At the time of writing, the government has announced that children aged between 12-15 and 16 and 17 years can have the Covid-19 vaccine. It should also be noted that if taking a child abroad for a holiday you will need to check the entry requirements for that specific jurisdiction. Currently in the UK, the only children aged 12 or above who have a very high risk of exposure and serious outcomes have been invited to have the vaccine until now. It may therefore be a possibility that in the near future you may have to decide whether or not your child should have the Covid-19 vaccine (or any other kind of vaccine).
Who makes the decision whether a child should be vaccinated or not?
Any person who has parental responsibility for a child can make the decision whether or not their child should be vaccinated. If there is more than one person who has parental responsibility for the child, each person will get a say in relation to whether the child should be vaccinated.
Who has parental responsibility for the child?
The mother of the child has automatic parental responsibility solely by giving birth to the child. Another parent automatically acquires parental responsibility if they are married or in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the birth. A parent can acquire parental responsibility in the following ways:
- Subsequently marries the mother or enters into a civil partnership with her.
- Enters into a Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother and files it at the Central Family Court (CFC).
- Obtains a court order giving them Parental Responsibility.
- Is named in a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) as a person with whom the child is to live. When the court makes a CAO naming the person as a person with whom the child lives, it must also make a PR order.
- Is named in a CAO as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact and the court decides that it would be appropriate to make a PR order in his favour.
- Is registered on the child’s birth certificate (although there are specific requirements in relation to this).
- Becomes the child’s guardian.
- Adopts the child.
What does Parental Responsibility mean?
Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. In practice, this means making decisions in relation to the child’s life, upbringing, health and well-being. This will therefore include making decisions in relation to where they grow up, religion, education, health, hobbies and interests and any other factor in a child’s life. If there is more than one person with parental responsibility it is possible that you may not agree on everything but every opinion should be considered before making a decision in relation to the child.
What if the people with Parental Responsibility cannot decide whether a child should be vaccinated or not?
If an agreement cannot be reached, before making an application to Court you should consider whether it is appropriate to consider attending mediation or other alternative dispute resolution. At Mediation, you and the other person(s) with parental responsibility will meet with a mediator to discuss your case, in an attempt to work out a solution. The mediator is completely neutral and cannot give you legal advice. His/her role is to facilitate an agreement, by explaining the legal framework and how a court may deal with your dispute. The Ministry of Justice is now funding mediation for separating couples, up to the sum of £500. Eligibility for this is not means-tested, but it is restricted to cases where the dispute includes a need to agree arrangements for a child or children.
If matters cannot be agreed, you can make a Court application for a Specific Issue Order for the Court to consider whether the child should be vaccinated or not. Among other considerations, the Court will need to take into account what would be in the best interests of the child.
Whether a child should be given the Covid-19 vaccine was considered in the recent case of M v H which was heard in December 2020. The Judge did not make a decision in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine due to the very early stage of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and at the time it remained unclear whether children would receive the vaccine. The Judge did however state 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, absent peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines or a well evidenced contraindication specific to that subject child.” In this case, the Judge did give an order for the child to have all the vaccines on the NHS schedule of vaccinations.
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