Family Law and COVID-19 Vaccinations for Children

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3 February 2022, By Stephanie Barnes of Hartley Family Law    

Family law and COVID-19 vaccinations for children

Among the many queries we have received relating to the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e. travel of children where parents live interstate, children travelling between residences where a parent is isolating, etc), one of the common disputes that has arisen is whether or not to vaccinate children.

We have set out below some of the questions we have been asked about this issue, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When can I get my child vaccinated?

The current Queensland Health Guidelines recommend that:

  • children under 5 years old don’t receive a vaccination to protect them against COVID-19;
  • children aged 5 to 11 years old receive the Pfizer vaccine, although a smaller dose than adults (10 micrograms); and
  • anyone over 12 years old receives a dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (an adult dose of 30 micrograms).

To be considered fully vaccinated, a person must have two doses of the vaccine. The time frame within which to receive the second dose varies depending on age, as follows:

  • children under 11 years old can receive their second Pfizer vaccine 8 weeks after their first dose; and
  • children aged 12 to 17 years can receive a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine 3 to 6 weeks after their first dose or their second dose of the Moderna vaccine 4 to 6 weeks after their first dose.

With the Government’s rollout of a third ‘booster’ dose, it may be that the rules as to what persons are considered ‘fully vaccinated’ are updated in the near future.

While we have provided a summary of the current health advice above, the government vaccination guidelines are regularly updated and we recommend that you rely upon current government sources when making decisions about vaccinating your children. 

Does my child have to be vaccinated to attend school?

Presently at the time of this article’s publication, the Queensland Government is not mandating that children be vaccinated to attend school. The Government has, however, recently introduced mask mandates in secondary schools. Please note that the Government’s health directives can change at any time and we refer you to the Queensland Health website to get up to date information.

Do I need my ex partner’s consent before I vaccinate our child?

This will depend upon whether you and your former partner have joint parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility relates to long-term decision making for a child, including matters relating to their education, religion, name, changes to their living arrangements which makes it more difficult for them to see a parent and their health (which includes whether a child is vaccinated).

If there are no Court orders in place or the Court has ordered that you and your ex have joint parental responsibility, you are required to consult and make a genuine effort to reach agreement with your ex about whether your child should be vaccinated.

If the Court has ordered that you have sole parental responsibility for your child, you do not need your ex partner’s consent to vaccinate your child.

What should I do if my former partner and I cannot agree on vaccinating our child?

If you cannot reach agreement with your ex by talking to them or through correspondence, generally the first step will be to organise for an invitation to be sent to your ex-partner to participate in family dispute resolution (FDR).

If you have engaged in FDR (or alternatively FDR is not appropriate in your circumstances) and you are still unable to reach an agreement with your ex, the next step is to commence proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia where you can seek orders that your child be vaccinated.  

The Court has the power to order that a child be vaccinated, despite a parent’s objection to vaccination.

To support your position as to whether your child should or should not be vaccinated, medical evidence will need to be filed with the Court. For example, if you object to your child being vaccinated, it will likely be essential that you have appropriate evidence from your child’s medical specialist to show there is a medical reason why it is not in your child’s best interest. 

It is extremely important to seek advice from a family lawyer to ensure that you have put the appropriate evidence before the Court so that your application has the best prospect of success.

It should be noted that ultimately, the Court will make a decision based on what is in your child’s best interest. The current government advice is that anyone over 5 years old should get vaccinated. Unless there is a medical reason (such as an underlying health issue) as to why a child should not be vaccinated, it is unlikely that an application opposing vaccination would be successful and there may be costs consequences for parties who unreasonably oppose vaccination.

If you need any assistance in relation to vaccination of your child or any other parenting matter, you are most welcome to contact our Stephanie Barnes or Niki Schomberg to discuss.