In 2007, Philadelphia’s Board of Health passed a regulation that allows anyone over the age of 11 to get vaccinated without a parent, provided the young person can give informed consent.
Montero was thrilled to learn of Philadelphia’s regulation. One summer afternoon while his aunt was at work, Montero found a Philadelphia pop-up clinic offering vaccines. He knew his aunts would support him — one of them, Brittany Kissling, manages a pediatrics office — but he was worried that word would get back to his parents, so he didn’t tell them.
When Montero’s aunts learned that he’d been vaccinated, they were amazed, and agreed not to tell his mother. Just before Thanksgiving, though, someone let it slip. They reacted the way Montero and his aunts worried they would: Kissling said Montero’s mother blamed her and her sister for influencing her son, and for being neglectful enough to allow him to get vaccinated.
Kissling said she doesn’t think of herself as a political person, and is friends with Democrats and Republicans alike. Now though, she said, it’s hard for the whole family to spend time together. She has left in the middle of dinners to drive back home to Philadelphia because the discussion got so heated. “They are not the type of family that acknowledges their wrongdoings,” Kissling said. “They’re not the type of family that apologizes.”
For Montero, things have been even more tense at home. He’s learning to pole vault for the track team, and joined the school paper, where he published an op-ed advocating for the passage of HB1818, which would lower the age of consent in Pennsylvania for vaccines to 14. He wanted to raise awareness of the issue especially for other young people in positions like his who wouldn’t be able to travel to Philadelphia.
Each evening after school, he lays claim to one of the private rooms at the Langhorne public library, where he spreads out his books across a small desk and diligently does his homework. He worked on a paper about the history of U.S. involvement in Puerto Rico, where his grandmother is from. He is learning to cook Puerto Rican dishes from her, which he can now do with less fear of infecting her.
“Not allowing teenagers to consent to their own vaccinations or other medical treatments and requiring parental consent, it just provides a barrier for people that live in dysfunctional households, live with neglectful parents, or people that are homeless,” said Montero. He counts himself in that number.
“It’s like I don’t even have parents, to be honest,” he said. ”I’m the only parenting figure in my life, so I had to be really mature for my age.”
Montero has ambitions to leave the state for college. He likes the idea of Washington, D.C., of being close to the White House and the Capitol building. From there, he said, he wants to go to law school.