COVID-19 and Vaccinating Children

By Alice Blackmore, 18th January 2020

Covid-19 Vaccine – Where does the Law stand if parents cannot agree to vaccinate their child?

Despite us living in a world of uncertainty at present, the development of the Covid-19 vaccination means we can be more positive about our future. However, this does not mean to say that everyone will be able to agree to having the vaccine. Therefore, it is invariably important for us to revisit recent judicial approaches concerning children and vaccination disputes in private law proceedings.

In the courts of England and Wales, if parents cannot agree whether a child should be vaccinated, it would require the input of the family court and an assessment of what is in the child’s best interests and importantly, what the scientific evidence is. If the parents cannot agree, either parent would be required to make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order under the Children Act 1989 for the dispute to be resolved. More often than not, the court will normally order that the child(ren) be vaccinated even where one parent disagrees.

This area of law has come to our attention because of the recent case of Re H (A Child) (Parental Responsibility: Vaccination). In this case, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision of the High Court that a child should receive vaccination contrary to both of his parent’s wishes. The case concerned a child, H, in respect of whom care and placement orders had been made to the Local Authority. Both parents objected to the child receiving routine vaccinations, a view driven by the belief, particularly in this case, by the father, that neither the court nor the state could take this decision in relation to the child.

The court held that the Local Authority used its powers under Section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989 to consent to the vaccinations. Medical evidence had established that vaccinations were generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children. 

The case should not be read as a blanket permission for all authorities to exercise their consent in this way because the court must always analyze the case on an individual basis.

However, it is important, because it makes it very difficult now to foresee a case in which a vaccine approved for use in children, including vaccinations against the Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 will not be endorsed by the court as being in the child’s best interests. Having said that, whilst the vaccine is still being developed and the results of the trials and other information has not be released in full, it is difficult to know what approach the court would take, but it is clear that if the vaccine is relatively safe for children, it will almost certainly be the case that the court would find it in a child’s best interests that they receive it.

If you are seeking advice in relation to your children please contact one of our family team on 01249 444499 or click here to book an appointment online.