The PA legislature must pass HB1818


Nicolas Montero

As a 16-year-old resident of Pennsylvania unable to get vaccinated without my parents’ consent, I’m extremely concerned about contracting COVID-19 and contributing to the spread of this virus to vulnerable communities. I firmly believe that teenagers should be able to get immunized without approval from their parents or guardians.

Like many Pennsylvanians, I’m worried about contracting COVID-19. I often think of my Abuela, who I don’t want to be among the more than 700,000 Americans who have lost their lives to this virus. I think about the long-term side effects I could face should I develop this virus. That’s why I want to get the vaccine. But because of antiquated Pennsylvania laws and my parents’ misconstrued judgment, I’m left unprotected and vulnerable. I must be able to make this decision myself.

Throughout the pandemic, my parents, like many others across the country, have fallen victim to the plethora of misinformation that’s been circulated across social media and right-wing news outlets. This has caused them to believe illogical conspiracy theories about the vaccine, leading to not only refusing the shot for themselves but also refusing to let me get vaccinated. 

My parents’ concern for my health and safety has been manipulated and conformed into something that can only harm me, an anti-vaccine ideology in the middle of a pandemic, leaving me to question if I will eventually become one of the 700,000+ Americans who have lost their lives to this now preventable disease or if my potential for being infected with Covid will be the cause of someone else getting the virus and becoming a part of the morbid statistic.

I believe this is wrong, and something needs to be done. Some members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly agree with me. 

State Sen. Amanda M. Cappelletti and Rep. Dan Frankel have each introduced legislation that would allow for all Pennsylvania residents 14 and older to consent to receive immunizations recommended by the United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. If you think that age is too young for teens to make important health decisions, look at certain laws currently in place in the commonwealth.

In Pennsylvania, minors are already empowered to consent to certain medical treatments. Teenagers can consent to receive treatment for sexually transmitted infections without parental consent, and those 14 and older can consent to receive their own mental health treatment. Under federal regulations, minors can receive contraceptive care without parental consent.

     And in Philadelphia, kids as young as 11 are permitted to consent to vaccinations. Unsurprisingly, Philadelphia is exceeding national vaccination rates for key adolescent immunizations. 

With Pennsylvania’s largest city exceeding national vaccination rates for key adolescent immunizations, our legislators should not hesitate in preparing our entire state to follow in its footsteps.

The vaccination rates for teenagers in Pennsylvania are relatively low, with only 18-38% of minors being fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Between mid-July and Aug 28th, Covid-19 cases among Pennsylvanian children up to 17 years old rose by 277%. 

This alone should raise concern for our legislators, as the lifestyle of teenagers puts us at a higher risk for exposure to Covid-19. We learn in crowded classrooms, participate in sports that put us in close contact with other people and we are more likely to fill jobs with high exposure to the public. 

The politicization of public health has built a disgraceful momentum in American politics, prompting many politicians to use a parents’ love to their political advantage.  

This process is cynical and has led me and many other American teenagers stranded in the middle of a pandemic, hopeless in the pursuit of getting vaccinated against a now preventable disease. 

It didn’t always work this way. In 2004, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to pass the bill that allowed minors to consent to mental health treatment. It simply wasn’t a partisan issue. 

Now, we are seeing politicians, especially in Pennsylvania, rail against vaccine mandates because all of a sudden they believe a person should have the right to choose what they do with their own body. That’s where we agree because I believe I should have that right as well, even at 16.

I want Pennsylvanians to understand what these politicians are doing is nothing short of political theater. They are abandoning their sacred duty to govern by choosing to play politics with people’s lives. The lives of literal teenagers have become political pawns in the hands of Pennsylvania’s GOP. 

This is where we are right now, America, and we are at a crucial point in politics where nothing is off-limits, not my rights, not yours.

While I strongly disagree with my parent’s decision not to let me get vaccinated, I sympathize with them. They’re victims of misinformation that has been pushed by these politicians and big influencers across the country.

However, as a person now old enough to get behind the wheel of a car and as a person old enough to make my own health decisions in certain situations, I believe I should be able to get this vaccine. That’s why legislation to enable that change should become law.

With the pandemic continuing to destroy lives and even our way of life, we must assess all options to defeat it. Something I have learned from this pandemic is that if we want to thwart this virus, then we must work as a team, we must work as communities that value each other’s existence, and for this reason, we must all get vaccinated. 

Call your state representatives and urge them to vote for HB1818. The time is now to let our teens get vaccinated. Lives are on the line in Pennsylvania.