Family Law

Children’s Vaccinations and the Law

21 DEC 2020

Children usually receive vaccinations in accordance with the school vaccination programme up to the age of 16 – but what happens when there is a dispute between the child’s parents about whether the child should receive a vaccination?

Both parents have to consent to vaccinations when they both have parental responsibility. Married parents both have parental responsibility for their children.  Unmarried fathers only have parental responsibility when they are registered as the father on the birth certificate and the child was born on or after 1st December 2003.  If the child’s father is not registered on the birth certificate, there is no registered parental responsibility agreement or parental responsibility order and he does not agree with the mother’s decision about whether the child is vaccinated he should take specialist legal advice about whether to apply to the court.

Over the last 20 years there have been a number of high profile disputes as a result of the concerns about the combined MMR vaccine and the courts have made it clear that where parents are in dispute about this issue neither parent has the right to make the decision alone and should seek the specific approval of the court.

The court’s primary concern is the child’s welfare. Recent case law has made it clear that:

  • if the court receives medical confirmation that there are no contrary indications in the child’s medical history to the proposed vaccine, then generally the risk of catching the disease will be found to outweigh the risks associated with the vaccine and that
  • vaccinations are generally now to be treated by the courts as public preventative healthcare intended to protect individual children and society more generally.

A parent who wants to oppose a routine vaccination needs to have strong medical evidence as the court is likely to follow the medical advice about their child’s health and if they are unsuccessful, they can be ordered to pay the other parent’s legal costs.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the development of a vaccine, now being administered to those most at risk, means that parents have to decide and agree whether their children will receive this vaccination with the added anxiety in these challenging times of how to protect elderly grandparents and maintain important family relationships.

Please contact our specialist family lawyers to discuss your child’s circumstances and how to resolve children’s vaccination issues.

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