Children, Shared Custody and the Covid Vaccine

On 1 December 2021 the Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, announced that Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 years are expected to start before the end of January 2022. The dose to be provided will be lower than that provided to adults. The Pfizer vaccine is already being administered to children of this age in America. This will become increasingly important as the Delta variant has shown that zyoung people, particularly those who are unvaccinated, are more susceptible to contracting it and requiring hospitalisation.

Non-routine medical treatment

Under the Care of Children Act 2004 guardians have the role of determining important matters affecting a child. Included in this is medical treatment that is not “routine in nature”. There is no guidance from the Court on whether the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccination is not “routine in nature”. In reality, whether a child is vaccinated is a guardianship issue and must be made jointly between guardians. You cannot decide to vaccinate your child when your ex-husband or ex-wife has told you that he or she does not consent.

You should try to reach an agreement between you and your ex-husband or ex-wife. There is a lot of information available from the Ministry of Health about the Covid-19 Pfizer vaccination. You could also speak to your General Practitioner to obtain advice about the safety of it for your child.

What if we can’t agree?

If parents cannot agree, they may file an application to the Family Court to resolve the dispute - effectively asking the Court to make the decision. In these situations, the Court may make any order that it thinks fit. In essence, it may order a child to be vaccinated or not.

The paramount principle in respect of Care of Children proceedings in the Family Court is the welfare and best interests of the child. The Court must also consider the safety of the child. There are competing interests. One parent may suggest there are issues with the vaccine and the possibility of side effects. However, weighed against this is the seriousness of the current Delta outbreak, the possibility of serious illness requiring hospitalisation and the benefits of being vaccinated.

The Court are also required to take the views of the child into account. However the younger the child is the less ability they have to give an informed view.

If you would like advice on your specific situation, please contact Mike Brownlie on 03 211 0926