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To jab or not to jab – when parents disagree about vaccinating their child
21 Sep 2021

This week, the Government has announced that all children aged 12-15 will be offered one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus over the winter months and to reduce school absences.

To date more than 5 billion doses of Covid vaccines have been administered around the world and more than 40% of the global population has received at least one dose.

While side effects from these vaccinations are rare, some parents may be reluctant to agree to their child being vaccinated. But what happens if only one parent objects? Here, Elizabeth Harris-Clark from our Family team looks at the legal implications:

With the COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out so quickly across the UK, there are concerns among some about the long-term impact and side effects of the vaccine. As a result, some people are reluctant to get the vaccine themselves or to let their children be vaccinated.

The law in the UK allows parents to decide whether their children should be vaccinated, but when parents or those with parental responsibility disagree, it can get a little more complicated.

Fortunately, the law is reasonably clear about how to resolve such disputes. The Green Book outlines vaccination procedure for healthcare professionals and details what should happen where parents disagree. It says:

"Although consent of one person with parental responsibility for a child is usually sufficient, if one parent agrees to immunisation but the other disagrees, the immunisation should not be carried out unless both parents can agree to the immunisation or there is a specific court approval that the immunisation is in the best interests of the child".

So, if you feel strongly about your child being vaccinated but can’t get their other parent to agree, you may have to take court action.

Vaccines and court orders

Where two parents disagree about whether their child should be vaccinated, either parent may apply to the court under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for a specific issue order. It will then be the job of the court to decide how to resolve the dispute. As always, with disputes involving children, the child's overall welfare and what is in the child’s best interests will be of paramount concern.

Case example

While the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively new, disagreements between parents about whether to vaccinate their children are not.

In F v F [2013] EWHC 2683 (Fam), the parents were in disagreement about whether their two children should have the MMR vaccination. The children in this case - aged 11 and 15 - objected to receiving the vaccination. Both parents had previously agreed that the children would not be vaccinated after reports of a connection with autism.

However, this report was later retracted and the father was worried that the children had not been vaccinated. The Cafcass Officer was concerned that the children did not fully appreciate all the risks and benefits, asking the court to act with caution when taking into account their wishes and feelings.

The court decided on balance, it was better for the children to be vaccinated, and made a declaration to this end.

In the more recent case of M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93, the Judge noted that it was very difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccination approved for use in children would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child’s best interests, in the absence of medical evidence to the contrary.  This case was reported before the COVID-19 vaccine was approved for 12-15 year olds, but shows that the Court will make decisions about vaccinations if parents cannot agree.

If you need further advice on how best to settle a family dispute about vaccinations or anything else, please get in touch with Elizabeth Harris-Clark on 01952 915142 or email elizabeth.harris-clark@fbcmb.co.uk.

Meet Elizabeth Harris-Clark