legislation

NY Senate Proposal Gives Teens Agency in Vaccine Decisions

Public health officials and advocates have long decried studies which link vaccines and autism. For background on the troubling impacts that vaccine conspiracies have on children’s health, see CHIL’s blog post from last month. Recently in New York, one student with measles infected at least 21 others with the disease, reigniting vaccine campaigns. Advocates have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and discrediting the arguments of their anti-vaccination opponents.

Moreover, relevant industries beyond the field of public health are getting involved. Amazon, for example, is halting the sale of books which back autism cures and falsehoods about vaccines. New York lawmakers, too, are getting involved by proposing a bill which would allow teenagers to obtain vaccinations without parental consent.

If passed, the legislation would stipulate that minors over 14 years old may be given vaccines and boosters for prevention of diseases like mumps, diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis B, and more. Proponents say at 14, teens are mature enough to make vaccination decisions for themselves and may even be better at identifying vaccines misinformation often circulated on online platforms. This is an important measure for minors with parents prejudiced against vaccines, and also for those without active adult figures in their lives.

While supporters recognize parents have certain authority over decisions impacting their children’s health care, the decision to get vaccinated extends beyond an individual child’s health. That is, unvaccinated children put both themselves and others in their communities at risk for infection. Those ineligible for vaccines due to special medical circumstances become particularly vulnerable when more and more people around them remain unvaccinated by choice. Proposals like this one utilize our legal system to prioritize broader public health goals for people of all ages.

California makes restaurant kids’ meals healthier, puts children’s health first

On Tuesday, California became the first state to pass explicit legislation holding restaurants more accountable for children’s health. The new law, referred to as the “healthy kids’ meal bill,” requires that restaurants include healthy beverages like milk or water as the default with their kids’ meals. Though children or their accompanying adult(s) may still request to substitute the child’s default drink with a more sugary alternative like juice or soda, policymakers hope this menu change will reduce kids’ consumption of unhealthy drinks at restaurants. This change comes after six top chain restaurants—including Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Dairy Queen—already have taken soda off their kids’ menus altogether.

This kind of legislation had started in several California localities before becoming state law. Right now, other cities like New York City, Baltimore, and Louisville are considering implementing a similar bill. California’s precedent sends an important message to beverage industries, which have previously lobbied against public health measures that potentially threaten sales: “the movement to address sugary drink consumption and protect public health marches forward,” the Center for Science and Public Interest reports.

 

The notion that requiring “opting-out” of a default healthier choice will lead to more of its use than requiring “opting-in” is not new. In fact, behavioral economists have long studied this type of subtle nudging, and it already exists in many legislations around us. For example, schools expect enrollees to have received certain immunizations before the start of classes. Of course, students can receive exemptions from this stipulation, but if these immunizations were optional altogether, then schools would see many fewer students getting their shots than they do under the current “opting-out” scheme.

California’s new policy shows the state’s commitment to improving children’s health. If previous “opting-out” laws are any indication, their “healthy kids’ meal bill” will be able to reduce aggregate sugary drink consumption, while still ultimately preserving consumer choice. This is only one small step toward encouraging healthier diets for kids, but it is a step forward nonetheless.