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What happens if one parent doesn't want child vaccinated?

View profile for Greg Cross
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On 3 Sept 2021, the JVCI updated their information on vaccinating children aged 12 to 15 who do not have underlying health conditions that put them at increased risk from severe COVID-19.

When deciding on childhood immunisations, the JCVI has consistently maintained that the focus should be the benefits to children themselves, balanced against any potential harms to them from vaccination.

The Covid-19 vaccination is not compulsory for children to have at the time of writing this blog. However, this autumn (2021) all young people aged 12 to 15 years are being offered the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. There is a programme for nurses to go into some schools to offer the vaccination. England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has made it clear that the vaccine should be 'offered' to children, rather than being compulsory. Despite some parents fearing the jabs will be done behind their backs, they will be asked to give their consent.

Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News “On the very rare occasion where there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the 12 to 15-year-old, where the parent for example doesn’t want to give consent but the 12 to 15-year-old wants to have the vaccine, then the first step is the clinician will bring the parent and the child together to see whether they can reach consent.

If that is not possible, then if the child is deemed to be competent – and this has been around since the ’80s for all vaccination programmes in schools – if the child is deemed to be competent, Gillick competence as it is referred to, then the child can have the vaccine.”

But that if the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to go ahead and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be absolutely sure that the child is competent to make that decision.

There will be a grade of competency from the age of 16 downwards, so 14 to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, it’s less likely that a 12 or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.

In the 3 September 2021 update, Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 Immunisation for the JCVI, said:

Children aged 12 to 15 years old with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 should be offered COVID-19 vaccination. The range of underlying health conditions that apply has recently been expanded.

For otherwise healthy 12 to 15 year old children, their risk of severe COVID-19 disease is small and therefore the potential for benefit from COVID-19 vaccination is also small. The JCVI’s view is that overall, the health benefits from COVID-19 vaccination to healthy children aged 12 to 15 years are marginally greater than the potential harms.”

Can my parents make me get the Covid vaccine?

Parents, or those with parental responsibility, are being asked for their consent and are usually making this decision jointly with their children. There is an information leaflet available addressed to the child (as the recipient of the vaccine) and encourages them to discuss the decision about the vaccine with their parents.

In secondary schools, some older children may be sufficiently mature to provide their own consent and every effort should be made to contact the parent to seek their verbal consent. Schools have no role in this process.

Do you need both parents consent to vaccinate and what happens with child custody and Covid vaccine?

In line with other case law, parents who wish for their child to be vaccinated (against the wishes or concerns of other holders of parental responsibility) are likely to be successful when applying for a specific issue order on this point, unless there are some other health considerations or circumstances in a particular case.

Whilst the disagreeing parent views will be taken into consideration, the test in such cases will be what is in the best interests of the child or children concerned, as their welfare is overriding.

What we always recommend to separated parents, is that both parents should be making decisions that are in the best interests of their child(ren) and family and not to try and force their opinion or wants on to the situation to be sorted out. Making amicable decisions together, and with your child(ren), is always better for everyone rather than arguing and falling out over what is wanted.

If you are not able to decide together about situations relating to your child(ren), you can seek support and help to work on specific situations, as well as ways in which you can co-parent when you are no longer with the other parent of your child(ren). Talk to us about how having a formal agreement in place on how you make decisions that involve your child(ren) to work to when circumstances such as agreeing with the other parent about vaccination.

Contact a member of our Family law team at any of our offices in York (01905 624185), Selby (01757 708957) and Ryedale (01653 600070).