Nothing is more topical than vaccination. Children are offered vaccinations during their minority, but what happens if parents cannot agree with each other as to whether their child should be vaccinated?
Vaccination is not compulsory. So how is the issue resolved? The court has the power to make orders following an application to the court for a specific issue order in relation to a child under the age of 16 years, except in exceptional circumstances. Most cases concern the MMR vaccination. A recent case decided on 15 December 2020 addressed the issue of vaccinating a child. At the time the Covid Vaccination programme had not been rolled out.
A court, when considering any specific issue, will base its decision on what is in the best interests of a child.
The court decided that it was in the best interests of the children, who were the subjects of the application, to be vaccinated in accordance with an NHS vaccination schedule, which at the time did not include the Covid 19 Vaccination. The court did, however, decide that the Father would be responsible for ensuring that the children were taken to their GP for scheduled immunisations for the remainder of their childhood. Any further application with respect to the Covid 19 vaccination was reserved to the same judge.
The issue of child vaccination has come before the court on previous occasions. In the majority of the leading cases, the court has decided that a child should be immunised. This is not to say that a blanket approach is taken by the court.
Each case is decided on its own facts and the Court needs to weigh up the benefit of vaccination against the risk to health by any given disease or virus, if not vaccinated. In the absence of medical evidence showing a significant concern for the effectiveness or the safety of a vaccine, the court appears more likely to order that a child is vaccinated if part of an NHS vaccination schedule.
We wait to see how the court treats the Covid 19 vaccination offered to children. The Moderna coronavirus vaccine has been approved for 12 – 17 year olds. Would this be distinguished from other child vaccines? It may be argued that the risk of Covid 19 to a child’s health is low as are any long-term effects, but what about vulnerable family members with whom a child may come into contact? Should a child be vaccinated, not because of the risk that Covid 19 presents to the child’s health, but the risk of spreading to the family and the community?
Only time will tell how the court approaches the issue.