Will courts order that children be vaccinated against COVID-19?
As of 25 June 2021, more than 40 million people living in the UK have received their first dose of a covid vaccine, and over 30 million have had both vaccine jabs and are now fully vaccinated.
Being vaccinated for COVID-19 is not mandatory, and every adult can decide for themselves whether they wish to be vaccinated or not.
Whether the COVID vaccine will be offered to children is still unclear at this stage, but children are vaccinated against many other diseases, for example measles, mumps and polio.
The decision on whether a child should be vaccinated is made by the child’s parents. However, this could present a problem if the parents do not agree between them whether the child should be vaccinated or not.
If two parents cannot agree a way forward, one or both of them will have to apply to the Family Court for a Specific Issue Order. The court will then have to listen to the arguments made by both parents and make a decision on what is in the best interests of the child. In any decision, the court will consider the criteria detailed at Section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989 which are:
(a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
(b) his physical, emotional and educational needs;
(c) the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
(d) his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
(e) any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
(f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
(g) the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
The issue of vaccinations in children was considered recently in the case of M v H (Private Law Vaccinations) 2020 EWFC 93. In that case, the father applied to the court so that his two children aged 4 and 6 would receive all the usual childhood vaccinations. The mother opposed the children receiving any vaccinations at all, and relied on her research on the internet.
The Judge agreed with the father, and ordered that the vaccinations proceeded. In his judgement, the Judge explained that vaccinations had been recommended by NHS and Public Health England, save for cases where there was a concern for safety specific to a particular child. The Judge contrasted this with the mother’s research on the internet which he said was, “partial and partisan”.
He said that if there were no special circumstances relating to a particular child, due to the evidence in support of vaccinations, it would be very difficult for a parent to successfully object to vaccinations that were in accordance with public health recommendations.
The Judge declined to comment on whether the court would support a COVID vaccine for a child, and did not make any order for a COVID vaccine. However, 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 the child’s best interests.”
The case explains that, in the absence of any special circumstances relating to a particular child, the court is likely to agree that a child should be vaccinated, and that being vaccinated is in the child’s best interests.