Lauren Harley

Associate Solicitor

DATE PUBLISHED: 25 Nov 2021 LAST UPDATED: 10 Jun 2024

To Jab or not to Jab – Potentially a sore point between parents

The NHS is now offering one Covid-19 vaccination to all children aged 12-15 years old and has confirmed that it is ready to roll this out to primary-aged children to protect against the virus. While the Covid-19 vaccine is not currently a legal requirement (which begs the question of whether it is ethical to impose a mandatory vaccination policy), it requires consent from a person with Parental Responsibility for a child under the age of 16. There are currently a lot of parents out there with 12-15 year olds, weighing up this decision and the potential risk v benefit of protection against the virus.

If both parents have Parental Responsibility for the Child, they have equal rights in respect of their Child, including all important decisions relating to their Child’s health.

What happens if one parent does not consent to have their child vaccinated?

If parents disagree about having their Child vaccinated and family therapy/mediation has failed, either parent can consider arbitration (where a barrister or retired Judge gives an arbitration decision) or an application to Court for a Specific Issue Order to decide whether the Child should be vaccinated.

When the Court becomes the decision-maker – can my child be forced to have a vaccination?

When making its vaccination decision, the question for the Court or the arbitrator will be whether it is in the best interests of the Child to be vaccinated.

It is unusual for the Court to go against the advice issued by Public Health England regarding vaccines. At present, there has been no guidance issued by Public Health England to administer the Covid-19 vaccine in children. However, the Court has indicated in a recent vaccination case that it is ‘very difficult to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, including vaccinations against the Coronavirus that causes Covid-19, would not be endorsed by the Court as being in the Child’s best interestsM v H (Private Law Vaccination).

A needling thought

Suppose the Covid 19 vaccination is approved for children to protect against the virus, and added to the NHS list of recommended vaccines. In that case, we are likely to surge in the number of applications to the Court where parents disagree on the issue of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Voice of the Child –does a child need parental consent for the Covid-19 Vaccination

Even if parents do agree on this issue, a child (particularly in the 12-15 years bracket) may have their own views about whether they wish to be vaccinated. In those circumstances, and if medical practitioners are reluctant to act on the instructions of either parent or child where there is a clear dispute, the child themselves may seek the intervention of the Court. To pursue an application, the Child would need the Court’s permission, which may only be granted if the Court considers that the Child has sufficient maturity and understanding to make the application and have their voice heard separately. If the Covid-19 vaccine is added to the NHS list of recommended vaccinations, it is likely we will see an increase in the number of applications to the Court made by 12-15 year olds as Generation Z, do seem to hold strong views either way.

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