COVID-19 Vaccinations and Children – Can the Court force me to vaccinate my child?

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In the current climate, there is never-ending talk about the COVID-19 vaccination.  Vaccinations, particularly in respect of childhood vaccinations has been a hot topic and  the subject of a number of applications to the Children Court.

Where there is a disagreement between parents, on issues such as vaccinations, the Children Act 1989 provides parents the opportunity to make an application to the Court for either a Specific Issue Order, an Order giving directions to determine a specific question which has arisen or may arise in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for the child; or a Prohibited Steps Order which is an Order that can prevent a person exercising their parental responsibility against the specific terms of an Order, e.g to stop vaccinations from taking place.

The recent case of M v H (Private law vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93 was decided in December and concerned an application by the Father for a Specific Issue Order concerning his two young children aged, 6 and 4. He was asking the Court to make an Order that his children should be vaccinated in accordance with the NHS vaccination schedule. The Mother was opposed. Whilst the Father’s initial application concerned the MMR vaccine, the Court gave permission to widen the application to include each of the childhood vaccinations that are currently included on the NHS vaccination schedule.

In this case, whilst the Father sought to include the vaccination for COVID, the Court deferred reaching a conclusion regarding the administration to children of this vaccine, not because there was any doubt on the part of the Court regarding probity or efficacy of that vaccine. But, reflected on the early stages, it was unclear whether and when children will receive the vaccination.

If both parents have Parental Responsibility (PR) then vaccinating needs to be a joint decision. Any disagreement will lead to an application to the Court, as per the recent case. PR is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. These responsibilities are connected, and each parent has an obligation to meet the welfare needs of his or her children.

As neither parent has more authority than the other, where there is no agreement, there is sometimes no choice but to bring an application to Court to seek a resolution. This is particularly the case in separated parents where each of them may act alone and without the consent of the other in certain circumstances.

In the current case, the Court was satisfied that the children should be vaccinated in line with the NHS vaccination schedule for the following reasons:

  1. The parents could not reach an agreement in respect of whether or not to have the children vaccinated and needed the assistance of the Court.
  2. Based on scientific advice, it is generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children to be vaccinated.
  3. Whilst each case turns on different issues, the Court is required to consider a broad range of welfare factors when determining an application.
  4. A court will be unlikely to conclude that vaccinating children with vaccines that are  recommended for children by Public Health England and set out in the routine immunisation schedule are not in a child’s best interests without sufficient evidence.

The Court concluded that whilst the question of whether applications of this nature required the Court’s assistance where parents could not reach an agreement was still left largely unanswered, if was difficult for the Court to foresee a situation where if a vaccination is approved for the use in children, the Court would not grant the application. The Court further commented that this approval would also be widened to the vaccinations against the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19, as being in the child’s best interests.

For more information about disputes between parents regarding important decisions for their children, contact our children team.