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Following recommendations by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers, children aged 12 to 15 in England will be offered one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Consent from a parent, guardian or carer will be required before the vaccine can be given. In some cases, parents may not want their child to be vaccinated. But what happens if, contrary to their parents’ wishes, the child does want to receive the vaccine? 

The Vaccines Minister has said that in those circumstances there will be a meeting between the child, the parents and a clinician to discuss their views and any concerns of the parents and to explore whether agreement can be reached. If agreement is not possible, and the clinician deems that the child is competent to consent, the child will be able to overrule their parents’ wishes and receive the vaccine.  

The legal test to determine whether the child is competent to consent, known as ‘Gillick competence’ derives from a legal case in 1986, which established the principle that if a child under the age of 16 has sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand the nature and implications of a vaccine, including the risks, they are competent to consent.  

The health professional must be satisfied that the child understands the reason for vaccination, the risks, intended benefits and outcomes of the proposed vaccination and alternative options, including not having or delaying the vaccination. Where a child is considered Gillick competent then the consent is as effective as that of their parent. 

If parents wish to prohibit their child, who is Gillick competent, to consent to the vaccine, they would have to make an application to the family court for a prohibited steps order to stop their child from giving their consent. No such cases have been reported so far and it is likely to be very difficult to obtain an order in these circumstances. There would need to be very good medical reasons for why the child should not receive the vaccine and why their consent should be overruled. The family court is unlikely to be unwilling to make a prohibited steps order unless there is clear evidence that the child should not receive the vaccine, not least because the court will not want to be seen to encourage litigation between parents and their children. 

On the flip side, if parents would like their children to receive the vaccine, but their child does not agree, their GP is likely to want to discuss with the child what their reasons for refusing are. If the vaccine is not life-saving and the child is Gillick competent, though continues to refuse the vaccine, they probably will not have it. 

The above is for general information only and is not intended for application to specific cases. For further advice, please contact Helen Clyne at Debenhams Ottaway. 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.