Vaccinations - the law when parents do not agree

The issue of vaccinations (inoculations or immunisations) is one which comes up frequently where one parent does not want the child vaccinated, but the other does.  The court of Appeal has recenty published a number of judgements which clarify when a child should be vaccinated and which vaccinations they should receive.

Re H (A Child) (Parental Responsibility: Vaccination) [2020] EWCA Civ 664

Although this relates to a child in care and both parents opposed vaccination, the points are relevant because in this case the Local Authority also has Parental Responsibility.

The judgement is linked to at the bottom of this page, but the key points are:

  • The purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been discredited.
  • Routine vaccinations in accordance with the Public Health England schedule of childhood vaccinations was not a "grave" or "serious" issue.
  • It is both reasonable and responsible parental behaviour to arrange for one's child to be vaccinated in accordance with the Public Health England guidelines
  • ... all the evidence presently available supports the Public Health England advice and guidance which unequivocally recommends a range of vaccinations as being in the interests both children and society as a whole.
  • Children should receive the recommended vaccinations unless there is a contra-indication that would indicate otherwise, e.g. if they had a medical condition which would mean a certain vaccine should not be give to that child.

If there is a dispute about vaccination which cannot be resolved between the parents with Parental Responsibility, the proper course of action is to bring the matter to the Family Court for a Specific Issues Order.

Re. M v (1) H (2) P & T (Children Represented by their Children's Guardian) [2020] EWFC 93 (15/12/2020)

2 children, 6 & 4 at the time.  Mother was opposed to vaccinations, Father sought a Specific Issues Order that the children be vaccinated in accordance with the NHS recommended childhood vaccinations.  In this case the children were represented by a Guardian who supported the Father's case.

Mother argued there was evidence the MMR vaccination did not provide lifelong protection and it was better for healthy children to contract the diseases and gain immunity naturally.

The Court decided that "each of the children to be given each of the vaccines that are currently specified on the NHS vaccination schedule".

The Court declined to make any order for vaccination that might be required for international travel due to the unspecified nature of what vaccine may be required for any particular trip at some indeterminate time in the future.

Neither would the Court make an order for any Covid-19 vaccine, specifically stating this was not due to any doubt about the efficacy or justificaiton for giving children the vaccine, but simply because the vaccination programme was still at an early stage and there was no information about when, or if, children would be vaccinated.  It was stated however:

As I make clear at the conclusion of this judgment, having regard to the principles that I reiterate below 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, absent peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines or a well evidenced contraindication specific to that subject child.

A review of the law and existing case law is presenting in the judgement.

Please note that these judgements provide a legal perspective on vaccination, however, whenever possible separated parents should seek to reach agreement out-of-court, particularly if not in court already. Even if your relationship with your ex is strained, taking them to court is likely to escalate any difficulties between you and lead to other adverse consequences, especially for the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child.

 

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