With the rolling out of the Covid-19 vaccine, more and more separated parents are finding themselves in disputes with their exes as a result of the refusal of one parent to allow their children to be vaccinated.
Where parents are married, they both hold Parental Responsibility for children. Unmarried mothers automatically hold Parental Responsibility for their children and unmarried fathers can acquire Parental Responsibility by way of jointly registering the birth with the mother (from 1 December 2003), entering into a ‘Parental Responsibility Agreement’ with the mother or obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order through the Family Court. Where both parents hold Parental Responsibility, they both have the right to be consulted with regards all significant decisions concerning their children’s welfare and upbringing (including their medical care) and they both have an equal say in such decisions.
So what does this mean for parents and consenting to their children receiving the Covid-19 vaccine? Under the Children Act 1989, a parent can apply to the Family Court for a ‘Specific Issue Order’ (an order to determine a specific question which has, or may arise, in connection with any aspect of Parental Responsibility for a child) that their children should be vaccinated. But what if a parent is concerned that their ex will go ahead and vaccinate their children without their consent? In these circumstances, that parent can apply for a ‘Prohibited Steps Order’ (an order prohibiting a party from making certain decisions in connection with any aspect of Parental Responsibility for a child) prohibiting the other parent from having their children vaccinated.
With the above said, in a case which was recently heard by the Family Court, the Judge commented as follows: –
“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”.