Covid Vaccination and Children

Following the recent announcement that all children aged 5 to 11 in England will be offered a Covid vaccine from April, Keith Doherty, a senior lawyer in our family team, considers the legal position when there is a dispute between the parents over medical care, specifically vaccination, of a child.

Whilst it may seem reasonable and responsible parental behaviour to arrange for a child to be vaccinated in accordance with the Public Health Guidelines, there is at present no legal requirement for a child to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The Government has emphasised that parents would be expected to make their own decision, but what if the parents do not agree?

For parents to have authority to make decisions in respect of a child, such as medical treatment, they must have ‘parental responsibility’ for that child.

If parents cannot agree on an important issue in relation to the child’s welfare or upbringing, then they can apply to the court for what is known as a specific issue order. When the court makes any order for a child, the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration. The court has particular regard to the following factors:

  • The wishes of the child taking into account age and understanding;
  • Physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • The likely effect of any change in circumstances;
  • Age, sex and background;
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
  • The range of powers available to the court.

The Family Court recently considered this issue when it decided that a local authority was permitted to arrange and consent to a 12-year-old child being vaccinated against Covid-19 and the winter flu virus despite the mother’s objections due to her concerns around the safety of the vaccinations.

Whilst that particular case related to a child in the care of the local authority, the indication from the court was that  if a similar dispute arose in private children law proceedings (a dispute between the child’s parents) that it would be difficult to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, including vaccinations against COVID-19, would not be endorsed as being in a child’s best interests, absent  strong medical evidence in medical science to the contrary, specific to the child in question.

In the event that a child has no underlying medical conditions or vulnerabilities that could potentially raise concern about whether he or she should be vaccinated, the Court’s approach is likely to be that vaccination for Covid-19 in children is in their best interests, even where a parent objects.

To speak to a member of our Family team, please call 01689 887887.

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.