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  • 1.8 M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93 – Court authorises vaccination & considers role of the court in such applications

1.8 M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93 – Court authorises vaccination & considers role of the court in such applications

Posted on 3 February 2021

There was a disagreement between parents as to whether their two children should receive routine vaccinations on the NHS vaccination schedule. The father applied for a specific issue order, requiring the children to be vaccinated. He also sought to include vaccinations relevant to overseas travel and COVID-19.

The matter came before MacDonald J, who directed that the children should receive the routine vaccinations. He examined previous case law on the point, and noted that, while it cannot be doubted that it is both reasonable and responsible behaviour for a parent to arrange for a child to be vaccinated, vaccinations are not compulsory. Scientific evidence establishes that it is generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children to be vaccinated. He noted that the evidence base with respect to MMR overwhelmingly identifies the benefits to a child of being vaccinated as part of the public health initiative to drive down the incidence of serious childhood and other diseases. Although parental views regarding immunisation must always be taken into account, the matter is not to be determined by the strength of the parental view unless the view has a real bearing on the child's welfare. A court will be unlikely to conclude that immunisation with the routine vaccines that are recommended for children by Public Health England is not in a child's best interests absent (a) a credible development in medical science or new peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of the vaccines that is the subject of the application and/or (b) a well evidenced medical contraindication specific to the child or children who are subject of the application.

He declined to consider the travel vaccinations as they were speculative at this stage. Nor did he make any determination regarding any COVID-19 vaccination, on the basis that it remains unclear at present whether and when children will receive the vaccination, which vaccine or vaccines they will receive and what the official guidance will be regarding the administration of any COVID-19 vaccine to children. However, he considered it difficult to foresee a situation in which a vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in children would not be endorsed as the court as being in the child's best interests, absent peer-reviewed research indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of them, or specific contraindications for the child in question.

Emma Willing says:

"The case of M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93) is a timely reminder of the approach the court takes to a decision which requires the exercise of joint parental responsibility. In circumstances in which parents with parental responsibility are unable to agree on medical treatment for a child, to include the administration of vaccinations it remains necessary for the court to intervene in order to make such welfare decisions. Whilst it remains to be seen whether children will receive the COVID-19 vaccination, the case confirms the position that if a vaccination has been approved for use in children, it is difficult to foresee circumstances in which the court would not then endorse a child receiving that, absent peer-reviewed research indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one or more of them, or specific contraindications for the child in question."

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