There are wide-ranging opinions regarding the benefits and risks associated with vaccinations, as well as a considerable amount of research and academic opinion. But what happens if two parents disagree as to whether their child should be vaccinated? The recent case of Re B (A Child: Immunisation) [2018] EWFC 56 provides insight into the court’s approach towards such cases.

This case concerned a five year old girl, whose parents could not agree on a number of issues surrounding her care, including whether or not she should receive certain vaccinations. Following her parents’ separation, the mother made an application for a specific issue order for the child to have three vaccinations, which were by then overdue. Prior to her parents’ separation, she had received all of the recommended vaccinations.

The father objected to the mother’s application, and a guardian who was appointed to represent the child agreed with the mother that the vaccinations should be given. A medical expert was also appointed by the parties and reported on each of the vaccinations and their efficacy.

The court found that it was proportionate and in the child’s best interests to be immunised. The court placed particular importance on consideration of the risk of harm that the child had suffered or was at risk of suffering, finding that the child would not be exposed to a risk which any well-informed and reasonable carer might properly regard as unwise or inappropriate. The court found that the father’s views were biased and unreliable, based upon his own research, and this conflicted with the research and evidence of the expert which was considered to be ‘mainstream’. The court also considered the no order principle, concluding that the court should determine the matter as the parents’ views were polarised.

The court also noted that its role is to rely on the evidence before it at the present time, bearing in mind that research is continually developing. Although in the future new risks may be identified, the court must make a decision on the basis of what is known at present.

Overall, there is no straightforward answer in cases such as this. Each case will be determined on the basis of its individual circumstances, the research available at that time and a careful assessment of the child’s best interests.

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