COVID-19 vaccines for children – what happens if parents disagree?
Currently two doses are being offered to children aged 12 to 15 to give them the best protection against COVID-19. Children can get a first dose of the vaccine from the day they turn 12 with vaccinations being administered via:
- a pre-booked appointment at a vaccination centre or pharmacy; and
- a walk-in vaccination site.
What happens when parents disagree as to whether their child should be vaccinated? The High Court was recently asked to determine this very issue – although in this specific case one of the parents was the corporate parent – the local authority. An almost 13 year old wished to receive the vaccination. The local authority and father supported this, whilst the mother objected on the basis of it not being a ‘tried and tested’ vaccination and believed it to be unsafe.
The court held that the child should be vaccinated. There was no need to investigate the merits of competing theses as to whether national programmes of vaccination are in the best interests of children of that age range. In cases that concern vaccines that are part of national programmes, the question of whether expert evidence is necessary will only arise if there is an identifiable, well-evidenced concern about whether, due to their individual circumstances, a vaccine is contra-indicated for a particular child or as identified in an earlier case, ‘new peer reviewed research evidence indicating a significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of the vaccination’. In addition, the Judge went on to comment that he would have grave reservations about the family court being the appropriate arena for a wholesale review of the evidence behind an established and continuing national programme.
In private law disputes between parents, it is highly likely that courts will treat such vaccinations in the same way as described here. As long as the vaccination is held to be in the best interests of a child, the court is likely to order that it should take place, even where one parent disagrees.