Now that the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer -BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, expect a wave of Covid-19 vaccine mandates for children. San Francisco announced last week that the city will require children in that age group to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, sporting events, swimming pools and more. New York’s School of American Ballet informed parents via email on Nov. 4 that all students—the school enrolls children as young as 6—must receive a Covid vaccine by January.
While parents may choose to vaccinate their own children, these mandates are unethical and unlawful. Advocates of mandating Covid vaccines equate them with standard childhood shots against polio, chickenpox, TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). But those decades-old vaccines have gone through the full FDA testing regime. The Covid vaccine has received only emergency-use authorization for this age group, meaning its safety and efficacy have not yet been established to the FDA’s satisfaction.
The Covid-19 vaccines are too new to have been studied for long-term effects. There are no studies of whether it is safe to vaccinate children who have recovered from Covid-19. Many states don’t require vaccinating children against diseases they have already had, like measles or chickenpox, because they acquire natural immunity. Why should Covid be any different?
The emergency-use authorization of the Covid vaccine also creates a legal distinction. Federal law requires, among other things, that potential recipients of EUA products be informed “of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks.”
Put plainly, this means that patients—in this case children—may not be forced, coerced or pressured into taking EUA products and are entitled by law to refuse them. Another statute authorizes the president to require members of the armed services to take EUA products, and President Biden has invoked this power to require Covid vaccination. No law authorizes such mandates outside the military. Conditioning access to education and participation in public life on treatment with an unapproved vaccine is the antithesis of free and informed consent and is therefore unlawful. Private institutions that force an EUA drug on children could face lawsuits.
A new statute permitting mandates for EUA products would be unconstitutional as well. Children have a right to bodily autonomy and to refuse unnecessary medical treatment, which their parents exercise on their behalf. The government can’t conscript them as guinea pigs or vessels to protect adults. Young children face virtually no risk from Covid-19 and the mandates mainly serve to assuage adult fear. Young children rarely infect adults, who in any event have had access to vaccines for many months. And children pose no threat to anyone if they have natural immunity.
Children’s rights and needs have taken a back seat during the past 18 months. Let’s not make forced vaccination of young children, which is unconstitutional and illegal under federal law, the next way in which we disregard their interests to mollify adults’ irrational fears.