NOTE: As introduced, SB15 would have added new lawsuit opportunities against pediatricians and pediatric practices into the vaccine passport law. The Medical Association worked successfully with the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others to stop that. However, attempts to resolve the vaccine passport law’s broad language currently applying to all vaccinations – including childhood vaccinations – were unsuccessful. That issue will have to be resolved at some point in the future. Other than the new parental consent requirement detailed below for a minor to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine passport law’s effect on pediatric practices remains unchanged.
During the recent Special Legislative Session, the State Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Senate Bill 15 (“SB15”), which effectively requires written consent from a parent or legal guardian before administration of a COVID-19 vaccine to a minor. Prior to enactment of SB 15, Alabama’s general consent law for minors provided that:
“Any minor who is 14 years of age or older, or has graduated from high school, or is married, or having been married is divorced or is pregnant may give effective consent to any legally authorized medical, dental, health or mental health services for himself or herself, and the consent of no other person shall be necessary.” Ala. Code §22-8-4 (1975).
However, during the Special Session, the Legislature created an exception to §22-8-4 in the text of SB15 by using the phrase “Notwithstanding section 22-8-4, Code of Alabama 1975…” prior to the new requirement for written parental consent. Thus, any minor who meets the conditions of §22-8-4 and is allowed to seek medical treatment on his or her own may still do so, EXCEPT when seeking a COVID-19 vaccine, which will now require parental consent.
Physicians who are unfamiliar with §22-8-4 should note that while this statute allows a minor who meets one of the above-stated conditions to consent for medical treatment without the additional consent of a parent, it does not prohibit a parent or legal guardian of a minor who meets one of these conditions from being able to consent on behalf of the minor. Therefore, SB15 does not create a situation where physicians must obtain consent from one party for a COVID-19 vaccine and another party for all other treatment.
However, the Legislature did not address within the text of SB15 another less-used consent statute for minors:
“Any minor who is married, or having been married is divorced or has borne a child may give effective consent to any legally authorized medical, dental, health or mental health services for himself or his child or for herself or her child.” Ala. Code §22-8-5 (1975).
Section 22-8-5 duplicates some of the conditions from §22-8-4, but also provides a distinctly separate condition, allowing any minor who has “borne a child” to not only give effective consent to medical treatment for herself, but also for her child. While the number of minors who have a child old enough to safely receive a COVID-19 vaccine is likely low at this time, this could change if vaccines are approved for use in children under the age of 5. Nevertheless, written consent from a minor for a COVID-19 vaccine for her own child would be in compliance with SB15 as it is written. The situation left unresolved by SB15 is whether a minor who has borne a child can seek a COVID-19 vaccination without the written consent of her parent. Physicians should consider on a case by case basis the circumstances of a minor who meets this condition and is seeking a COVID-19 vaccine.
SB15 provides a penalty for non-compliance within the act, allowing the Attorney General to seek an injunction to stop “a threatened or continuing violation of this section.” Physicians should consider a standard written consent form for COVID-19 vaccinations for minors and should fully document the circumstances of any judgment calls presented by §22-8-5, to avoid an injunction from the State.
By Brandy Boone, General Counsel
Medical Association of the State of Alabama