TORONTO - Ontarians are eager for life to get back to normal. Some enjoyed the warm weather and over the Victoria Day long weekend celebrating the unofficial start of the summer. For thousands of others, including children as young as twelve, it meant standing outside vaccine clinics waiting to get their shot.
On Friday, the Province of Ontario moved up the date for vaccine eligibility, by one week, to anyone over the age of twelve. Initially, May 31 was the date at which point people aged 12-17 could book their vaccine appointment.
However, some public health units in the province, such as Peel, Toronto and York have already been vaccinating youth in that age group. For instance, on May 20, Peel Region expanded vaccine eligibility to individuals over the age of twelve.
The message following the Region of Peel’s announcement raised some eyebrows. Peel informed the community, via Twitter, of an update regarding information around vaccination consent. It stated: “Youth aged 12+ can consent to immunization on their own behalf provided they understand the benefits and risks of vaccination.” (see the tweet above)
The latest “update” over the consent for vaccination raises the question over who has the authority to act on a child’s behalf. At the moment, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and Health Canada for use in adolescents aged twelve and up.
In a school setting, a parent/guardian must sign a consent form for their child to attend a field trip. The same holds true in regards to student immunizations for vaccines like Hepatitis B, Meningococcal and HPV. Individuals 13 years and younger require the signature of a parent or legal guardian. Why then, would a minor, at the age of 12, be authorized to self-consent to a Covid-19 vaccine?
According to an email response from Peel Public Health (PPH), the Covid-19 vaccination taking place in vaccine clinics “has different logistics and required a different consent process to minimize barriers to vaccination.”
In this case, it was a team of public health doctors, nurses and legal council who developed the policy which was released late last week. A spokesperson from PPH stated, “a Covid-19 vaccine (Pfizer only) may be administered to a child aged 12 to 15 years if they provide informed consent to receive it and have the capacity to make the decision. This is consistent with legal allowances in the Health Care Consent Act”.
Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act does not indicate a minimum age for a minor to provide consent for vaccination.
Any minor providing informed consent to the vaccine is stating they understand the nature of treatment, why it is being recommended, and the benefits and risks of choosing to accept or refuse the vaccine. Only in the event the minor is incapable of providing informed consent themselves to receive the vaccine is the child’s parent or legal guardian required to provide consent.
Families across the province are desperate for life to return to some sort of normal. According to the Provincial Roadmap to Reopen, a key component to that goal is vaccination rates, in addition to declining hospitalizations, ICU admissions, cases rate and percent positivity.
Only when approximately 70-80% of Ontario adults have received at least the first dose and 25% are fully vaccinated will life resemble something closer to a pre-Covid environment.
As of May 23, numbers released by the Ministry of Ontario show health officials administered over 8 million doses. Only 3.7% of Ontario adults are fully vaccinated.