The Yamhill County board of commissioners rescinded its likely-unlawful policy Thursday that kept some teens from getting vaccinated without a parent or guardian’s consent, before taking up a replacement policy, which may not be legal, either.
The original policy prohibited minors over the age of 15 from getting a COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent. Shortly after the policy went into effect last week, the Oregon Health Authority clarified that any such policy would be a direct violation of an Oregon law that recognizes those age 15 and older as “mature minors” who can make their own medical decisions without parental consent.
Rescinding the policy was a legal necessity.
”Our meeting adjourned at two o’clock last Thursday, and at 5 p.m. OHA had turned around and issued new updated guidance, presumably in response to what we had discussed,” Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer said during the meeting. She co-sponsored the original policy. “We don’t want to put our public health department at odds with this new directive coming from OHA”
But Berschauer and fellow commissioner Mary Starrett, who was a proponent of the original parental-consent policy, expressed continued concern about older teenagers receiving the vaccine without their parents’ knowledge.
”I propose that we have a new internal directive that we proactively find parents and let them know that the 15- to 17-year-olds received a vaccine from us,” Berschauer said.
There is, Berschauer said, a loophole. “It appears as a public health entity, and we have providers — we are considered a provider, if you will — we have the option and the choice to be proactive about informing parents.”
Starrett and Berschauer are both concerned about recent cases of myocarditis and pericarditis that have been diagnosed in young adults and older teenagers. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart, and pericarditis is inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. Cases of both have been reported in young adults or teenagers after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
But contrary to Berschauer and Starrett’s testimony, these cases remain extremely rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC advises that adults and children that are qualified get vaccinated, citing the risks associated with COVID-19 infection.
The law Yamhill County ran afoul of guarantees minors older than 15 the right to medical care, regardless of parental consent. The new proposal is based on another part of the same law, which guarantees health care providers the choice to notify parents that care had been provided.
Berschauer argued that the Yamhill County public health authority was a provider, and as such, could issue an internal directive requiring notification. The board delayed the vote until next week, when the county medical director and head of Yamhill County Health and Human Services will be able to weigh in.
“The statute speaks to the right of the provider,” said Yamhill County Counsel Christian Boenisch. “And our provider decisions flow from our county health officer.”
Others, like Berschauer, were unhappy with the delay. “Our children are receiving these vaccinations as they speak, so I feel like this is important enough that we get this figured out soon.” She suggested the board continue to discuss the issue and perhaps make the decision sooner.
The new proposal was also met with confusion, since state law already gives providers the option of notifying parents, County Commissioner Casey Kulla said.
“Bottom line: providers already have [the state law] and should not have us trying to tell them what to do,” said Kulla, who opposed his colleagues’ push to involve parents in minors’ decisions around COVID-19 vaccinations.
By the time the board of commissioners takes up a decision next week, it may be moot: According to the Oregon Health Authority, local public health authorities do not count as providers, and as such, can’t require their employees to notify parents.
The commissioners also passed a resolution opposing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s current vaccine policy, which gives businesses and other places people gather the choice to allow patrons to remove their masks if they provide proof of vaccination.