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Tennessee Vaccine Law: Balancing Parental Rights with Public Health

Gayle Borne has fostered more than 300 children in Springfield, Tennessee. She's cared for kids who have rarely seen a doctor — kids so neglected that they cannot speak. Such children are now even more vulnerable because of a law Tennessee passed last year that requires the direct consent of birth parents or legal guardians for every routine childhood vaccination. Foster parents, social workers, and other caregivers cannot provide permission.

In January, Borne took a foster baby, born extremely premature at just over 2 pounds, to her first doctor's appointment. The providers said that without the consent of the child's mother, they couldn't vaccinate her against diseases like pneumonia, hepatitis B, and polio. The mother hasn't been located, so a social worker is now seeking a court order to permit immunizations. “We are just waiting,” Borne said. “Our hands are tied.”

Tennessee's law has also stymied grandmothers and other caregivers who accompany children to routine appointments when parents are at work, in drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics, or otherwise unavailable. The law claims to “give parents back the right to make medical decisions for their children.”

Framed in the rhetoric of choice and consent, it is one of more than a dozen recent and pending pieces of legislation nationwide that pit parental freedom against community and children's health. In actuality, they create obstacles to vaccination, the foundation of pediatric care.

Such policies have another effect. They seed doubt about vaccine safety in a climate rife with medical misinformation. The trend has exploded as politicians and social media influencers make false claims about risks, despite studies showing otherwise.

Doctors traditionally give caregivers vaccine information and get their permission before delivering more than a dozen childhood immunizations that defend against measles, polio, and other debilitating diseases.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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