In September 2021, the UK Health Security Agency (successor to Public Health England), under the approved vaccination schedule, released the roll out of the administration of the COVID-19 vaccination for 12 – 15 year olds. Many parents are now considering whether their child should be vaccinated. The answer to this can be made more difficult if you are a separated parent or have opposing views. So where do you stand if your co-parent does not agree to your child receiving the COVID-19 vaccination?
Decisions involving medical treatment which include the vaccination of a child under the age of 16 involve using parental responsibility. Typically, consent should be obtained from all individuals who hold parental responsibility for the child. In circumstances where parents cannot agree whether a child should be vaccinated, an application should be made to the family court to determine the issue.
Although the COVID-19 vaccination is new, disputes over whether a child should receive a vaccination is not. The cases of Re B (A Child: Immunisation)  and H (A Child Parental Responsibility: Vaccination)  explored the matter of immunisations recommended for children as set out in the routine immunisation schedule found in the Green Book: Immunisation against infectious disease. In both cases, the court were satisfied that the child should receive the vaccines.
The issue of the COVID-19 vaccination was first raised in the case of M v H ( private law vaccination) . This case took place in December 2020 and focused on the MMR vaccination although the father in the application did also seek to include the COVID-19 vaccination as well as future travel vaccinations. Although the Judge considered it was to pre-mature to comment on the COVID-19 vaccination, because at the time it was unclear what the recommendations would be about children having the vaccination, he did remark: “It is very difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in children would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child’s best interests, absent peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines or a well evidenced contraindication specific to that subject child”. 
It has now been addressed further in the case of Re C (Looked After Child) (Covid-19 Vaccination) . This case concerned a child in the care of the Local Authority. The child wished to receive the COVID-19 and winter flu vaccines but his mother strongly opposed this. The question for the court was whether the Local Authority could exercise its parental responsibility for the child to arrange and consent to the administration of the vaccinations. In line with the previous cases on this issue, permission was granted by the Judge for the child to receive the vaccinations.
Regardless of whether the child is in the care of their parents or the Local Authority the message being passed through the courts is the same – where a vaccination forms part of a national programme and is approved by the requisite bodies the court, unless there is credible medical evidence to say it is not in the child’s best interests, will likely allow the administration of a vaccine to be given to a child, notwithstanding one parent’s disagreement.