Can vaccines be forced on your children?
The continuing roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme has brought back the debate on the safety and long-term implications of administrating vaccines. The speed at which vaccines for Covid-19 have been approved appears to be at the root of concerns. People who may have previously been pro-vaccine may now have doubts and particularly parents considering vaccinating their children.
Whilst children are not currently in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the present situation shines a spotlight on the difficulties faced if separated parents have very different beliefs about childhood vaccinations.
It is important to highlight that it is not compulsory by law for any child to be vaccinated. Whilst there is a child vaccination programme within the UK for the most common diseases (Measles, Mumps etc), no parent is legally required to have their child vaccinated. However, there have been several recent court cases that have dealt with childhood vaccinations and the general principles from the family court are that if the vaccine is approved by the regulator and in the child’s best interests, the court will almost certainly rule in favour of administering the vaccine.
Putting aside the arguments for and against vaccine use, the issue of whether a child should be vaccinated is no different from other issues that can arise between parents regarding what the law terms as “specific issues” about their children. These include decisions about which school they should go to, what religious education they should receive or the medical treatment they should have.
If two separated parents are unable to agree on a “specific issue” regarding their child, either directly, through solicitor correspondence or through some form of mediation service, the last resort is to make a court application for a judge to decide the issue. The Court can order what is known as a Specific Issue Order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
In these circumstances, the Court will have to determine the issues based on what it believes to be in the children’s best interest and not necessarily what the parents want. The court has particular regard to the factors at section s1 (3) of the Children Act 1989, the welfare checklist, namely:
- Wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
- Physical, emotional and educational needs;
- Likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
- Age, sex and background;
- Any harm or risk of suffering;
- The range of powers available to the court
At the moment, children are not due to be vaccinated against Covid-19. However, if the Covid-19 vaccination is approved for children and added to the NHS list of childhood vaccination, we may see an influx of applications for a specific issue order for a child to have the vaccine being made to the courts. Ideally parents should always try to agree without court involvement but this can be tricky to do.
If you are a separated parent and struggling to agree any issue with your ex-partner regarding your children, please do not hesitate to speak to one of our family team solicitors in confidence about your options. Please contact 01473 611 211 to arrange an initial consultation.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.