Adolescent Consent for Human Papillomavirus Vaccine: Ethical, Legal, and Practical Considerations

Journal of Pediatrics
Volume 231 p1-304


Adolescent Consent for Human Papillomavirus Vaccine: Ethical, Legal, and Practical Considerations
Gregory D. Zimet, Ross D. Silverman, Robert A. Bednarczyk, Abigail English
Published online: January 20, 2021
We address ethical, legal, and practical issues related to adolescent self-consent for human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. HPV vaccination coverage continues to lag well behind the national goal of 80% series completion. Structural and behavioral interventions have improved vaccination rates, but attitudinal, behavioral, and access barriers remain. A potential approach for increasing access and improving vaccination coverage would be to permit adolescents to consent to HPV vaccination for themselves. We argue that adolescent self-consent is ethical, but that there are legal hurdles to be overcome in many states. In jurisdictions where self-consent is legal, there can still be barriers due to lack of awareness of the policy among healthcare providers and adolescents. Other barriers to implementation of self-consent include resistance from antivaccine and parent rights activists, reluctance of providers to agree to vaccinate even when self-consent is legally supported, and threats to confidentiality. Confidentiality can be undermined when an adolescent’s self-consented HPV vaccination appears in an explanation of benefits communication sent to a parent or if a parent accesses an adolescent’s vaccination record via state immunization information systems. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a substantial drop in HPV vaccination, there may be even more reason to consider self-consent. The atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust surrounding future COVID-19 vaccines underscores the need for any vaccine policy change to be pursued with clear communication and consistent with ethical principles.