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#childsafety | Children and the Covid Vaccination

The government has announced that it hopes to have offered the vaccination to all adults by the end of July. Naturally, many have wondered, what about the children? Germany has recently made the decision to give children aged 12-16 the Pfizer covid vaccine. There have been recent media reports that the UK government is considering giving the vaccine to children over 12 in September 2021. This is unsurprising considering the UK has a long history of using vaccination as a tool to eliminate and/or heavily reduce the transmission of diseases e.g. the polio vaccinations.

Who provides consent to a child’s vaccination?

Vaccination is not mandatory in the UK and requires consent. Consent is required from a person with parental responsibility for a child under the age of 16. However, a child over the age of 16 may be assessed to have Gillick competence and may be able provide consent to their own treatment.

What happens when one parent does not agree to the child being vaccinated?

There are various opinions about the benefits and risks of vaccinations. Inevitably, some parents may not agree to their child being vaccinated. When parents disagree about a child having a vaccination, they will need to apply for a Specific Issue Order for the Court to decide whether the child should be vaccinated. The Courts have made it clear in F v F (MMR Vaccine) [2013] EWHC 2683 (Fam) that neither parent has primacy over the other.

The Court’s paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child and the Court’s decision will be based on what is in best interests of the child. In most cases, the Court have found vaccination to be in the best interest of the child.

In the case of Re B (A Child: Immunisation) [2018] EWFC 56 the Court decided that it was proportionate and in the child’s best interest to vaccinate the child as there would need to be ‘significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety’ of a vaccine for the Court to rule against vaccination and this would require, at a minimum, the ‘existence of new, peer reviewed research conducted by a reputable specialist or institution.’

What about the covid vaccination?

The recent case of Re H (A child) (Parental responsibility: Vaccination [2020] EWCA Civ 664 also endorsed the decision in Re B. In this case the Court found that vaccination of a child in care was a matter which a local authority could arrange and provide consent to pursuant to the powers under s 33 of the Children Act 1989 – a Care Order. The Court made it clear that it would be unlikely to conclude that immunisation with the vaccines that are recommended for children by Public Health England and set out in the routine immunisation schedule are not in a child’s best interests absent:

(a) a credible development in medical science or new peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of a vaccine and/or

(b) a well evidenced medical contra indication specific to the child or children who are subject of the application.

The case of M v H (Private Law: Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93 was an application for a Specific Issue Order concerning the MMR, travel and the covid vaccinations. In the case the judge declined to consider travel or covid vaccinations prematurely as there has been no schedule or guidance for the administration of the covid vaccine for children at present. However, the Court confirmed that when parents cannot agree and the Court becomes the decision maker, it will be difficult to establish that a vaccination is not in a child best interest when it has been approved by scientific research and Public Health England unless there is evidence indication a significant concern of a particular vaccine or contra indication specific to that child as it is now well established that the benefits of vaccinating outweigh the long-recognised and identified side-effects.

Children are not currently receiving the covid vaccination. However, given the Court’s previous guidance it is likely that the Court may follow the previous case law above. If you would like advice concerning a dispute about your child’s medical treatment, please do contact us directly to arrange an appointment.

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