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Covid-19: What if parents cannot agree on vaccinating their child?

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The decision as to whether to order the vaccination of a child has been an issue for the Courts for many years before the existence of the Covid-19 virus. Now that the roll-out of the vaccines for the virus have been a success in respect of adults, the government will, no doubt, begin to look at the vaccination of children. It will, therefore, be down to parents to ensure that their child is vaccinated and while this may come as a welcome development for some, others may be opposed to this. It is often necessary for the Court to become involved to determine matters when two parents with parental responsibility for a child are not able agree, for example in relation to medical treatment.

In such an instance, the ‘pro-vaccination’ party would be able to apply to the Family Court for a Specific Issue Order, requiring that the child in question be vaccinated. Alternatively, the ‘anti-vaccination’ party could apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order, to prevent the child from being vaccinated. The Court would then be required to make a decision in respect of what Orders, if any, should be made.

When considering such matters, the Court will always put the most weight on what is deemed in the best interests of the child, in accordance with section 1(1)(i) of the Children Act 1989, which confirms that a child’s welfare must be the Court’s paramount consideration, meaning this is the most important thing

Under Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, the Court will also take into consideration the following factors:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (taking into account their age and understanding);
  2. The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child;
  3. The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances;
  4. The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the Court considers relevant;
  5. Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  6. How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers to be relevant, is of meeting their needs.

In the recent case of M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020], a father applied to the Court for a Specific Issue Order, requiring his children to be vaccinated with the routine NHS childhood vaccines, including the MMR vaccine. The mother objected to the children having these vaccines. The Judge decided that it was in the best interests of the children to receive the vaccinations and granted  a Specific Issue Order in the father’s favour. As the case took place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, albeit before the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines, the Judge took the time to clarify that provided the Covid-19 vaccine is approved for children and is included in the NHS childhood vaccination schedule, the Court is likely to consider the vaccination against Covid-19 to be in a child’s best interests also.

If you are considering making an application to the Court in respect of a Children Matter, or wish to discuss your options, please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange a Fixed Fee Initial Consultation at which you will be able to discuss your queries with one of the specialists in our Family Law Department, who will be able to provide you with expert advice.