated, they could become sick or even die. Adolescents may want to be vaccinated to protect themselves, their family, and their friends.
In addition, teens often are exposed to more transmissible diseases through school and extracurricular activities. Unlike many working adults who can work remotely or socially distance in office environments, students gather in classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, and outside of school. According to a Gallup poll, nine in 10 remote workers want to maintain remote work to some degree, yet most parents pushed for full in-person learning for teens as soon as possible, citing the negative health effects of remote learning. This could mean that in the future students are more exposed to diseases and would therefore be more in need of access to booster shots and continued protections against COVID-19.
Parents opting to not vaccinate their children may argue that teens’ brains are not developed enough to make smart decisions. However, research shows that by the age of 14, minors’ reasoning begins to nearly match adult decision-making, weighing in favor of supporting minors’ autonomy to make vaccine decisions as it would not only advance their health, but also the health of those around them. In a recent survey of middle and high school students, over two-thirds believed that there should be vaccine mandates of some sort in schools. If so many teens feel this way, it only makes sense for them to be able to make the choice to get vaccinated.
COVID-19 serves as a startling wake-up call to the implications of vaccine consent laws. Ultimately, teenagers are stripped of their medical autonomy as a result of policies that require parental consent for vaccinations. Government figures have urged the public to do their part throughout the pandemic and get vaccinated. Why should teenagers be excluded from doing their part if their parents think differently? In the wake of the pandemic, there is no better time to act on this issue. Encouraging local representatives to initiate public policy changes to lower the vaccine consent age is the first step toward ensuring the well-being of the nation’s youth.
Arnuv Batra is a sophomore at the Middlesex Academy for STEM majoring in Electrical Engineering. He is a 2022 Governor’s STEM Scholar and passionate STEM student who hopes to further pursue Electrical Engineering.
Tamara Kasikovic is a junior at Old Bridge High School, a 2022 Governor's STEM Scholar, a previous NASA intern, and a prospective computer science major.