Fact-checking claim about children and COVID-19 vaccines at school

Posted November 24, 2021 5:11 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2021 4:48 p.m. EST

Now that the U.S. has authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11, children across the country are getting vaccinated. But some people are claiming that schools can vaccinate kids without their parents’ consent.

In a video by Infowars, a far-right conspiracy oriented website, host Harrison Smith said that by sending their kids to school, parents are giving schools "implied consent" to vaccinate their kids for COVID-19.

"They might send out a consent form and try to get you to sign it for your child," he said in the video. "But even if you don’t sign it, you should know that sending your child to school that day is implied consent."

TikTok identified videos with similar claims as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)

Smith cited a World Health Organization document that discussed implied consent for vaccinating kids. That’s a real document that describes three types of informed consent — written, verbal and implied — for kids to get vaccinated.

For implied consent, the document says that parents are notified of upcoming vaccinations for their kids and that the presence of their kids at a vaccination session "is considered to imply consent." It says parents are expected to take steps — like not allowing their kids to go to school on a vaccination day — if they don’t want their kids to be vaccinated.

But the Infowars video takes that WHO document out of context. For starters, the document is from 2014, long before the COVID-19 pandemic. It also isn’t meant to serve as binding rules for the world as the Infowars video suggests. Instead, it gives countries and states guidelines to consider when developing their own parental consent requirements. So WHO isn’t making the rules. Countries and states are.

In the U.S., there’s no federal requirement for informed consent relating to vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But all of the states and Washington, D.C., have rules for parental consent for kids to get vaccinated.

States do not use implied consent for vaccinations, said Stacey Lee, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University.

"Implied consent is usually used for emergency-type situations, well-grounded in the U.S. value that we respect life, and that if you’re unconscious, you would want to live," said Lee.

For vaccinations, states typically require that parents actively consent before their minor children can be immunized. Such consent requirements usually take the form of the parent providing verbal or written permission, though there are exceptions — for children who have been emancipated or who don’t live with a parent or guardian, for example. The age of consent for vaccinations varies by state, though most states put it at 18, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law this year a requirement that healthcare providers obtain written consent from a child's parent before administering a vaccine that hasn't been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In Wyoming, "written parental consent is always required," a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health told PolitiFact in an email. "There is nothing like ‘implied consent’ here." Kids under 18 in Wyoming need consent from at least one parent to get vaccinated, with some exceptions.

In New York, parental consent for kids 16 and 17 can be given in person, over the phone and sometimes in a written statement. For kids 5-15, an adult caregiver also should be present for the vaccination. Implied consent is not an option.

"Parents in New York State are not giving schools implied consent to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 by sending their children to school," a spokesperson for the New York Department of Health told PolitiFact in an email.

While most states — including Wyoming and New York — require parental consent for kids under 18 to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a handful of states plus Washington, D.C., have variations on that requirement.

A few states, such as Washington, adopted what is known as "the mature minor doctrine," which allows providers to waive parental consent for minors deemed sufficiently mature. Others, like Oregon, have lower consent ages, from 14 to 16, while Nebraska puts it at 19. In Washington, D.C., the age of consent for vaccines is 11.

There have been rare occasions when states haven’t adhered to their own parental consent requirements for vaccines. Louisiana requires parental consent for kids under 18 and has a COVID-19 vaccination consent form for parents to sign. But in late October, a Louisiana parent said her 16-year-old son was vaccinated without her consent at his school, where there was a mobile vaccination clinic. The clinic operator, Ochsner Health System, apologized and told the son’s school system that it was investigating the incident.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: False

The Infowars video cites a WHO document about parental consent to argue that U.S. schools are using implied parental consent to give kids COVID-19 vaccines.

The 2014 WHO document is guidance, not binding law. Countries, states and cities make the rules. And in the U.S., no states use implied consent for vaccinating kids.

We rate the video’s claim False.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.