We sat down with Kelly Danielpour, who founded vaccination advocacy group VaxTeen at the age of 16, to discuss how young people can take preventative healthcare into their own hands.
- What inspired you to start VaxTeen?
I was browsing Reddit when I came across a post from a teenager with anti-vaccine parents asking if he could receive vaccinations without parental consent. He had tried to reason with his parents and was concerned about the health of those around him. I was stunned, and as I began to dig deeper, I quickly encountered hundreds of other posts from teenagers with the same important question. I realized I had taken having health-literate parents for granted, and when I learned how difficult it was for my peers to find answers, I became determined to provide them.
- How has VaxTeen grown since you first started it?
VaxTeen started with my desire to answer questions posed by other teens, but its mission has expanded to include preemptively educating young people and actively involving them in the quest for health rights and autonomy.
- Why is it important for young people to take their own health into their hands?
As demonstrated by hundreds of teenagers on Reddit, young people are able to see beyond the pervasive misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement, something that many adults find difficult. They need to be given greater autonomy over the decisions that affect their health, and parents should not be able to inflict preventable harm on their children. Now, more than ever, the anti-vaccine movement threatens the health of all of us, and we should not overlook the role of teenagers in countering it. Looking forward, educating teenagers is critical because they will become the next generation of parents.
- What resources does VaxTeen provide?
VaxTeen’s website serves as a centralized resource allowing teenagers to determine what vaccines they need and at what age they can receive them without parental consent in their state. It also has other resources for approaching conversations with vaccine-hesitant parents, dispelling common vaccine myths, and supporting pro-vaccine legislation.
- What types of challenges has VaxTeen faced?
When I learned that teenagers with anti-vaccine parents were trying to get vaccinated, I was very inspired by their actions. They were able to look beyond their parents’ beliefs despite the personal costs they might encounter. As I learned more, I realized how difficult it was to answer their questions because a minor’s ability to self-consent to vaccinations varies by state and by specific vaccine and is governed by a complex—and at times even contradictory—patchwork of overlapping judicial decisions, state codes, federal laws and accepted practices, which often don’t even explicitly mention vaccines. I spent about a year putting together VaxTeen’s guides in order to provide straightforward, reliable answers— every state guide includes the actual text of the relevant legal sources, and the specific vaccine information is sourced entirely from the CDC.
- What do you hope for the future of VaxTeen?
My long-term goal is to use VaxTeen as a platform to advocate for new, straightforward legislation allowing teens to consent to all vaccinations. I also hope to broaden the reach of VaxTeen so that more young people are aware that it’s a resource available to them.
- How can people get involved with VaxTeen?
Teens can become VaxTeen ambassadors. In this role, they conduct outreach in their own communities to encourage vaccination, in addition to contributing to VaxTeen’s overarching efforts.
- What do you think is the most important thing for people to know about vaccines?
I think it’s very easy to forget about the devastating impacts of the diseases that vaccines are now actively preventing, like polio, which used to paralyze hundreds of thousands of children worldwide every year. Vaccines have an excellent safety track record, and we shouldn’t let dangerous misinformation about their risks dissuade us from getting vaccinated. The current pandemic has shown us that we each have a responsibility to ensure our collective health, and those who refuse to be vaccinated endanger everyone. Falling vaccination rates have led to the resurgence of preventable diseases, harming our communities and also making it difficult for us to combat newly emerging diseases like COVID-19.
- What do you hope to do in your career?
I hope to work in health policy with a focus on ensuring equitable access to preventative care.
- Why do you vax?
I vax to protect the health of my community.