Can a parent be forced to vaccinate their child?

Can a parent be forced to vaccinate their child?

Vaccinations have been a controversial topic for some time and disputes over the merits of vaccinating children have garnered much media attention. Given the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the work of the scientific community, these are likely to become much more prominent over the next year. 

One of the reasons why the debate over vaccinating has become so controversial is because it strikes at the heart of an issue parents feel very passionately about, ie what is in the best interests of their children? When one person with parental responsibility feels receiving a vaccine is in the best interests of a child, and another person with parental responsibility holds the opposite viewpoint, an impasse is reached which the courts are often asked to decide on. The discomfort many people feel at trusting such a decision to a body of the state and the inevitable evocation of human rights issues continue to fuel the public’s interest in these cases.

Despite this, the court does have jurisdiction to rule on these cases and essentially order for a child to be vaccinated against a parent’s wishes. Within private law (as opposed to public cases concerning children in care), where more than one person has parental responsibility for a child each may make decisions for the child in question without the input of the other (Section 2(7) of the Children Act 1989). It is important to note that neither parent is afforded greater responsibility than the other. Therefore, in cases where parents disagree as to what is in the best interests of the child, they have little choice but to apply for a resolution from the court.

One such recent case is that of M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93. MacDonald J was asked to rule on whether two children should have the childhood vaccinations included on the NHS vaccination schedule, any future travel vaccinations and the coronavirus vaccination. The mother objected to these, whereas the father wished to have the children vaccinated. MacDonald J stated that it would not be appropriate for him to make an order in respect of the travel vaccines or the COVID-19 vaccine. The court had no indication of any specific vaccine or any planned travel. The judge held it was inappropriate to rule on the

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