Parental disputes over COVID-19 vaccinations
Whilst currently there is no COVID-19 vaccine which has been authorised for use in children, there is talk that children may be offered a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as Autumn 2021.
There will be some parents who agree that their children should be vaccinated. Others will not. Some parents may be worried about the safety of a vaccination and others may be opposed to a vaccine due to their own or their child’s faith or beliefs.
So, what happens if parents disagree about whether a child should be vaccinated?
- Check who has ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility means the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority a parent has for a child. A person who has parental responsibility for a child has the right to make decisions about their care and upbringing, and this will include making a decision about vaccinations. A mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child from birth. A father usually has parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother or named on the birth certificate.
- Consider if an application to Court is necessary. The parent wishing for the child to be vaccinated may need to make an application for a Specific Issue Order. A Specific Issue Order is an Order to determine a specific question which has arisen in connection with parental responsibility, for example, what school a child should go to and whether a child should be vaccinated. The parent who does not want their child to be vaccinated may need to make an application for a Prohibited Steps Order. A Prohibited Steps Order is an Order which prohibits a certain action. The Court must consider what is in a child’s best interests when making its decision.
- Parents should consider whether a medical expert is required. In the recent case of Re H (A Child) (Parental Responsibility: Vaccination), the Judge said in passing 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 a credible development in medical science or peer-reviewed research evidence indicating questioning the safety and/or efficacy of the vaccination or a well evidenced contraindication specific to the child in question...”.
Can a dispute be resolved outside of Court?
Yes, mediation may be an option. Mediation is a process designed to help parents reach an agreement with the assistance of a mediator. Mediation is usually much quicker and cheaper than Court proceedings.
If you would like any more information, please speak to a member of the Family Team at Geldards. Some of our lawyers are also trained Mediators.
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