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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Clark County Council Chair Quiring O’Brien pushes for extra barriers to vaccination for those 12 to 15

By , Columbian staff writer

Early in Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting, there was discussion about rising rates of COVID-19 among young adults and adolescents in Washington.

By the end of the meeting, three of the five board members, who are Clark County councilors, were pushing to create greater barriers to COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 12 to 15.

Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said she does not believe vaccinations should be offered at schools, and referred to the clinically tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines as “experimental.”

Quiring O’Brien, who has previously criticized masking and COVID-19 restrictions, was joined by Councilors Gary Medvigy and Karen Bowerman in saying that they would like to explore whether the Clark County Board of Health has the legal authority to require some form of guardianship verification before children ages 12 to 15 can be vaccinated.

Earlier this month, federal regulators gave Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorization for those ages 12 to 15. Moderna’s vaccine will likely get similar authorization soon, and COVID-19 vaccine could be available to those 2 and older by the fall, in an effort to protect kids and staff at school, and their parents at home.

The councilors discussed requiring a parent or guardian’s identification or parental documentation when a child 12 to 15 is going to get vaccinated.

Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said identification does not prove guardianship, and was unsure if the councilors were suggesting people show birth certificates or adoption papers.

Even more important, Melnick said, producing paperwork is a major barrier to people getting vaccinated, particularly immigrants and people of color.

“The ID itself, as well as documentation that actually proves somebody is someone’s child, is a quite a barrier to getting vaccinated,” Melnick said.

As Clark County Public Health Public Information Officer Marissa Armstrong confirmed in a phone call after the meeting, “Minors are getting vaccinated at our sites with the consent of their parents.”

There have been no issues with random adults taking kids to get vaccinated, even though the councilors’ questions and concerns raised at the meeting implied it was a problem or potential problem.

“Any older-looking person can’t just show up and scribble down a signature and get a child vaccinated,” Melnick said.

At county-run vaccination sites, such as Tower Mall in Vancouver and other short-term pods at local schools, a parent or legal guardian is required to attend the vaccination for those 12 to 15 years old. Those who are 16 and 17 can bring a parental consent form signed by their parent.

Local health care providers are following similar protocol.

Quiring O’Brien said she’s heard of school sports teams requiring vaccinations, and theorized that those requirements could cause kids to seek vaccinations without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

“I can picture a child who wants to play on a sports team wanting the shot so that they can play,” Quiring O’Brien said.

Melnick said, “I’m not aware of a situation where a child between the ages of 12 to 15 is this motivated to get vaccinated without their parent’s approval.”

Quiring O’Brien also denounced Ridgefield High School’s vaccination pod on Wednesday, which was organized by students.

“People are extremely concerned about the pods being held at schools and this one at Ridgefield High School, where they have students encouraging other students to get vaccinations, I do not think it is a good idea. It is a bad idea,” she said.

In support of the increased requirements for vaccinating kids, Quiring O’Brien mentioned that a lawsuit was recently filed in an Alabama court by America’s Frontline Doctors that would block emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds. She did not mention that America’s Frontline Doctors is a group that has consistently spread misinformation about vaccines, and that its founder, Simone Gold, was indicted in February for taking part in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Quiring O’Brien said she recently visited a vaccine pod at Hathaway Elementary School in Washougal. She said she became concerned because walk-in customers weren’t directly handed a form about vaccine emergency use authorization, the authorization process and vaccine risk.

Melnick said the form is given electronically to those who register online, and copies are available onsite for people to read. Melnick said staff can start directly handing the forms to people.

“People are repeatedly asked about any questions or concerns they have and they are informed about the vaccine by medical professionals at least a couple steps along the line,” Melnick said.

ID seen as barrier

Quiring O’Brien said she wants to “require that a parent show their ID and sign a form for their child to get an inoculation.”

When the county opened its Tower Mall site, local chapters of the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington told Melnick and Gov. Jay Inslee, who was visiting the site, about how detrimental documentation requirements would be for people of color.

Stories have been written about how such protocols are discriminatory and create greater barriers to access for people of color, who die of COVID-19 at higher rates than white people.

Despite that evidence, Bowerman said she had never heard of identification being a barrier to vaccination.

“I would like some verification of that being a problem,” Bowerman said. “I guess I’m just not familiar with having an ID being a problem.”

Data shows that the pods, which have administered thousands of doses, have helped bring better vaccine equity to the county.

“The reason we are not asking for IDs, and we haven’t been since we’ve been doing the pods, is that asking for identification for some populations, particularly BIPOC populations, provides a barrier to folks who want to be vaccinated, including populations who really need to be vaccinated,” Melnick said.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Melnick explained that vaccinating children and teens is important and safe. He said one out of every three kids hospitalized for COVID-19 ends up in intensive care.

He also said children can spread the virus, and vaccinating them is a step toward better protecting everyone.

Quiring O’Brien suggested Melnick was changing the subject.

“Dr. Melnick, what this tells me is you’re resisting it because you go to a different subject,” Quiring O’Brien said. “I really wish that you would consent to having parents give their permission to this experimental vaccine.”

Melnick pushed back, saying that the vaccine was safe to get.

“We’re getting parental consent, and, Chair O’Brien, it’s not an experimental vaccine,” Melnick said. “These vaccines have gone through extensive clinical trials. We are not experimenting on them.”

Columbian staff writer