COVID-19 vaccinations: when parents disagree

This autumn, millions of children will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination for the first time. Concerned parents will be weighing up the arguments for and against the vaccine for their children, especially if they are at higher risk due to health conditions.

Given the very natural concern for the welfare of any child, let alone high-risk children, parents may have opposing views on COVID-19 and other childhood vaccinations.

For separated and divorced parents, the “Marmite” polarising views on COVID-19 vaccinations can become a major issue. Inevitably, differing views are magnified when separated parents are living separate lives.

Whatever your own views, vaccinations are an important issue now and into the future, both in terms of health and access to events and travel abroad. So the issue will need resolving sooner rather than later.


Can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine?

From Monday 20th September 2021, the the COVID-19 vaccine is on offer to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and all children aged 12 to 15.

  • Those aged 16 and 17 will be offered an initial jab, with the intention of a second dose at a later date.
  • Healthy children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
  • Children at higher risk aged 12 to 15 are eligible for two doses.

All those aged under 18 will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine has also been approved for use for this age group. The JCVI is waiting on more international data before deciding if healthy children need a second dose of vaccine. Dr Chris Whitty has said that there are currently no plans to vaccinate those aged under 12.


Vaccinations and schools

The UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said that the vaccine is being offered on "public health grounds" to reduce transmission in schools.

"Having a significant proportion of pupils vaccinated is likely to reduce the probability of such events which are likely to cause local outbreaks in, or associated with, schools. They will also reduce the chance an individual child gets Covid-19. This means vaccination is likely to reduce (but not eliminate) education disruption.”

The School Age Immunisation Service will deliver the majority of the vaccinations in schools. It is likely that each school will had out a consent form which one parent can sign to give their permission. 


Parental permission for vaccinations

As the NHS website says:

“People aged 16 or over are entitled to consent to their own treatment. This can only be overruled in exceptional circumstances.”

So, children aged 16 and 17 do not need parental permission to have the vaccination unless in exceptional circumstances.

Children aged under 16 can consent to the vaccine if they are “Gillick competent”. This is defined as:

“If they're believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what's involved in their treatment.”

Otherwise, permission for medical treatment, including vaccinations, is required from someone with parental responsibility for the child.


What is parental responsibility?

As a parent, you have legal rights and responsibilities, known collectively as “parental responsibility”. Your main priorities include providing a home for your child/children, to protect them, providing an education, and agreeing to medical treatments.

According to the Gov website guidance on Parental Rights and Responsibilities :

“If you have parental responsibility for a child but you do not live with them, … the other parent must include you when making important decisions about their lives.”

Who has parental responsibility?

The guidance on Parental Rights and Responsibilities states:

“A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth.

A father usually has parental responsibility if he’s either:

- married to the child’s mother

- listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in).”

If you don’t have parental responsibility you can apply for it. If you separate or divorce from the mother/father of your child, you both still keep parental responsibility.

What the government says about permission

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in an interview with Sky News:

“If there is a difference of opinion between the child and the parent then we have specialists that work in this area, the schools vaccination service. They would usually literally sit down with the parent and the child, and try to reach some kind of consensus.

"If ultimately that doesn't work, as long as we believe that the child is competent enough to make this decision then the child will prevail."


What happens when parents disagree?

Under the law, healthcare professionals only need one person with parental permission to consent for them to provide treatment for a child. However, medical professionals such as doctors are unlikely to provide treatment if one parent disagrees with the other.

If parents can’t agree, a court can make the decision based on what is in the child’s best interest. Parents need to apply for a “specific issue application” so that the court can determine what should be done in the best interests of the child.

If the child doesn’t consent to treatment, and that refusal may lead to their death or a severe permanent injury, the Court of Protection can overrule.


Can’t agree? How dispute resolution and mediation can help

Communication and cooperation is key to effective co-parenting for separated or divorced couple. If children see their parents at loggerheads over the issue of vaccinations, it will not give them confidence in the eventual outcome.

That’s where dispute resolution and mediation can help. By talking through issues with the help of an independent mediator, couples can come to important agreements and decision in a less emotionally charged environment, and with due consideration of both sides of the argument. It can be particularly effective when amicable communications have broken down.

At LGFL, we have had great success in helping couples agree on important issue regarding their children, from financial support to schooling choices, and medical treatments and childhood vaccinations. Contact us to discuss how this might work for you as parents, or see our pages on dispute resolution and mediation.


The social aspect of child vaccinations

In early September, a group of leading UK scientists and health modelling experts Moderna submitted a scientific paper to The Lancet that claimed that vaccinating the under-16s would play a role in ending the pandemic more quickly”.

According to a report in iNews:

“The research found that if children as young as five were jabbed with 100 per cent uptake, hospital admissions due to Covid-19 would fall by 60 per cent across all age groups.”

The report also acknowledged, however, the announcement last week by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that healthy children aged 12 to 16 would receive “marginal gain” from the COVID-19 vaccination.


International child vaccination policies

Elsewhere in the world, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for those aged between 12 and 15, after research showed that this age group had a similar immune response to those aged 16-15. Children aged over 12 are currently offered the vaccine in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy, with the US, Hong Kong and China recommending all over-12s receive the jab.


Vaccinations and the SEN child

At LGFL, we have a keen interest in family law cases involving SEN children. So we were very interested to read an article in GP Online from a doctor dealing with a couple with a Down’s syndrome girl. her father did not agree with childhood vaccinations, and had written to the GP to make his views clear. Her mother strongly supported all childhood vaccinations and wanted her daughter to have the COVID-19 vaccination if and when it was offered.

The GP referred to the “Green Book” a publication from Public Health England and the DHSC giving details of vaccinations and procedures. Down’s syndrome is listed in the Green Book as one of the conditions carrying “increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease”.

In this case, the advice to GPs was:

“The practice should advise the parents that they have a responsibility to discuss the matter and reach agreement between themselves as quickly as possible. Until the dispute is resolved, the child’s vaccination should generally not be provided unless the GP has considered it to be necessary to safeguard the child’s best interests.”

If as a couple you have come to an agreement, you might prefer that a third party takes your child to be immunised. So long as consent has been given by a person with parental responsibility, anyone can take your child to have their vaccination, including grandparents or a child-minder.


Need help reaching a decision together on COVID-19 vaccinations for your children?

Coming to an agreement is important not just for the current debate over COVID-19, and future immunisation programs against COVID-19 and other diseases. Contact us to discuss how mediation, including online hybrid mediation, can help you reach a decision without meeting face to face.

Remember, this service is to allow you to discuss and agree between you with the help of an impartial mediator. Your mediator will not hold or voice any opinion on the merits or otherwise of vaccinations, but guide you towards making a joint decision.

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