To Jab or Not to Jab – I want my child vaccinated but my partner doesn’t

Children aged between 5-11 will now be offered the Covid-19 vaccination, following advice from the Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations. 

The rollout of this vaccine has been classed as ‘non-urgent’ with an emphasis on parental choice by the Health and Social Care Secretary for England, Sajid Javid, meaning that this will be made accessible by the NHS for all children within this age range by April 2022. It is then at parents’ discretion as to whether they want to take up the officer to increase protection against possible future waves of Covid-19. 

There seems to be a stronger recommendation for children who are considered to be at a higher risk of serious complications of Covid-19, or those who are household contacts of an immunosuppressed person to reduce the risk of passing the infection to their family members. It has also been advised that children in this age range who have a severely weakened immune system, may require an extra third dose eight weeks after their second dose. 

The Committee on Vaccinations and Immunsations said that children within this age range had the lowest risk of infection, compared to other age ranges, however, it was agreed that the potential health benefits of the vaccination were greater than the potential health risks. It is also anticipated that by vaccinating this age range, it will prevent a small number of hospital and intensive care infections, whilst providing short-term protection. 

Children will be offered the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination which will be a third of the dose of the vaccine that has been provided to adults and older children. Each child will require two injections, usually eight weeks apart.  

Government guidance states that like all medicines, this vaccination can cause side effects which should only last a day or two, explaining that it is usually the second dose that causes more side effects.  

Covid-19 vaccinations have raised a lot of debate in the media, and it is anticipated that some parents or carers may not agree about whether their child should receive the vaccine. Children between the ages of 5-11 are unlikely to be competent to provide their own consent to be vaccinated. As such, if a parent wishes for their child to receive the vaccine, they will need the consent of all other persons with parental responsibility for the child, before the jab can be administered.    

If those with parental responsibility for a child cannot reach an agreement about the Covid-19 vaccination, then it may become necessary to seek legal advice, and potentially ask the Court to intervene and make a decision about the specific issue of having the child vaccinated. Both parents will have the opportunity to put forward their reasons, and expert evidence can be called upon. The Court would look individually at each case. 

In the recent case of C (Looked After Child) (Covid-19 Vaccination), the Judge confirmed that unless there is evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine is not in the best interests of the child, the Court would generally take the view that the vaccine is likely to be in the best interests of the child. This is because vaccinations are a part of national public health programmes. 

Unfortunately, the Family Courts are extremely busy, and it may not always be possible to receive an urgent decision. Proceedings of this nature could take months to resolve.  

Collaborative working as co-parents is always felt to be 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. 

If the issues in this blog affect you, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist solicitors. 

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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