What do families do if each parent has a different opinion on whether or not their children should be vaccinated now the COVID-19 vaccine is available for younger children? Find out more about the issue of vaccines in this blog from Pearson Solicitors
From a child law perspective when parents have separated, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, is no different from other ‘specific issues’ parents have to deal with. Now the vaccine has been made available to children as young as 12 the debate is set to continue.
From next week almost three million children aged between 12 and 15 will be able to get their first vaccine. The UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said they should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
It is hoped that parents and children will discuss the potential for vaccination and come to a mutual agreement, but if there is disagreement the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said recently “if the child is deemed to be competent, then the vaccination will take place.”
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Specific Issue Order
As with any disagreement between parents if there is disagreement on whether your child should have a vaccine in these cases the court may have to intervene. This is covered under a Specific Issue Order made under Section 8, Children Act 1989.
However, it is always recommended that in the case of bigger life choices, such as education, religion and in this case medical treatment, both parents discuss the situation and have input in the decision making process.
In a separated family both parents may have parental responsibility which allows them to make general day to day decisions. ‘Parental responsibility’ is defined as the parent having ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’
Family law solicitor, Emma Kendall, of Pearson Solicitors advises, keeping communication channels open which in the long run helps the family unit: “It is always better for separated parents to have these discussions as early as possible so any potential issues can be addressed early on.”
“It is better for separated parents to make decisions about their children together rather than relying upon the court. However in some circumstances family law solicitors and the Court will need to get involved and it is always good to get expert legal advice as early as possible”
There is some precedent in the law for vaccination cases, although Covid-19 is of course a new area.
Family court specific issue order
The case of M v H (private law vaccination) , was initially about childhood vaccines and a father wanting his children to follow the NHS schedule, including the MMR vaccine, but went on to consider other childhood vaccinations and, ultimately, the Covid-19 vaccine.
He succeeded in his application against the mother for a Specific Issue Order and it was deemed in the children’s best interests to have the vaccinations.
In this case the judge also commented on the potential new vaccine and stated that: ‘it is very difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in children would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child’s best interests’.
“This may set the precedent for the future with court’s ruling in favour of the vaccine,” advises Emma.
“But I always advise clients if possible to act together in the best interests of the child.”
If this fails official mediation channels, family counselling and other alternative dispute resolutions services are available. But at the end of the day if there can be no agreement reached the decision rests with the court and this can be a time consuming and costly exercise for all involved and given the backlog at court as a result of the pandemic I would always advise alternative courses of action.
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