COVID Vaccines and Child Custody

December 28, 2020
Covid-19 Vaccine

With the FDA’s recent emergency-use approvals of two vaccines for the COVID-19 virus, a great deal of discussion has arisen concerning the priority of vaccinating differing demographic groups in the United States.  Experts all seem to agree that vaccinating children from COVID-19 is a low priority as the impact of the virus on children seem to be relatively minor.  In fact, the vaccine developed by Moderna only received emergency use approval for individuals over 18 years of age and the Pfizer vaccine for those over 16.  However, parents have already been reaching out seeking legal advice on whether, when a vaccine is approved for use in children, they have a right to object to their child being vaccinated.

Legal Custody Issues:

“Legal Custody” is defined as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.” Under Pennsylvania law, the decision by parents to provide vaccinations to their children is a matter of Legal Custody.    In most cases where parents are divorced or no longer living together, parents have Joint Legal Custody, meaning the parents must reach an agreement on issues concerning vaccinations.

If the parents agree to vaccination, there should be no issue in having it done once a vaccine becomes available to children.  However, a more difficult issue is where the parents disagree.  It can then become a matter to be decided by the Courts, and parents should be prepared to present competent medical evidence in favor of or against vaccinating the children.  In the leading case of H.C. v. J.C., the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the decision of a Lehigh County Judge allowing a father to have the HPV vaccine provided to his teenage daughters over the objection of their mother because father’s medical evidence was more convincing.

Currently, there is no mandate for COVID vaccination of children in order for them to attend public school.  If this changes, it would create a requirement for parents to vaccinate a child in order to attend, even if both parents disagreed with vaccination.  However, Pennsylvania Law does contain two major exceptions to vaccine requirements.  The first requires a medical report from a doctor that the vaccine “may be detrimental to the health” of the child.  The second is a religious or a firmly-held moral or philosophical objection to vaccination.

When navigating complex and new issues concerning the health of your child, receiving high-quality legal representation is important.  Consider contacting the experienced family law attorneys at Eckell Sparks today at 610-565-3700.