A child's right to choose - COVID-19 vaccinations

21 February 2022

A recent Family Court decision confirmed the right of a child to make their own choice on the COVID-19 vaccine.

This decision touches on just one of the interesting debates that has been raised by the pandemic and the vaccine: a parent’s ability to make decisions in the best interests of their child and a child’s ability to make their own decisions.

The mother took Family Court proceedings to remove the child from the care of his father, who is against the vaccine, and to stop the father from discussing anti-vaccine views around the child. However, the child was firm in saying that he has thought about the vaccine and decided that he does not want it.

Here, the Judge relied on the concept of ‘Gillick competence’: a young child should be able to make medical decisions if they can show that they understand the treatment and they can express their own wishes with an understanding of the consequences of their decision. This is shown in the Ministry of Health policy, which recognised the right of children aged 12 and above to give their own consent on the vaccine.

The Judge found that the child was a young man who made his decision with a good understanding of its consequences. This confirmed that parents have a responsibility, rather than a right, in the development of their child and should encourage their child to make their own decisions.

The Judge concluded that it was in the child’s best interests to respect the exercise of his freedom to choose based on his understanding of the vaccine and the consequences of his decision. The Judge added that it would be impractical to order the child to be vaccinated, considering his insistence against it.

If you have any questions about children and vaccination, please contact a member of our Family Disputes Team for advice.

Jo Naidoo and Harrison Thien are part of our Family Disputes team at Norris Ward McKinnon.