The Covid-19 vaccination roll out is great and welcome news for many individuals and businesses. Whilst some people think the vaccination is a sign of hope and can ease in Covid-19 restrictions, for others the vaccination has brought about great concern.
What happens if a parent objects to their child having the Covid-19 vaccination?
Children Act 1989 (CA 1989)
The decision to have a child vaccinated has been an issue which the court has seen for several years. This article will consider the court’s approach when considering parents’ objections to vaccinations, including the Covid-19 vaccination.
Section 1(1)(i) CA 1989 confirms that, when a Court determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child, the child’s welfare shall be the Court’s paramount consideration.
Section 1(3) CA 1989 confirms that when a Court is considering whether to make, vary or discharge an order which concerns a child, they shall have regard in particular to:
- (a) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child;
- (b) Their physical, emotional and educational needs;
- (c) The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;
- (d) The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of which the court considers relevant;
- (e) Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- (f) How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs.
Throughout their childhood, children are offered routine childhood vaccinations on the NHS vaccination schedule.
There have been several cases that have gone to the English and Welsh courts, where one parent has objected to their children being vaccinated and the other parent wants their child vaccinated.
We will discuss the recent case of M v H (private law vaccination) .
In this case, the father was the applicant, and the mother was the respondent. The parties had two children aged 6 and 4. The father made an application to the court for a specific issue order, requiring the children to be vaccinated. the mother objected to the children being given routine childhood vaccines on the NHS schedule, including MMR.
The applicant father widened his application to include vaccinations that may be required if the children travel abroad in the future and also the Covid-19 vaccination. At the time the parties were in court, the Covid-19 vaccinations were still being researched. By the time judgment on this came in December 2020, at least one vaccination had been approved and had started being rolled out.
In his judgment, the judge was satisfied that it was in the children’s best interests to be vaccinated. The judge granted the father’s application for a Specific Issue Order.
The judge took the view that scientific evidence and the evidence which we are provided with from healthcare professionals has established that it is generally in the best interests of healthy children to be vaccinated. The judge’s view was that receiving the vaccines in the NHS vaccination schedule was in these children’s best interest.
Where exceptions apply, is where there is a credible development in medical science or new peer reviewed research that indicates significant concern about the safety or effectiveness of a vaccine. In this particular case, no peer reviewed research or new emerging science about the MMR vaccine was available. The mother put material from various online sources before the Court. However, none of these sources were found to be credible against having the children vaccinated.
Even if there is new research or emerging information about a vaccine, that does not mean that a Court will automatically find that vaccination is not in a child’s best interests. In these sorts of situations, a Court is likely to direct that an expert in this field is instructed.
Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 became a key part of the case.
At the time the Judge made his judgment, the COVID vaccination programme was still in its early stage. The position as to whether children would receive the vaccine was unclear. As such, the Judge did not make any specific conclusions about the children receiving the COVID vaccination.
However, the judge explained that, provided the Covid-19 vaccination is approved for use in children and forms part of the NHS childhood vaccination schedule, the Court is likely to consider such a vaccination in a child’s best interest.
When a parent does bring an application for a Specific Issue Order in relation to a vaccination, that child’s own personal health and circumstances will be carefully considered by the Court.
Parents wishing to make an application for a Specific Issue Order requiring children to be vaccinated, or parents responding to such an application, should always seek legal advice.
Please get in touch with the Family Team at Crane & Staples if you would like to apply for, or respond to, a Specific Issue Order. Our family solicitors are specialist children lawyers. We would be pleased to assist you with your family law matter.