03/12/2014 08:39 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. family furious teen vaccinated without parental consent

A B.C. family is furious after public health nurses vaccinated their teenage daughter at school without parental consent.

Dean Boonstra said his 14-year-old daughter was pulled out of her Grade 9 class and inoculated against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) without checking her medical history, calling him or his wife, or having them sign a consent form.

"The fact that they did this without our knowledge or consent sickens me, sickens me. I've never felt so violated," said Boonstra.

Boonstra said he and his wife are not against vaccines in general, but have chosen not to vaccinate their children out of worry they may be predisposed to an adverse reaction. The couple says their first daughter developed a high fever hours after being inoculated.

"She was a fine bouncy little baby and then she, after receiving the shot just noticeable difference within 12 hours,  couldn't lift her head up, she started fevering,” said Boonstra.

That daughter died ten years ago after a lengthy battle with Cerebral Dysgenesis​ — a malformation of the brain. 

Boonstra said doctors denied the vaccine had anything to do with the disease. They told the family it may have been a pre-existing condition, but Boonstra said it is not worth the risk for his children to have the vaccine.

14 is age of mature minor consent in B.C.

Boonstra said he had no idea children are allowed to make their own medical decisions in B.C. 

Under the B.C. Infants Act, however, parents do not need to sign a consent form for children 14 years of age and older to be inoculated, as long as a doctor or nurse believes the child is mature enough to understand the risks and benefits of the treatment.

Boonstra's 14-year-old daughter, who did not want to be named to protect her privacy, told CBC News she was not asked about any medical history of an adverse reaction. Had she been asked, she said, she would have told nurses "my sister in the past had an allergic reaction to it. So I would have said yes, but they never asked me."

Boonstra also said his daughter is not mature enough to make medical decisions, and was too shy to question nurses.

"I didn’t really know what to do, and she didn’t really give me an option to not get a vaccine," said the girl.

"She tried explaining it to me, I guess, but I couldn’t really hear her over everyone else."

Teens' wishes can trump those of parents'

The Fraser Health Authority would not talk about this particular case, but said its nurses followed the legal procedure for obtaining mature minor consent.

"If you look at the informed consent guidelines that public health nurses go by, they do ask if there is any contraindications to the vaccine," said Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall.

"Children can make informed decisions if they are sufficiently mature enough, and I think we have to respect that. ... The courts have said very clearly they have the right to do that."

Kendall said with inoculation rates in Canada down to just 84 per cent, public health nurses are just doing their job. He said they are actively trying to boost those numbers when they visit schools for routine Grade 9 booster shots.

"Nurses will, in fact, go and look for the unvaccinated kids to see if they can get them vaccinated," said Kendall. 

He said the risk from disease is much higher than any potential side effect from the vaccine.

Once a young person signs a mature minor consent form, the teenager's wishes trump those of their parent's.