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Children ordered to receive MMR vaccination

Court orders that children must receive vaccination against their and their mother’s wishes

Mrs Justice Theis has ordered that two daughters, L, now 15 years and M, 11 years old, should receive the MMR vaccination against their own and their mother's wishes.

In F v F [2013] EWHC 2683 (Fam) the girls' father brought an application for a declaration and a specific issue order that his daughters both receive the MMR vaccination. The application was opposed by their mother.

The parents' marriage broke down in 2009 and they separated in January 2011. L had been inoculated, by agreement between the parents, soon after her birth. As a consequence of the great public debate that took place in 1998 about the MMR vaccine and the claims, published in The Lancet, which cast doubt on the vaccine's safety and the risks said to be attached to administering it, especially in regard to the possibility of autism, the parties decided, in consultation with their GP, that L should not receive her booster and M has had no vaccinations at all.

The father claimed that he was a reluctant participant in the joint decision not to inoculate. He said that he has become increasingly concerned that the girls have not been immunised and were not protected. He was, he said, concerned about the serious consequences of contracting measles, mumps and rubella. The need for the children to have protection had been brought into sharper focus following the recent outbreak of measles in Wales.

The girls did not wish to be vaccinated. The mother's objections were based on her concern about the side effects of vaccination (despite the discrediting of the claims in The Lancet); the change in the fathers' position (since she considered that they had agreed that girls should not be vaccinated; the impact of the vaccinations being undertaken against her daughters' wishes; and the fact that L was a vegan and her objection was based partly on the fact that the vaccine contained animal-based ingredients.

Mrs Justice Theis, having heard oral evidence from each of the parents and on behalf of Cafcass following interviews with the girls, decided that it was in the girls' best interests that each receive the vaccination.

In setting out her reasons, the judge said:

"Obviously in reaching this decision I am aware this is against the girls' wishes, but that it not the only factor. It is of course an important factor, particularly bearing in mind their ages but the court also has to consider their level of understanding of the issues involved and what factors have influenced their views. In this case I do not consider there is a balanced level of understanding by them of the issues involved, the focus has been on the negative aspects in a somewhat unfocussed way.

"The medical advice is for children to receive the vaccine even though it is accepted there are risks of side effects of the vaccine. The health risk of getting any of the diseases the vaccine prevents is clear. They are serious diseases that could have long term health consequences."

She added:

"Whilst I have carefully considered the effect on them of making a decision that does not accord with their wishes and feelings I am clear that the combination of the secure relationship they have with each parent and the responsibility on these parents to exercise their parental responsibility in the light of the court's decision will ensure that the consequences of the court's decision will be managed in a responsible way.... [T]hat is what parenting is about."

The judgment can be read here.

Nick Goodwin of Harcourt Chambers (instructed by Crisp & Co) represented the applicant father. Peter Mitchell of 29 Bedford Row (instructed by Ashfords LLP) represented the respondent mother.

13/10/13