Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of the vaccine, we’re all being encouraged to get double jabbed. Plus, with the recent Omicron variant, we’re now all being urged to get the booster too.
Whilst the vaccine is not compulsory for most of the country, it was reported that from 11th November 2021, care home workers and anyone entering a care home will need to be fully vaccinated, unless they’re exempt under the regulations. It’s also been reported that the vaccine is likely to become compulsory for all NHS staff in England by April 2022.
This, and the introduction of the vaccine for children aged 12-15 years of age, is causing controversy amongst parents.
It’s raised issues over parental responsibility and whether both parents need to agree to medical treatment for their children. It’s also raised a question around whether, if a child is under 16 but can prove they understand the benefits and risks of the vaccine, they should be able to get their jabs, even if their parents don’t agree.
If you and your partner can’t agree on whether or not to give your child the Covid-19 vaccine, speak to our specialist Family Law Team.
The Children's Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Plan
On the 14th December 2021, the UK Government announced that it was hoping to have an approved Covid-19 vaccine for children, aged between 5 and 11, before Christmas.
If the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) give their approval, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation would then need to meet and consider whether the vaccination programme should be extended to younger children.
Parents across the country are likely to have different opinions about this, but it will be especially tough for parents who have separated but want to exercise their parental responsibility. To understand more about parental responsibility, read this article.
If Parents Can’t Agree on Vaccinating Their Children
The case of Re C (Looked after Child) (Covid-19 Vaccination) is about a child who is about to turn 13 and is being looked after by the Local Authority following a Care Order that was made in 2015.
C wants to have the Covid-19 vaccination and the winter flu vaccine, and their Guardian and the Local Authority fully support this. They believe it’s in C’s best interests to have both types of vaccinations. Whilst C’s father supports the decision, C’s mother is strongly against having her child vaccinated.
It’s important to understand that the Local Authority will share parental responsibility with the child’s parents if there’s a Care Order in place. So, in this case, the Local Authority believed it had the right to exercise parental responsibility (under s.33 Children Act 1989) and wanted to arrange for, and consent to, the two vaccinations for C.
However, as there’s a lack of case law surrounding the Covid-19 and winter flu vaccines and because the mother was against her child having the vaccinations, the Local Authority was concerned that the s.33 Children Act 1989 might not apply to this case.
They wanted the Court to exercise its authority and declare that it was in C’s best interests to have the vaccinations.
The Court had to decide whether the Local Authority (who had a Care Order) had a right, under s.33 Children Act 1989, to exercise its parental responsibility and arrange for C to be vaccinated, even though the mother objected to it.
What the Courts Have Decided About Parental Responsibility and the Covid-19 Vaccination
The Court ruled that it was satisfied under s.33 Children Act 1989 to allow the Local Authority (with a Care Order) to consent to a child in its care being vaccinated for Covid-19 and/or the winter flu virus, even if one or both parents objected.
It was decided that this should be the case when the Local Authority believes that it’s necessary to safeguard a child’s welfare, regardless of whether the vaccinations are part of an ongoing national programme and regardless of whether the child is competent enough to consent to the vaccinations themselves.
For this reason, the Court didn’t need to make the decision in the end. But, taking into consideration the current circumstances, the risks of either having or not having the vaccinations and also the child’s own wishes and feelings, the Court did confirm that it would have had no hesitation in concluding that it was in the child’s best interests to have both vaccinations.
Generally speaking, a parent will need to give consent before a child is given the Covid-19 vaccine and this means that all those with parental responsibility will need to make the decision jointly.
The case above may not apply to the majority of family circumstances; however, it does highlight the importance of parental responsibility and the ability to exercise it.
Separated parents with parental responsibility who are unable to agree on whether their child should have the vaccination or not would need to consider making an application to the Court to settle the dispute.
These applications can include:
- Specific Issue Order – An Order in respect to a specific question or a specific issue that has arisen in connection with issues relating to parental responsibility for the child e.g. whether the child should receive the vaccine; or
- Prohibited Steps Order – An Order to prevent a parent from a certain activity or prohibit the exercise of parental responsibility for the child e.g. to prevent the vaccination from being administered to the child.
If the vaccination programme changes before Christmas and younger children can have the Covid-19 vaccination, the Family Courts could be overwhelmed with these types of applications.
If you can't agree on whether or not to give your child the COVID-19 vaccination (or any other vaccination) and you can’t resolve the disagreement between yourselves, it’s important to seek legal advice.
The Family Law Team at Simpson Millar will help you to understand your ability to exercise your parental responsibility, give you options on how to deal with the situation and support you to get the best outcome possible.
For initial legal advice call our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors
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