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Over the past 14 years the number of children for whom parents have completed the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register Conscientious Objection Form has risen substantially.
What is the issue for family law?
It is becoming more commonplace for separating or separated parents to disagree on the issue of whether to immunise their children, or whether to continue to immunise their children once they have commenced the program of immunisation. A parental conflict over immunisation also comes into play when parents seek to travel with their children to a destination that carries a strong recommendation regarding immunisation against certain diseases.
If either parent files an application in the Family Court seeking orders that a child be immunised, or alternatively seeking an injunction preventing the other party from immunising a child the conflicted couple will find themselves before the Family Court.
What will the Court decide in situations where parents can’t agree on immunisation?
There have been a number of Family Court decisions in recent years dealing directly with immunisation in the context of an overarching parental conflict. The decisions in these cases provide very helpful guidance to parents who find themselves involved in proceedings over the issue of immunisation.
In Kingsford & Kingsford  the question before the Court was whether it was in the child’s best interests to continue to be traditionally vaccinated, or to continue to receive homeoprophylaxis. The court confirmed the approach – that the best interests of the child was the paramount consideration, but not the only consideration. The evidence presented found that the effectiveness of homeopathic vaccines in preventing infectious diseases had not been adequately and scientifically demonstrated. Further the Court stated that as the child was already 8 years old, the risk of her contracting vaccine preventable diseases was reduced but was not nil. Her Honour Judge Bennett did accept that both forms of immunisation carried some low level of risk, but found that the risk of harm of a traditional vaccination program was not so great as to outweigh the risk of infection.
Looking after the child’s best interests is paramount.
Family Court decisions on the issue of vaccination have considered it in the best interests of children to be vaccinated against preventable diseases with traditional vaccinations. Parents should therefore expect that future cases will result in orders for immunisation unless there is clear scientific evidence of an increased risk to a child from immunisation, and that evidence is before the court.