Vaccination Dilemmas: What if my Co-Parent and I Disagree on the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Whether to vaccinate your minor children may or not be an issue for some couples, but in this time of the public health crisis brought about by COVID-19, it is becoming more and more of an area for disagreement for parents. Maybe you and your co-parent have had different views on vaccines since your child was born. Maybe the two of you have similar views on vaccines but feel differently about the COVID-19 vaccine specifically, regardless of which side of the issue you fall on. No matter what your family situation looks like, here are some best practices for dealing with differences of opinion when it comes to your child and the COVID-19 vaccine.

How to Come to an Agreement on the COVID-19 Vaccine for Your Child

For some couples, the issue concerning health care decisions may be covered in their separation agreement or court order. For example, either document may state which parent makes the decision or, even that the child’s doctor is responsible for making recommendations and that the parents will follow the doctor’s guidance when disputes occur.  That document would then be your hard and fast rule book for parenting decisions like this. If violated, you or your spouse can be sued in a court of law and face penalties. You can learn more about the process for enforcing a separation agreement here.

If the parents do not have an agreement, it may be best to seek help with their decision from the child’s pediatrician.  The treating pediatrician can explain the pros and cons of a particular vaccine. The doctor can also provide information about the vaccine and give recommendations.  Perhaps one parent just does not have enough information to make an informed decision. Additionally, parents may decide to both put their trust in a different reliable health source like the CDC. Some vaccines are not provided for children under a certain age, and there has not yet been a version of the COVID-19 vaccine approved for children. However, it is only a matter of time before it does and you will want to make sure you and your co-parent already have a plan in place ahead of time.

Some special considerations

One factor to consider may be a required mandate by educational institutions, clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities in which a child might be involved. If a factor like this is in place, you’ll either need to obey those requirements or prepare to go without them for your child. Be sure to weigh the risks and benefits with your child’s health, happiness, and education being at the forefront of your mind.

What about what your child wants?

Educational, mental health, and family law professionals suggest that parents should not ask the child in question about the vaccine or their opinions regarding it. Children should not be involved in this difficult, mature decision. When you have made a decision for your child, you can then sit them down and talk about that decision and discuss any fears they may have at that time. Your child trusts you to make sound decisions and to do what’s best for them.

Also, it is important to treat all children the same. The decision to vaccinate should be the same for all siblings and children. Ask your doctor regarding vaccination schedules for children of different ages.

What if we still disagree?

While parents may consider taking their disagreement to court, you may want to consider other options first. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed many of the cases being heard and the courts overall have become overloaded. Additionally, the time and money spent to argue a point like this before a judge would be astronomical. Parents should be aware that the courts are a last resort. A big legal battle between co-parents would likely increase the tension and stress for not just themselves but their children as well.  Some judges have even taken the position that they will not make a ruling on this particular matter.

One option outside of the courtroom is mediation. An experienced mediator can help you and your co-parent work through tough decisions and set up strict agreements like when to vaccinate your child and more to lead you to a solution with your children’s best interests in mind. Mediation is an unlicensed profession in North Carolina, so make sure you know what to look for in a mediator.

In some cases, it may be best to either leave all of the decision making on health issues to one parent or to your child’s medical professional. While you might believe you have a strong case and still want to argue it before a judge, there is not much history of judicial decisions to review on the matter when it comes to vaccinations. Thus, there is no legal precedent for judges to follow. As such, deferring all children’s medical judgments to the advice of a qualified doctor or pediatrician is often the best approach for making sure your children are safe and healthy.

Co-parenting takes cooperation, compromise, and commitment.  Remember at the end of the day that the goal for both parents should be what’s best for the child. By talking through your concerns with each other and bringing in a professional when necessary, parents can come together and make the best decision for their children’s health and welfare.