The High Court has given the London Borough of Barnet permission to vaccinate a seven month-old boy despite his mother’s objections.
The local authority wanted to provide two vaccinations for the child, who was identified in the judgment only as ‘SL’. These were developed to ward off diseases which primarily affect young children. However the mother did not want SL to have them. She claimed that her other children had suffered negative reactions to their vaccinations which required hospital treatment.
Her legal team argued that “parents are accorded a significant degree of autonomy by the State” when it comes to decisions about vaccines for children. They also contended that the “risk of SL catching the diseases against which the vaccines protect is low”.
The London Borough of Barnet sought a declaration that SL’s best interests would be served by vaccination. They admitted that doing so “trespasses on the mother’s … right to respect for her private and family life” as set out by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although these decisions are “ordinarily a function of the exercise of parental responsibility”, the local authority insisted that “the risk[s] attendant on giving the vaccines to SL are outweighed by the risks of not giving them to him”.
Mr Justice MacDonald noted the detailed evidence provided by Consultant Paediatrician Dr Paul de Keyser Designated Doctor for Children’s Safeguarding in his “Response to Enquiry” as a result of which the court directed a jointly instructed expert report from Professor Kroll, Professor of Paediatrics and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Infectious diseases of Imperial College London and St Mary’s Hospital. The court was advised that the disease one of these vaccines protects against was “a rapidly progressive infection, hard to diagnose and treat in time to prevent permanent damage or, in some cases, death”. The other vaccine was designed to stop bacterial infections which “can cause a particularly severe, brain damaging form of meningitis, with about half of the survivors left with some form of disability”.
By contrast, the side effects of the vaccines themselves were “extremely rare … typically mild and self-limiting”. The professor concluded that there was no reason that SL should not receive the vaccinations.
The judge added that the mother had not provided enough evidence to suggest that the reactions her other children had to their treatments were as severe as she claimed. He said the balance or risk “plainly favours immunisation” and so he approved the local authority’s application. Mr Justice MacDonald therefore declared that “it is in SL’s best interests for the local authority to be given permission to arrange for him to receive” the two vaccines.
Read the full judgment here.
Photo courtesy of the Pan American Health Organization PAHO via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.