Covid-19 – the vaccination of children

Giles Robinson, Family Law Partner, discusses child vaccinations and what happens if parents disagree.

Whether or not a child should be vaccinated is one of those decisions that falls within the ambit of Parental Responsibility which, in most cases, is shared by both parents.  When parents disagree, however, their only recourse is to the Court.  

In a case reported at the very end of 2020 a question arose as to whether or not a child should receive a number of childhood vaccines.  The father widened the application in this regard, asking the Court to address the question of the Covid-19 vaccine.  Whilst the Court did not make a formal decision regarding that particular vaccine, the vaccination programme being at a very early stage when the case was heard, it made it clear that it considered it very difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccine against Covid-19, approved for use in children, would not be endorsed by the Court as being in a child’s best interests – in the absence of peer reviewed research indicating a significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of the Covid-19 vaccines or a well-evidenced contraindication specific to that particular child.  

When a Court decides whether or not a child should have a vaccine, it simply endeavours to determine what is in that child’s best welfare interests, not give a commentary on whether immunisation is a good thing or a bad thing generally.  

The Court made it clear that although vaccines are not compulsory, scientific evidence establishes that it is generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children to be vaccinated and that the current established medical view is that the routine vaccination of infants is in the best interests of those children and the public good.  In relation to the MMR vaccine, the Court concluded that the evidence base regarding this overwhelmingly identified the benefit to a child of being vaccinated as part of the public health initiative to drive down the incidence of serious childhood and other diseases.  Accordingly, in relation to the vaccines in respect of which the Court made a decision, it made an Order that those should occur.  

Once approved for use in respect of children, the indication regarding the Covid-19 vaccine should send out a clear message to any parent wanting to challenge this, and in dispute with someone else with parental responsibility, that they will need good evidence as to why it would not be appropriate for their particular child.

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