Covid-19 vaccinations for children: What if parents can’t agree?

Posted on: November 22nd, 2021

As the UK Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to roll-out for young adults, the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for children aged 12 to 15. The UK regulator states its use is “safe and effective”, with the benefits outweighing any risks. As a parent or guardian, you will receive a letter or email with information about when the vaccine will be offered, and you will be asked to give consent. The decision undoubtedly will invite some difficultly for separated parents who may not agree on vaccinations for their children.

There is no compulsory law for vaccinating a child. Ultimately, this decision will fall to the child’s parents who are encouraged to decide together. However, there may be a time where the parents find an agreement simply cannot be reached and after exhausting all options such as mediation and negotiations, the decision to vaccinate will have to be passed to the family courts.

The court can order a specific issue order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. Putting aside the differences of opinion with regards to the vaccine, the issue is no different from other disputes that can arise between parents regarding what the law terms as “specific issues” about their children. This includes decisions about school, religion and medical treatment.

Specifically, there have been recent cases where a parent has opposed an NHS scheduled vaccination, such as MMR, and in these circumstances, the court has determined the issue based on what it believes to be in the child’s best interest and not necessarily what the parent may want.  In M v H [2020] the court said it would be difficult to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, would not be in a child’s best interests.

It is fairly safe to say that as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved by the UK vaccines committee and introduced for this age group, it is extremely likely the courts will make an order for the child to be vaccinated unless there is a significant reason, i.e. a medical exemption, not to do so.

If you have any questions or would like advice on what to do as you cannot agree on a “specific issue” with another parent, please get in touch, we would be happy to help.