Vaccinating children and the law

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Disputes about vaccinating children against Covid-19

With the wider roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines on the horizon, Grace Clark considers the legal issues associated with the immunisation of children. If you are involved in a dispute about vaccinating children then call our free legal helpline on 0808 139 1606 or email us at [email protected]

Private law

It is for the parents (or those with parental responsibility) to decide whether or not a child should be vaccinated. In cases where more than one person has parental responsibility and a joint decision cannot be agreed then then they can as the courts to make a decision.

Public law

Where there is a care order in place, local authorities have the power to override the views of the parents or others with parental responsibility.

The power of local authorities to overrule the views of parents was demonstrated in a recent case. Both care and placement orders had been made and the parents of the child objected to routine immunisations taking place. The court ruled that a local authority with a care order could arrange and consent to a child in its care being vaccinated where it is in the child’s best interests, regardless of the views of those with parental responsibility. The court, however, acknowledged that the views of parents should be taken into account, though no real weighting should be given to their views unless it would have an effect on the welfare of the child.

The court’s reluctance to give real weighting to the views of parents was also demonstrated in a case where the father of two children made an application to the court for a specific issue order that the children would both be vaccinated in accordance with the NHS vaccination schedule. In this case, the welfare of the children was given far more weighting than the views of the father and this was reflected in a ruling made by the judge, who stated 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”. 

Disputes over vaccinating children

In private law the decision to immunise children lies solely with those with parental responsibility. If a decision about vaccinating a child cannot be reached by those with parental responsibility then an application can be made to the court for a decision to be made.

In public law cases the decision as to whether or not to vaccinate lies with the local authority who make the decision based on the welfare of the child, rather than the wishes of those with parental responsibility. This is because in public law proceedings local authorities have the power to override the views of those with parental responsibility.

In both private law and public law proceedings, where there is a dispute over vaccinating children, the welfare of the child will always take priority. In relation to Covid-19 vaccinations, it is difficult to foresee a vaccine being approved for children that would not be in the child’s best interests. It is therefore extremely likely that if a dispute about vaccinating children does arise in either private or public law proceedings the court will agree that the Covid-19 vaccine should be given.

How we can help

For further advice, our specialist family law team are available to help guide you and can offer a range of funding options. Call us on freephone 0808 139 1606 for a free initial chat or send us an email to [email protected]