Doctors supporting B.C. teens secretly seeking COVID-19 vaccines

Metro Vancouver doctors are fielding vaccine questions from anxious teens, some of whom go on to get COVID-19 shots without their parents’ knowledge or approval.

Whether their parents are a little vaccine hesitant or staunchly anti-vax, children as young as 12 years old are approaching doctors for information on how to get vaccinated, some voicing concerns about being found out even though physicians aren’t obligated to notify parents of medical advice or treatment given to minors.

"They've asked where to get them, they’ve asked whether it leaves a tell-tale scar,” said Dr. Eric Cadesky. “When I hear stories like that, it really makes me confident that the future is going to be a lot better than the present in terms of these young men and women growing up to be our leaders and how thoughtful they are, but also how hesitant they are and how conflicted they are thinking their parents may not approve of something that we know is in their best interest, and ultimately in their parents' best interest as well."

Several doctors told CTV News they’ve had patients younger than 18 asking questions, and the physician lead for Fraser North’s vaccine clinics has seen a number of unaccompanied minors among the recipients of the thousands of COVID-19 shots she’s administered.

"Most of those teenagers have been coming with a parent or older sibling, however we have some teenagers that come alone and we treat them like an adult, we treat them like an independent person,” said Dr. Carolyn Shiau. “As a physician, we would be assessing the client, even at a young age, to say, ‘Do you understand why you're doing this? Do you understand what this is for?’ And we would go through the same discussion of potential side effects and long-term consequences.”

Youngsters they deem capable can go ahead and get their shot, with their parents none the wiser.

MATURE MINOR CONSENT AND PRIVACY

In British Columbia, there’s no legal requirement to inform parents their underage child is seeking a vaccine or any other medical advice under the Mature Minor Consent provision.

“The immunization records of any child who gives their own consent will not be shared with the parent or guardian, unless the child gives permission,” reads an explainer on HealthLinkBC.

The province’s top doctor supported the policy the day she announced children 12 years and older were eligible for vaccination.

“Physicians are very good at assessing and talking to youth so we'll make sure that resources are available in all of the clinics to assess if a youth, young person comes in by themselves, to make sure that they understand the implications and can consent for receiving vaccinations,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry on May 20. “You don’t need to have a parent's consent, you don't need to have a signed consent form."

The Ministry of Health says by June 1, 62,052 people aged 12 to 17 had received a first dose, representing 20 per cent of that age cohort. Another 172,703 were registered.

ONLINE MISINFORMATION CONTRIBUTING TO GENERATIONAL RIFT

While a small percentage of the population is anti-vax and would never get a vaccine, Cadesky believes misinformation on social media is contributing to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among some parents, but is dismissed by savvy youngsters.

“They understand that it's safe and they understand that it's effective. Unfortunately some of them are in families where the parents have been persuaded by disinformation,” he said. “We have anti-vaccine groups, we have disinformation groups, we have other bad actor states that are profiting by spreading bad information similar to what we saw before this pandemic when there were outbreaks of measles and rubella and there were people not wanting to vaccinate their children due to bad information that was out there."

For parents who might be irked that they can be left in the dark, Shiau emphasized the fact doctors, nurses and pharmacists alike take their duty to do no harm seriously, and are all obligated to provide medical advice with full confidentiality to minors they determine understand the pros, cons and potential side effects of any treatment or advice.

While she advocates for health dialogue between family members, she also points out teens are often more well-informed and mature than parents might think, and has seen 12-year-olds well-informed and keen to be vaccinated and do their part to help end the pandemic and return to life as normal.

“We know our kids are very smart these days, they're very savvy,” said Shiau “I would say that most of those kids are smart enough to make a choice that is good for them and a parent should be very proud to see a child do that on their own."