With the Government announcing its autumn/winter plan to control the on-going Covid 19 pandemic, it has been announced that vaccinations will be offered to 12–15-year-olds in England. Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has confirmed that the vaccine will be offered to children however it will not be made compulsory.
Parental consent will be required to administer vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds, however in some circumstances children can overrule their parents’ decision.
Generally, under the law if children under 16-years of age can prove that they understand the risks and benefits of a medical procedure, that procedure can be administered in the absence of parental consent.
If your child is between 12-15 years old, they will soon be offered the Covid- 19 vaccination. Parents will be asked to provide their written consent and leaflets will be handed out in schools. It is possible that disagreements could arise in circumstances where the child wants to receive the vaccination however the parents disagree and refuse to provide consent. In these circumstances The Vaccines Minister has said that a meeting will first be organised with the child, their parents and a clinician to discuss their views and any concerns of the parents.
If agreement cannot be reached, between the parent and child, an assessment will be made to determine whether the child is “competent to consent”. The legal test to determine whether a child is competent is known as “Gillick competence”, named after a legal case in the 1980’s. The aim of Gillick competence is to reflect the transition of a child to adulthood.
The Gillick assessment considers the intelligence and maturity of the child, their understanding and ability to weigh risk and benefit. If the child is considered competent, the parent’s decision may be overruled, and the child may receive the vaccine. Maturity is an important factor, and it is unlikely that a child of 12 or even 13 would be considered competent enough to provide consent.
The Family Courts are not unfamiliar to cases involving medical consent. Doctors can seek an order from the court to administer medicine or undertake a procedure where they can evidence that it is in the child’s “best interests”, even if the parent opposes it.
It is possible therefore that we may see Covid-19 vaccination cases come before the Family Courts in the future.