COVID Vaccine Approval for Young Children Could Come Soon: What if Co-Parents Disagree?
Some years ago, I worked on a case involving a parent who was in a dispute with a co-parent over whether their child would receive the typical panel of vaccinations recommended by pediatricians. The case was unusual, but as health authorities consider if the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children, more matters like that one could be on the way.
A recent poll reported that about one-quarter of parents won’t let their children receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Co-parents who disagree on this issue will need to review their final divorce decree or custodial order to determine who can make the final decision on a child’s vaccination. If you are co-parenting with a former spouse or partner, and you don’t like the answer in that document, mediation or a court appearance could be required to resolve the question.
What’s Happening Now
In May, the FDA approved the use of Pfizer’s vaccine in children aged 12 to 15, and more than 600,000 children in that group received it in the first week. Pfizer has said that in September it expects to ask the FDA to allow children ages 2 to 11 to receive the inoculation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eligible children get the vaccine, but a recent Harris Poll found that 25% of parents do not want their children to get it, with most opponents concerned about its safety or effectiveness.
Check Your Papers
If co-parents disagree on whether their child will receive the vaccine, they should take some time to review the terms of their final divorce decree or custodial order to determine what it says regarding legal custody of the child.
- Sole Legal Custody: If one parent was granted sole legal custody, then he or she arguably has the exclusive ability to make the decision about whether the child will receive the COVID-19 vaccination and can do so despite the objection of the other parent.
- Joint Legal Custody: If parents share joint legal custody, under Georgia law they will need to discuss whether the child should be given the COVID-19 vaccination. If they can’t agree, see if one parent was given final decision-making authority over medical decisions for the child. If so, that parent’s decision regarding the vaccine would control.
See a Lawyer
If you are not the parent with final decision-making authority over medical decisions for your child and you strongly disagree with the other parent’s position regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, then you should talk with a lawyer. Consider requesting a mediation to try to work out a solution. Alternatively, you may ask the court to resolve this particular dispute or even petition the court to modify legal custody entirely.
If You Go to Court
If your COVID-19 vaccination dispute does come before a court, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing your case.
Evidence Supporting / Against Vaccinations: At court, both parents will have the opportunity to present evidence supporting their position regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. In general, the personal opinions of each parent won’t likely carry much weight with the court. Rather, one should consider presenting testimony from the child’s medical providers (such as the pediatrician) regarding the child’s medical history and testimony from medical experts supporting or advising against your position.
Parental Involvement: When making its decision, the court also may consider which parent has historically been most involved in the child’s medical care. For example, if the child’s mother, who is opposed to giving the child the COVID-19 vaccine has been much more involved than the father in the child’s healthcare, the court may be more inclined to side in the mother’s favor.
Religious Belief: If one parent objects to vaccinations for religious reasons, the court may give weight to this religious belief when making its determination. However, the court may be wary that religion is just a convenient source of support for the parent’s desire to not vaccinate the child. Accordingly, said parent will need to provide substantial support for the genuineness of his or her religious belief.
- If your child is age 14 or older, the court may ask the child for their opinion about getting a vaccine and consider that a factor.
- If the child’s school requires a vaccine to attend, the court may consider that a reason the child should be vaccinated.
Ultimately, the court will balance all of these above-mentioned factors, among others, to determine what is in the best interest of the child. For example, all other things being equal, if protecting the child from COVID-19 is in the child’s best interest, a judge would likely rule in favor of the parent who is pro-vaccination.
BCNTR Law is here to help you understand your rights with the COVID-19 vaccine for your children. Contact us today.