19-11-2020

Child vaccinations and what happens when the parents disagree

All child vaccinations in the UK are voluntary and therefore parental consent must be given prior to the vaccination. 

The consent can come from anyone with Parental Responsibility for the child.  Our family law team have seen a number of cases recently where disputes have arisen between separated parents, because one of the parents does not agree with a vaccination taking place. This can sometimes be down to the uncertainty and worry surrounding possible side effects of the vaccine and sometimes it can be for religious reasons.   

What happens when parents disagree?

Any issues relating to children are governed by the Children Act 1989. Under the Children Act, usually the consent of one person with Parental Responsibility is sufficient, however, if there is a disagreement over the vaccination then it should not be carried out unless everyone with Parental Responsibility can agree, or there is a ‘Specific Issue Order’ from the Court in place, saying that the vaccination is in the best interests of the child.

In determining what is in the child’s best interests, the Law sets out a ‘Welfare Checklist’ in the Children Act 1989.  The Act also sets out the general principle that any delay in deciding the dispute before the Court is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. 

In 2018, there was a published case where the separated parents of a five-year-old girl disagreed on her receiving a vaccination. The Mother wished to have the child vaccinated but the Father objected. The Judgment stated that all vaccinations carry risks but that there is a very wide body of research evidence concerning the risks of individual vaccines. The Judge stated that rational balanced informed decisions can be made because the known risks of particular vaccines, can with confidence, be balanced against a known risk of not being immunised with those vaccines.    The Court therefore concluded that it was in the child’s best welfare interests that she should receive the vaccines that were recommended for a child of her age and so the Court order was made.

This case was the sixth published Court decision over the last fifteen years when the Courts have been called upon to decide whether a child should be vaccinated or not.  In all of the cases (apart from one) the Court has decided that the child/children concerned should be vaccinated. In one of the earlier cases in 2003, it was decided that a ten-year-old girl should not receive HIB Vaccine because her medical history was on balance against it.

The Court is very clear that it will not express any views as to whether or not immunisation is a good or a bad thing, but will looking at each case on its own merits and with regard to the welfare interests of the child/children concerned and the Court will consider each case on its own individual facts.

If you are in this position and would like some advice, please get in touch with our team.

In this video Shetal discusses Child Arrangement Orders, covering specific issues orders