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Childhood covid vaccinations - to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

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Childhood covid vaccinations – to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

At the weekend I took my eldest child to have his second covid vaccination. I’m open about my choice as to why he should have it – whilst the risk of a child having covid and becoming unwell from it or dying from covid is very low, it has happened, so the question I have asked myself is: why would I not allow my child to have a vaccine that would potentially prevent him from becoming hospitalised or from dying? I have allowed him to have all of his other routine childhood vaccinations to prevent him from suffering from diseases that could have made him very ill or killed him had he not had them. I appreciate others’ opinions but I chose to vaccinate and fortunately my husband and son’s father agreed with me.

But as I was waiting with my son in the waiting room, there was a sign on the wall that read “Please discuss with the nurse if there are any disagreements between adults with parental responsibility regarding consent for the covid vaccination”. Parents who are married or registered on a child’s birth certificate after December 2003 have parental responsibility for their child and if both parents have it, they share it equally and should consult one another on major issues concerning their child which would include this issue of vaccination. If the parents cannot agree on a particular issue, then they should consider attending mediation to try and reach an agreement.

If mediation fails, then one parent can make an application to the court for a ‘specific issue’ order whereby the court will make the final decision. Previous caselaw issued by the court is very clear on vaccines, particularly routine childhood vaccines. The most recent cases include the following:

  • Re H (a child) (parental responsibility; vaccination) [2020] EWCA Civ 664 – this case held that it was sufficient for the court to find that vaccination is in a child’s best interests and for a program of vaccination to be approved on that basis, the child’s welfare being the paramount consideration before the court and it being recognised that in the majority of cases the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk. The court gave an overview of the law and the medical research in this area with particular attention given to the now discredited purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In relation to immunisation the following conclusion was reached by Lady Justice King giving a lead judgment “I cannot agree that the giving of a vaccination is a grave issue (regardless of whether it is described as medical treatment or not). In my judgment it cannot be said that the vaccination of children under the UK public health program is in itself a “grave issue” in circumstances where there is contra indication in relation to the child in question and when the alleged link between MMR and autism has been definitively disproved”.  The medical evidence had established that vaccinations were generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children.
  • Re K [2020] EWHC 3775 (FAM) – this case concerned a child who was living under the care of the local authority and the matter was during interim care proceedings. An application was made by the parents objecting to vaccination of the child who was in the local authority care under an interim care order made in 2019. The child was born in 2017 and at the date of the hearing had not received any of her routine childhood vaccinations. The parents’ case was that they objected to vaccinations on three grounds – medical safety, ethic concerns and religious grounds. The question put to the court by the parents was “why is it fair when our child might not end up in care that she is being forced to be vaccinated against our wishes when other children who are not in care are not subjected to that procedure against the wishes of their parents?”. The parents and the court noted that at an interim stage of proceedings the final outcome of care proceedings was not known and therefore this decision would be made when the child would potentially return to their parents’ care at the conclusion of proceedings. However Francis Jay noted that it is also essential for him to underline that in that case the decision of the court applies equally to a child in the interim care of the local authority as it does for a child who is subject to a final care order. Noting also that he could not agree the parent’s objections on the basis of the scientific reasons that they advanced, he did consider their ethical and religious beliefs and the applicable of those to the decision whether or not to vaccinate the children. Dealing with the rights and the welfare of the child as his paramount consideration the Judge considered that he was bound by the guidance of King L Jay in Re H (above) and rejected the parents’ application.
  • Re C (looked after child) (Covid 19 vaccination) [2021] EWHC 2993 (FAM) – the court was concerned with an almost 13 year old child who himself wanted to be vaccinated with the Covid 19 and winter flu vaccinates. Both the Guardian and the local authority supported his wishes along with the child’s father. However the mother opposed the child being vaccinated. Despite the earlier case Re H above, the local authority rightly referred the matter to the High Court for authorisation to vaccinate the child who was in its care given that the position had not been tested in relation to the Covid 19 or winter flu vaccinations. These types of vaccinations are not specifically set out in the routine for the immunisation schedule for children however they are now being routinely offered to children in this child in questions age. The mother’s objection was based on the Covid 19 vaccination not being “tried and tested” compared to other childhood vaccinations. The court held that the child should be vaccinated in accordance with his wishes.

Therefore, the Covid 19 and indeed the winter flu vaccination is treated no differently. As long as the vaccination is held to be in the best interest of the child the court is likely to order that it take place. I would hope that parents and carers with PR have this discussion prior to reaching the waiting room of a vaccination centre but do take advice (and not from busy nurses!) if you are struggling to agree what is best for your child.

Stephanie Bellchambers

Head of the family department

023 9266 0261