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Vaccinating children – who gets to decide?

 January 2021 |  Salina Islam

Vaccinating children is a preventive medical intervention for most children from birth. Children can be vaccinated from the age of 8 weeks.

According to research conducted by Public Health England, vaccination is the norm in the UK and the uptake of most vaccines is high, with over 90% of 12 month olds and 24 months olds fully vaccinated with the primary vaccines and MMR respectively. According to the World Health Organization, globally, vaccination is estimated to prevent 2-3 million deaths per year.

Parents have a duty to act in their children’s best interest; however, they can choose not to vaccinate their children. Vaccination cannot be forced where both parents are not in agreement. A 2017 article ‘Changing attitudes to childhood immunisation in English parents, stated that in the UK it is estimated only about 1-2% of parents refuse all vaccines.  

Matters become complicated when there is a disagreement between parents over vaccination. In such cases, either parent can make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order under the Children Act 1989. The Court will intervene to decide whether to allow vaccination, based on the child’s welfare needs.

The Court will take into account the views of the parent who is opposing vaccination but will rely on scientific evidence. If the scientific evidence is in favour of the child being vaccinated, then the Court is likely to follow such evidence. However, the facts of every case are different and therefore the outcome of each case may not be the same.

The issue of vaccination has arisen in cases before the Family Court in the context of both private law and public law cases.

In the case of Re C (Welfare of Child: Immunisation) [2003] EWCA Civ 1148; [2003] 2 FLR 1095, it was held that where parents were in dispute about the immunisation of a child against infectious disease, neither parent had the right to make the decision alone and immunisation should be carried out only where a court decided that this was in the best interests of the child.

In the case of Re B (A Child: Immunisation) [2018] EWFC 56, the Court held that vaccination is properly categorised as an issue of preventative health care rather than medical treatment. The court, therefore, concluded that it was in the child’s best welfare interests to receive the vaccines that were recommended for a child of her age.

More recently in the case of M v H (private law vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93, the Court held that it was in the best interests of both children to be vaccinated in accordance with the NHS vaccination schedule. The court considered that the respondent mother had not demonstrated there had been a credible medical development demonstrating to the required standard a significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of any of the vaccines presently listed on the NHS vaccination schedule, and/or a well-evidenced medical contra-indication specific to the children.

It should be noted that in this case, the Court stated that it would be premature to determine any disputes that may arise regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you are currently facing disputes with your child’s parent over whether your child should be vaccinated, then please speak to one of our expert family lawyers who will be able to advise you on the options are that available to you and the most cost-effective way of progressing matters.

If you wish to make a query, please contact reception on 01234 343134, fill in the contact form below, or email us at so that we can guide you through the process and ensure that you receive a positive outcome for your child.

We offer an initial free callback, which can be carried out remotely over the telephone, by email, or via online conferencing such as Skype and Zoom. 

Salina Islam is a family lawyer with Fullers Family Law. 

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