COVID-19 Vaccine – Considerations for parents

June 4, 2021

Whether or not to get a child vaccinated can be a difficult decision for parents to make and in turn lead to disagreements between parents.

In a recent judgment of the Royal Court, F v E [2021] JRC120, the Registrar considered whether to make a specific issue order, namely for a child to have the MMR vaccination and the flu vaccine.

Now that the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccination is in full swing and parents will be deciding whether to get vaccinated themselves. It also prompts parents to consider whether or not they want their child to be vaccinated. Although there is currently no covid-19 vaccine for children, it is best to be prepared and for parents to have those discussions sooner rather than later.

In this article Emma Cairns, legal assistant in the family team, explores the rights of parents faced with this question, the options available where one parent consents to the vaccination but the other does not and how a Court would go about making a decision as to whether or not a child should be vaccinated.

For some parents, the covid-19 vaccine will come as a sigh of relief, however, not all parents will hold this view.

What can a parent do if the other parent does not agree to the child being vaccinated?

In the event of a disagreement, either parent of the child is entitled to make an application to the Royal Court for an order called a Specific Issue Order. A Specific Issue Order is where the Court is asked to make a particular order about a particular issue over which parents cannot agree.

When both parents have parental responsibility (“PR”) it is necessary for each of them to consent to medical treatment, including vaccinations.

What happens if a parent makes an application to the Court for a Specific Issue Order?

The paramount consideration for a judge in family proceedings is the welfare of the child and what is best for that child. The Court will try and deal with these matters as soon as possible so as to avoid any delays.

The Court will also take into consideration any previous decisions made on the matter by the Court, this could be by the Royal or by an English Court.

It is clear from previous decisions by the Court of Appeal in England that the Court will look at any scientific evidence as to the benefits of a vaccination and any reactions that the child has experienced from any previous vaccinations. The Court will not express a view as to whether immunisation is a good or bad thing, but, instead will consider whether it is in the best interests of the child, who is the subject of the application, to have the vaccination.

A recent judgment from an English Court, M v H [2020] EWFC 93, recently considered whether a Specific Issue Order should be made for a child to have the covid-19 vaccination.

In making the order for routine vaccinations, the Court said this about the covid-19 vaccination:

‘it is very difficult now to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, including vaccinations against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, would not be endorsed by the Court as being in a child’s best interests, absent a credible development in medical science or peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of the vaccine or a well evidenced medical contraindication specific to the subject child’.

What is likely to be in the best interests of the child?

There is no one answer to this question and it will differ from case to case.

Each parent is likely to have different reasons for consenting or objecting to the covid-19 vaccination. It is important that parents work together as far as possible to see if they can agree. This question, just like others that concern the welfare of a child, is likely to be a careful balancing act.

Parents might want to think about the following when discussing whether or not their child should have the vaccination:

  • What if the child is classed in the vulnerable category due to pre-existing health conditions? Would it put the child more at risk in not having the vaccine than having it?
  • What if one of the child’s parents lives abroad and vaccine passports are required to travel abroad? Would it cause the child greater harm not to travel again or to receive the vaccine?
  • What if one of the child’s parents works in a healthcare setting and has a high exposure to covid-19 patients? Would it cause greater harm to the child not to get the vaccine?
  • What if the child lives with elderly parents or grandparents who are classed in the vulnerable category? Would it cause harm to the child and or the family relatives if the child did not get the vaccine?

If it is still not possible to reach agreement then a parent may wish to seek legal advice. Our friendly and experienced family team at BCR Law LLP will be happy to assist.

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