Parents fighting over vaccine does harm to children: expert

Vaccines are safe and effective and people should not worry about giving them to their children.

However, withholding a child’s Covid-19 vaccine may not be as damaging as the parental discord the vaccine debate can produce, an Otago children’s specialist says.

The vaccine rollout for 476,000 children aged 5 to 11 began at 500 vaccination sites throughout New Zealand yesterday.

University of Otago bioethics senior lecturer Dr Janine Winters said parents whose views on vaccination differed should try to avoid escalating their disagreement.

"Parents should consider the effect their acrimony has on the child.

"The vaccine is safe and effective for children.

"But the chances of something bad happening to a 5- to 11-year-old without the vaccine are actually quite low.

"On the other hand, the harm a child suffers because his parents want to kill each other is very high," Dr Winters said.

The Medical Protection Society said parents disagreeing over their children’s medical care was a regular enough occurrence.

That was particularly the case when a couple was separated, the society said.

Jenny Beck Law founder Jenny Beck, of Dunedin, said a parent’s decision to vaccinate or not was a guardianship issue courts would be increasingly forced to deal with.

"We encourage parents to go through mediation and talk through their differences," Ms Beck said.

"Parents should take every opportunity to discuss this issue before going to court," she said, adding that they could take advantage of family dispute resolution, which sought to defuse conflict between legal guardians.

"Going to court can be very distressing," she said.

"You can’t control the judge’s decision."

If guardians could not come to an agreement, a parent might apply to the Family Court under the Care of Children Act 2004.

Ms Beck said the process could take four months, or longer, and included an application for a court appearance, a mediation hearing and finally a hearing before a judge.

Though their views were taken into account, children’s views were subordinate to their parents’, Ms Beck said.

Bioethicist Dr Winters said the debate about Covid-19 vaccination should not drive guardians apart.

"This is not the hill to die on," she said.



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