FRIENDSHIP, Maine — Parents in several Maine towns and across the country have expressed concerns about their kids getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a school-based clinic without the consent of a parent or guardian.
A viewer in RSU 40 asked NEWS CENTER Maine to look into this, claiming more than 20 families kept their kids out of school on November 12, the day of a vaccine clinic at Friendship Village School, because they were worried the school would give the kids the shot without a parent's or guardian's permission.
Can kids get the COVID-19 vaccine at a school-based clinic without their parent's permission?
- Maine Department of Education
- Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- Friendship Village School Principal Terry Steinbeiser
No, kids cannot get vaccinated without a parent or guardian's consent.
WHAT WE FOUND:
According to the Maine CDC website, a vaccinator (the person giving the shot), must receive consent from a parent or legal guardian for kids under 18 to get the vaccine.
There are two options:
Option 1: The first option for consent is by phone with a witness listening on the phone line as arranged by the vaccination site. Telephone registration staff can write “verbal consent obtained” on the guardian/parent signature line followed by their signature. And a witness can write “witnessed personally” followed by their signature.
Option 2: The second option is to provide consent on paper or electronically. Each vaccination site has a consent form. Such consent forms can be mailed in advance to vaccination sites, emailed to vaccination sites, or brought to sites at the time of registration.
Most of the school-based vaccine clinics, including the ones that administer the COVID-19 vaccine, are through a partnership between the Maine DOE, a hospital system, such as MaineHealth, and the school district.
A MaineHealth spokesperson issued a statement about the Friendship Village School clinic:
I can confirm that MaineHealth does not vaccinate children without parental consent, and that consent forms were used at the school clinic in Friendship.
The Maine DOE also issued a statement, referencing the misinterpretation of a World Health Organization document, that includes two key passages regarding consent to a vaccine at school.
In addition to verbal or written consent, the document includes this excerpt about implied consent:
An implied consent process by which parents are informed of imminent vaccination through social mobilization and communication, sometimes including letters directly addressed to the parents. Subsequently, the physical presence of the child or adolescent, with or without an accompanying parent at the vaccination session, is considered to imply consent. This practice is based on the opt-out principle and parents who do not consent to vaccination are expected implicitly to take steps to ensure that their child or adolescent does not participate in the vaccination session. This may include not letting the child or adolescent attend school on a vaccination day if vaccine delivery occurs through schools.
In a legal sense, school or local welfare or other community authorities do not have the capacity to consent to medical interventions on behalf of the children in their care.
The Maine Department of Education issued the following statement:
We are proud of Maine schools, who have worked tirelessly for nearly two years to provide for safe, in-person learning for their students, and who have partnered with local health providers to ensure there is equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for all families who wish to have their student receive it. Schools and healthcare organizations have long worked in partnership with one another and the families they serve on health-related issues, whether it is vision screening or flu clinics. While it is disappointing that the WHO document has been misconstrued to cause fear amongst parents nationwide, it is also an opportunity for schools to authentically teach the critically important skills of fully vetting and critically analyzing information in order to draw informed conclusions.
So what happened at the school in Friendship?
Principal Steinbeiser said 35 of the 82 total students were absent on November 12, the day of the clinic, which was also the day after Veterans Day. She said nine students got the vaccine that day.
We do not know exactly what each family's reason was for being absent, but the principal said she heard directly from parents who were concerned about their kids being vaccinated against their will.
"Most of them called in for their child's absence, but they just said it was due to the vaccination clinic," Steinbeiser said. "Some parents were a little more specific that they didn't believe it was a school's job to have a vaccination clinic within a school."
She sent a note home to families that noted that no child will be vaccinated without parents' permission.
"That just will not happen. We are doing everything we can to keep kids safe here at school," she said.