WHO guidelines school vaccine consent: Covid-19

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Claims circulating online say the World Health Organization counts attendance in school as consent for vaccination. The WHO says this claim needs context.

WASHINGTON — As we inch closer to a vaccine for COVID-19, the Verify team is looking into online posts making claims about immunization, and clarifying the rules surrounding it.

Did the World Health Organization say that sending your child to school counts as consent for vaccination?

No. This claim is taken out of context from the World Health Organization’s vaccination guidance for countries all over the world.

World Health Organization 2014 report on vaccination consent

World Health Organization Press Spokesperson

Washington, D.C. Department of Health

Virginia Department of Health

The Verify team came across a tweet which claims that “WHO now says your child’s presence in school counts as ‘informed consent’ for vaccination – parental presence ‘not required.'” This claim has been shared thousands of times.

The tweet includes a link to a blog with a history of posting anti-vaccination sentiments. The blog post links back to a 2014 WHO report about obtaining consent from children and families before issuing vaccinations around the world.

The section of the report which is referred to in the claim and the blog post is titled: “Common approaches for obtaining consent for vaccination.” It illustrates the three broad categories of ways that vaccination programs obtain informed consent:

  1. A formal, written consent process
  2. A verbal consent process
  3. An implied consent process.

The purpose of the WHO report is to illustrate how and why vaccination programs must ensure children and parents are adequately educated on the immunizations being administered.

The blog post which makes these claims includes a screenshot of the first half of the “implied consent” section. It excludes the second paragraph and lacks important context in this sentence:

“Therefore, countries are encouraged to adopt procedures that ensure that parents have been informed and agreed to the vaccination.”

The World Health Organization Press Office provided this statement, in part, to Verify researchers via email:

“The presence of the child at school on the vaccination date may be taken as implied consent if the parents have been informed that the vaccination would take place and given the opportunity to opt-out or take appropriate steps to express their desire to do so.” 

They also say that they don’t recommend a specific approach because “consent can vary considerably across countries and settings depending on national consent laws and policies.” 

RELATED: VERIFY: No, the World Health Organization didn’t reverse its stance on lockdowns

It’s important to remember that this is the World Health Organization. They issue guidance and health information to all countries, including those with less robust health programs than the United States. 

Verify researchers also reached out to the Departments of Health in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. A Maryland spokesperson did not respond to requests at the time of publishing.

The D.C. Department of Health says immunizations are given to those who request them, and “No healthcare provider in the District, including those at our SBHCs [School-Based Health Centers], are ‘forcing’ vaccines or any other medical procedures without consent.”

The Virginia Department of Health says local health departments often plan immunization clinics in schools, and at all times “education about the vaccine is provided to parents and students and written parental consent is required in order for students to receive immunizations.”

So we can Verify that the claim that “sending your child to school counts as consent for vaccination” was taken out of context, and is not true in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

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