Child vaccinations and what the Family Court has to say…

Josie Triffitt

Legal Adviser

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January 31, 2022

Categories Family Law Updates

The Family Court has recently made a decision that is especially relevant to parents and others with parental responsibility who may be in dispute about the medical care, specifically vaccination, of their children.

In the case of C (Looked After Child) (Covid-19 Vaccination) [2021] EWHC 2993 (Fam) it was decided that a local authority was permitted to arrange and consent to a 12-year-old child being vaccinated against Covid-19 and the winter flu virus despite the mother’s objections due to her concerns around the safety of the vaccinations.

In this particular case the child was under the care of the local authority, he wished to be vaccinated and the local authority sought to support his decision and make an application which, if granted, would have the effect of limiting his mother’s exercise of her parental responsibility.

What are the implications of this case?

This is the first case of its kind in the High Court where vaccination of a child for coronavirus and winter flu has been considered. Previous decisions have been limited to standard childhood vaccinations, instead of what some may deem to be a more controversial vaccine. However, Mr Justice Poole considers that the approach taken in respect of routine vaccinations should be the same for Covid-19 vaccinations.

The outcome in this case demonstrates that the Court does not consider that the question as to whether to vaccinate a child against coronavirus is a ‘grave’ decision, provided there aren’t ‘any factors of substance that might realistically call into question whether the vaccinations are in an individual child’s best interests’.

Therefore, provided a child has no underlying medical conditions or vulnerabilities that could potentially raise concern about whether he or she should be vaccinated, the Court’s approach is likely to be that vaccination for Covid-19 in children aged 12-15 is in their best interests, even where a parent objects.

What does this mean for parents and others with parental responsibility?

Following the national announcement in September 2021 that children aged 12–15 would now be offered the coronavirus vaccine, there may be tension in some households over the decision on whether to vaccinate their children. This outcome in the High Court serves as an example to those parents who may dispute another parent’s decision to vaccinate their child against coronavirus (and other routine vaccines).

The Court certainly has the power to limit the exercise of parental responsibility in this instance. However, it ultimately comes down to the welfare of the child and what is in their best interests, considering all the circumstances for that individual child.

How does the court routinely deal with these disputes?

In circumstances where there is a disagreement in relation to medical treatment or vaccinations for children, an application can be made to the Court for a Specific Issue Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The Court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child and there are a number of factors that the Court must have regard to including:

  • the wishes of the child taking into account their age and understanding;
  • the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances;
  • the child’s age, sex and background;
  • any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
  • the range of powers available to the court.

Upon consideration of all of the factors, the Court should not make an order, unless doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.

Furley Page’s Family Law team has a wealth of experience in applications for children of this kind and would be pleased to help and advise you. Should you wish to discuss your situation with us, please telephone 01227 763939 for assistance.