Vaccine or intervene? Vaccinating children and the Court’s approach

10 March 2021

In 2019, bookings looked rather different; perhaps you were excited about booking a holiday or a new restaurant. Roll on 2021 and the only bookings being made are the long awaited Covid-19 vaccinations. However, the contention surrounding the topic continues to grow. For many it’s seen as the way forward to release the world from the restrictions we have faced in the last year, but for others it comes with caution and unease with the speed of its release. Whilst we have not yet seen the Covid-19 vaccination offered to children, the trials have now begun, raising the question as to how disputes will be decided amongst separated parents who disagree on whether their children should receive vaccinations. The Court's have now begun to give commentary on the matter. 
In a recent case of M v H (private law proceedings), there had been a series of hearings to re-establish the children spending time with their father. A final hearing was listed in December 2020 which also dealt with the issue of vaccinations raised in the father’s original application. The father had sought an order that the parties’ children received the MMR vaccine, but that was subsequently amended to include all the normal childhood vaccinations, including overseas vaccinations and Covid-19. The mother, arguing against vaccination of the children, stated that vaccination did not necessarily result in immunisation and given that the children had strong immune systems, she felt the side effects of the vaccinations would be more harmful to the children, than the diseases themselves, should the children ever contract them. 
Whilst the judge declined to make decisions on travel vaccinations as it was deemed too speculative as to what vaccines might be appropriate and when those decisions would be made, he did find that the children should be vaccinated in accordance with the vaccines specified on the NHS vaccination schedule, including the MMR vaccine. 
Along with his judgement on travel vaccinations, the judge also declined to decide on vaccination for Covid-19, due to it still being unclear as to what public health recommendations would be given in respect of children, adding that he would deal with any future applications regarding vaccinations against the virus. However, usefully, he did comment that “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”. 
The judge went onto make it clear that unless there is clear “peer-reviewed research 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” it would be extremely unlikely that a judge would rule against a child receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. 
Re-enforcing the judge’s comments, was the Court of Appeal in Re H (A Child: Parental Responsibility: Vaccination) which took a comprehensive view in this area. The Court of Appeal also stated, that it would be very difficult to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, including vaccinations for Covid-19, would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child’s best interests. 
Whilst the Courts’ have been clear on their surrounding commentary regarding Covid-19 vaccinations, with trials having begun for the Covid-19 vaccine in children and the contention around vaccines growing, we are sure there is more to come on the topic.

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