Should children receive the COVID-19 vaccination?

In England and Wales, the COVID-19 vaccination has been rolled-out to prevent the spread and life-threatening effects of the virus. In early August 2021, across the four UK countries, 81.7%-86.7% of adults were fully vaccinated, and 92.7%-94.1% have received their first vaccine dose. To be specific, there are currently 44,969,396 adults in the United Kingdom who have been fully vaccinated, and 48,928,952 who have had one single vaccine. We can call this a success. 

However, contention has started to arise now that the attention has turned to children becoming vaccinated. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, Professor Chris Whitty, has now advised that children aged between 12 and 15 should receive one dose of the vaccine. Many adults have chosen not to become vaccinated, however, the issues of vaccines for children are seemingly more divisive.  

There has been a lot of contention in the media that many children between the ages of 12 and 15 are competent to make their own decisions, about whether they want to receive the vaccination. This means that some children can, therefore, receive the vaccination even if their parents do not agree that they should. However, a child can only do this if they make the decision by themselves, they have a reasonable understanding of what the vaccine is for, and its intended purpose. They must understand the benefits and risks, and make an informed decision.  

This is very similar to the way in which children can instruct Solicitors in Family Court Proceedings, before attaining the age of 16 and without the use of a children’s Guardian. This is, therefore, a process that most family lawyers will understand.  

If one parent disagrees with the other over their child receiving the vaccination, or one or both parents disagree with the child, and the parents do not believe the child is able to make that decision for themselves, then a Court application is necessary. There are no case reports that say whether a child should or should not have the vaccine, however, there are many examples of other medical issues that have been decided by the Family Courts. The COVID-19 vaccination is no different in process and procedure, than to any other vaccination. 

The application to the Court allows the parent to ask the Court whether the child should be vaccinated. 

Both parents must be aware of this application, and if the child is between 12 and 15 years of age, they will be informed of the Court proceedings. Their wishes and feelings will be taken into consideration. For children of other ages or children who do not have the Court’s required level of maturity, a CAFCASS Officer or a Solicitor can present the wishes and feelings of the child, on the child’s behalf. Both parents will have the opportunity to put forward their reasons for wanting or not wanting the child to be vaccinated, and expert evidence can be called upon if required. In the absence of peer-reviewed research that suggests that it is not beneficial for children aged between 12 and 15 to receive one dose of the Covid vaccine, the Court will likely decide that one Covid vaccine dose should be given. However, if there are family circumstances or medical reasons for why the parents do not believe that the vaccination should be given, the Court could be persuaded.  

Unfortunately, the Family Courts are over-flooded and under-funded, and the Courts do not want thousands of applications to be received in respect of whether a child should receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The consequence of mass applications to the Court is known as ‘flood-gates’, and we must do our best to prevent the Family Courts from further damage. 

Collaborative working as co-parents is always in a child’s best interests. Therefore, mediation can be tried to see whether the parents of the child can agree as to whether the child should be vaccinated.  

There will be cases that fall outside of what can properly be mediated and agreed within the family. These cases will have to be brought to Court for the Judge to make decisions, just as they do in respect of other medical decisions.  

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