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When high school senior Kelly Danielpour saw her peers with vaccine-hesitant parents were turning to Reddit with questions about how they could get immunized, she launched an organization to help provide clear answers. Photo courtesy of Kelly Danielpour
  • Vaccine support is down 10 percent in the United States.
  • Teenagers of parents who are vaccine hesitant are seeking ways to get vaccinated on their own.
  • High school senior Kelly Danielpour created VaxTeen, a resource to help inform her peers about the options they have to make their own health choices.

A Gallup poll from January found that support for vaccinations has dropped 10 percent in the United States.

It’s a dip that contributed to the World Health Organization (WHO) listing vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019.

In fact, the growing number of people who are anti-vaccine has contributed to the resurgence in vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, that we’ve seen in recent years.

Concerned about their well-being, some teens of parents who are anti-vaccine have begun seeking information about the options that are available to them should they decide to get vaccinated on their own.

When teenager Kelly Danielpour realized some of her fellow peers were having trouble accessing reliable information on this topic, she set out to help by creating a resource teens could trust.

Danielpour launched VaxTeen, a website that aims to answer questions from teens seeking advice about vaccines, what rights they have to make decisions about their health as a teen, and which vaccines they should have at their age.

“I found hundreds of these posts on Reddit,” Danielpour said. “Every few days, I can still find at least one new one.”

Dr. Alix Casler from Orlando Health Physician Associates told Healthline that this type of situation is more common than most parents might realize.

“Traditionally, we think about young people making bad decisions contrary to parent’s wishes,” she said. “But I think probably just as often, adolescents are pretty wise and maybe better equipped to interpret information, just because they’re so used to vetting their online sources and sifting through what is credible or not credible.”

This is why Danielpour says she created VaxTeen, because she not only wanted to give her peers a resource that provided the information they were looking for, but present it in a way that was easy to understand.

The problem was that compiling that information wasn’t exactly easy. Every state has different laws on the choices minors can make regarding their own healthcare.

Before Danielpour created VaxTeen, she said there wasn’t a single resource that spelled out all the options teenagers might have.

“I have read the Title X laws so many times,” she said. “And I was really drilling into this, pulling up as many resources as I could because no one wanted to give a definitive answer.”

She scoured state laws, bookmarked countless pages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and worked to provide her VaxTeen readers with as many avenues as possible for taking their health into their own hands.

“I did not put anything on the website that I didn’t think would hold up. And that was really the accountability of pulling directly from the laws and text of the laws,” Danielpour explained.

“I didn’t want to include anything that a person reading couldn’t take to their doctor and have accepted as proof of their maturity, and legal right, to make this decision on their own,” she said.

Now a high school senior, Kelly Danielpour told Healthline that she started volunteering with hospitals in middle school. “My dad is a doctor,” she explained. “So I grew up very surrounded by medicine.”

She said that having a parent in the medical field made her very aware of the inequality in healthcare. “I decided early on that policy was an area I could make a difference in,” she said.

Danielpour’s mother is from London, and she herself has dual citizenship, so she’s grown up witnessing firsthand the difference between the U.S. healthcare system and a universal healthcare system.

“The U.S. really is alone in failing to provide access to healthcare for everyone. Having half my family with access to the National Health Service (NHS) has made it obvious the U.S. is incredibly terrible in terms of how our system is run,” she said.

Over the years, Kelly has volunteered with a number of organizations, becoming an official partner for the Stronger campaign and the Meningitis B Action Project.

She’s also worked alongside the California Health Department and Dr. Art Caplan on legislation and advocacy efforts.

It was in doing that work that Danielpour began to see vaccinations as a preemptive way to keep kids and teenagers from developing health issues they may not be able to get care for later on.

She said this was when she started to realize how little teen voices were heard when it came to managing their own health.

“I was very interested in public health and healthcare equality,” she said. “And I started to see that even beyond other healthcare access issues, the mindset of teenagers wasn’t always acknowledged.”

After stumbling upon an article about teens going to Reddit in search of information about how to get vaccinated on their own, she got to work.

In addition to creating VaxTeen, Danielpour has been a strong advocate for more bills and laws granting teenagers this autonomy over their medical care. But changing the law isn’t easy.

“There’s this idea that giving teenagers these rights is sort of ruining family dynamics and values. And obviously politicians don’t want to stick their necks out for a population that isn’t going to be able to vote for them,” Danielpour said.

The biggest issue, though, has been those who hold anti-vaccine views.

“They are so organized, and it can feel insurmountable to counter them,” she explained. “And they come at this with claims of ruining family dynamics, or arguments about vaccines being wrong and teenagers not being old enough to make decisions.”

The thing that keeps pushing her forward is the fact that these teenagers simply want to do something already strongly recommended by medical professionals. “And we’re not letting them,” Danielpour said, explaining why she thinks it’s so important for teenagers to have this right.

“As a teenager, especially now with everything going on… we’re becoming more politically engaged,” she said. “And having made a lot of those calls myself, I’m really seeing what my own representatives are willing to do.”

She believes those representatives truly do want to help young people, but that many have told her anytime they push for pro-vaccination legislation, they wind up taking one step forward and two steps back.

That’s where the importance of teenagers talking to their parents comes in, according to Casler. She suggests starting those conversations directly in the doctor’s office.

“This may not be fair play,” she said. “But I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve had turn to their parents in the room with me and say, ‘I need that vaccine. I want that vaccine.’ And that alone really can make a difference.”

Having an ally in the room in the form of a doctor to back up that desire can push parents who may be on the fence into providing consent, she said.

If that doesn’t work, VaxTeen is loaded with resources to help teenagers get up to date on their vaccinations where it’s legal for them to make that decision for themselves.

Since starting VaxTeen, Danielpour said she’s happy to see the various organizations that have voiced their support for minors’ consent of vaccinations, including the American Medical Association.

The world is changing, and Danielpour said she’s proud to be a part of changing it.

In fact, she plans to continue advocating for teenagers to have control over their own medical choices for years to come, and for a medical system that provides equal access to healthcare for all.

“This is what I’m passionate about. This is what I do,” she said.

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