Children in care can be vaccinated against their parents’ wishes without court order, UK judges rule

22 May, 2020

A UK appeals court has ruled that children in state care may receive “routine vaccinations” even when parents are opposed, adding that no court order is needed for the shots because they are in the child’s “best interests.”

Children in foster care may be vaccinated without a court order, against parental wishes, because vaccination is not considered a “serious medical treatment” that would justify High Court intervention, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled on Friday. Absent any “significant” or “unusual” reason a shot might not be in the child’s “best interests,” the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had full authority to arrange for a nine-month-old child in foster care to be vaccinated, the judges said in their decision.

The child was taken from his parents in September and placed into care after the government – which had previously removed children from the home due to the “parents’ chaotic lifestyle,” violence, and neglect – deemed his living conditions unsafe. While the parents had refused to have the child vaccinated, declaring the state should have no role in the raising of their son, they lost their initial case in February.

After an appeals hearing last month, the parents had already acquiesced to the state’s wishes, apparently seeing the writing on the wall and opting to allow their son to be vaccinated. However, the ruling is likely to have repercussions far beyond that case as the UK fast-tracks several Covid-19 vaccines to market.

Infant vaccinations are not mandatory in the UK, but the judges pointed out in their ruling that there was no precedent for a vaccination dispute being decided against inoculating the child and scientific opinion was largely settled in favor of the risks of not vaccinating outweighing any potential vaccine risks. Indeed, a 1989 law specifically categorizes the jabs as “preventative healthcare” rather than “medical treatment” and permits the state to arrange inoculations for children in care without consulting their parents. While parental wishes on immunization “must always be taken into account,” they can be put aside “unless the view has a real bearing on the child’s welfare,” the judges concluded.

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The decision will likely have some parents up in arms, especially as the UK rushes various Covid-19 vaccines through trials despite a lackluster showing in clinical trials so far. Oxford University’s vaccine failed to prevent viral infection in any of the six rhesus monkeys that had been inoculated in its initial trial earlier this week, but the government dumped another £65.5 million ($80 million) into that project and human trials of the formulation will apparently continue despite the flop. On Thursday, drugmaker AstraZeneca said it had secured orders for 400 million doses of the unproven Oxford jab, with plans to start delivering it as early as September.

The UK has an especially poor history with vaccines being rushed to market – the government is still paying out reparations for citizens injured by the 2009 Pandemrix vaccine, which hit the market during a swine flu epidemic after just six months of safety testing. The shot left over 1,000 people, mostly children, with permanent brain damage.

No statements have been made yet as to whether the coronavirus vaccine will be mandatory, but a significant minority of respondents to polls in the US and France have balked at both the rushed development timetable – vaccines usually take upwards of 10 years to go through clinical trials and safety testing – and their respective governments’ politicization of the process.