We previously issued a blog post titled “Vaccines and Divorce – Can I Have My Child Vaccinated without the Other Parent’s Consent?” Since that blog was released, a Washington County trial court judge issued a decision on the issue of vaccinating children when the parents disagree.
The Order was issued on August 18, 2021, in a divorce proceeding. In this case, the father supported vaccination for the children and the mother opposed it. Mother’s reasoning was focused on the lack of FDA approval and the lack of research demonstrating that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe, especially for children with special needs. Here, one of the children has a sensory processing disorder. Prior to this issue reaching the Court, the parties had worked with a Parenting Consultant, who had decided that the children must be vaccinated based on the recommendation of their doctor. The children’s doctor provided a letter stating that she recommended the oldest child, age 12, receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The younger child did not qualify yet due to his age. The Parenting Consultant then determined that the older child should be vaccinated immediately, and the younger child be vaccinated once the vaccine is approved for his age group.
Once raised with the Court, the Court applied the statutory best interest factors found in Minn. Stat. § 518.17 to make a decision. Some examples of how the Court applied the best interest factors to the issue include:
- The Delta variant is causing activities to become more limited. If the children are not vaccinated, they will likely be limited in the activities in which they can participate.
- It is unrealistic to expect that specific research about how the vaccine affects children with sensory processing disorders will be released soon.
- Asking the children themselves whether they want the vaccine or not is not appropriate given the children’s ages.
- Historically, the children receive their early-childhood vaccines. The majority of children in the United States also receive those vaccines, per the advice of medical professionals. The mother and father typically followed the advice of medical professionals, so each parent’s specific role in decision making on this issue is not as relevant as the recommendation of medical professionals.
- Not being vaccinated would result in social changes to the children’s school and community and will limit their opportunities, which could have negative effects.
- The children’s relationships with relatives could be impacted if they are not vaccinated, as they would present a greater exposure risk to their relatives.
The Court concluded that once the FDA gives final approval, the oldest child shall be vaccinated immediately. For the youngest child, the Court ordered that once the FDA approves the vaccine for their age group, the question shall be submitted to the child’s doctor, and if the doctor recommends the vaccine, then the child shall be vaccinated.
This is an entirely new application of the best interest factors, as the Covid-19 vaccine has much more controversy and hesitation than other vaccines. However, the reasoning outlined above provides guidance for how Minnesota’s courts are likely to treat this issue moving forward. If you are experiencing a vaccine disagreement with your co-parent, reach out to Heimerl & Lammers for assistance today at (612) 294-2200.