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A mother has been permitted by the courts to get her child vaccinated, despite the father objecting B (A Child: Immunisation)  EWFC 56.
In the UK the vaccination of children is not compulsory. The decision of whether to vaccinate young children, though strongly recommended by the State, is a decision parents are allowed to make for themselves.
The case we look at here concerns a 5-year-old girl whose parents separated in 2015. Before the parents separated and with the consent of them both, the child had received all the recommended vaccinations. Under the recommendations of Public Health England, she was now due (or overdue) 3 further vaccinations. These were the combined diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis/polio vaccine, the MMR vaccine and the influenza vaccine. The parents disagreed over whether the child should now have these vaccinations.
Under the Children Act 1989, application can be made for “specific issue orders” which can cover just this sort of problem. They are used to resolve disputes between parents (or other holders of parental responsibility) about medical, educational, or religious decisions. The mother in this case applied for a specific issue order to allow her to arrange for the child to be immunised.
The court heard evidence from Dr Elliman, a jointly instructed medical expert witness. The father, a litigant in person who lacked any relevant medical expertise, produced over 300 pages of material in support of his position. The judge deduced the father's 7 key points and Dr Elliman addressed the medical issues. In particular, the court dismissed the father's proposition that where parents disagree on a child being vaccinated, then the status quo should be that the child is not vaccinated.
Dr Elliman acknowledged that no vaccination is 100% risk free, but that vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious disease.
The judge considered the paramountcy principle (that the child’s best interest and welfare is the first and paramount consideration) and the principle that delay in determining the matter may be prejudicial to the child’s welfare. In respect to the no order principle, the judge recorded that the court should decide the matter as the parents' views were split. With regard to Article 8 of the European Convention, the judge stated that any order made by the court must be proportionate and, in the child’s best welfare interests.
Having considered the case law, the judge then determined that Dr Elliman's opinions were 'mainstream' whilst the father's views were biased and unreliable. In conclusion, the judge granted the specific issue order and made a declaration that it was in the child's best welfare interests to receive the vaccinations.
The judge made it clear that he was not looking at the pros and cons of immunisation, or at the merits of vaccination more widely. His concern was the child’s best welfare interests. This case shows that judges are continuing to follow the status quo with regards to immunisation and one parent’s opinions are not likely to sway them.
The family team at Myerson regularly advises clients on matters surrounding children upon separation of parents. Please call us on 0161 941 4000 and ask for our Family law department or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.