Can My Newborn Be Vaccinated Without My Permission?
When born in a hospital, a baby is routinely given a hepatitis B shot, a vitamin K injection and an application of ointment in the eyes. In all states, a parent can refuse these treatments. It is best to use a waiver signed ahead of time and submitted to the hospital.
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages healthcare providers to seek the informed permission of the parents before providing any immunization.
Be Clear in Your Birth Plan
A waiver of immunization and other treatments should be part of your birth plan, signed, notarized and submitted to the hospital well in advance of the expected delivery date. Bring an additional copy with you when you head to the hospital. Even women planning on a home birth should complete a waiver and have it handy, just in case they need to have their babies in the hospital rather than at home.
The doctors and nurses present at the birth should be informed of your desire to waive routine newborn treatments – and watch them carefully. After all, it can be hard for an established professional to break a standard routine. Make sure someone is monitoring the newborn in the hospital at all times to make sure no treatment is given. You can insist on keeping the baby in the room with you.
Can You Sue If Your Waiver Is Ignored?
If the waived treatments were given by mistake rather than on purpose, you still could have a valid lawsuit. To sue successfully for medical malpractice, you must prove that the treatment failed to meet the standard of reasonable medical care that doctors are held to, and that your newborn suffered injury or damage. Of course, you must also prove causation – that the treatment caused the damage.
Alternatively, parents who want treatment of their newborn can sue for medical malpractice if the hospital fails to immunize a child who later becomes sick. Many pediatricians will refuse to see children whose parents do not allow immunization.
Refer to State Laws on Childhood Immunization
No federal laws mandate vaccination of children, although the federal government does oversee the safety of vaccines. State laws mainly address vaccine requirements for children entering daycare centers or schools, but states often refer to these requirements when a lawsuit involves newborns.
In all states, you can waive the vaccination requirement for school-age children for medical reasons. All states other than Mississippi and West Virginia allow you to waive this requirement for religious reasons.
Twenty states allow you to waive vaccination requirements for personal or philosophical reasons. These states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. (In Missouri, the exemption applies only to daycare, preschools and nursery schools.)
Many private schools honor vaccine waivers, although they are not legally required to do so and will accept an unvaccinated child. Home-schooled children are exempt from vaccination requirements, except in North Carolina.