By: Robert B. George, Esquire
As implementation of the vaccines for the COVID-19 virus is at the forefront of the efforts to fight this world-wide pandemic, there are other battles taking place around the United States, as well as at a local level here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, between parents that cannot agree on the propriety of their children receiving the vaccines.
In that regard, and while a great deal of discussion has arisen concerning the priority of vaccinating differing demographic groups in the United States, most experts appear to agree that vaccinating children is a low priority at this time as the impact of the virus on them appears 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.
Consequently and understandably, many parents are not in agreement with the propriety of having their child(ren) receive the vaccines, and are seeking legal advice on whether they have a right to object to their child(ren) being vaccinated. The question therefore being presented at this time is what happens under the applicable laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when one parent objects to vaccinating their child(ren)?
This issue/question is one that should be controlled under the applicable Custody Laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by what is known and referred to as “legal custody”, which is defined as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child(ren), including but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.” In most cases where parents are divorced or no longer living together, parents have Joint Legal Custody, which essentially means that the parents must reach an agreement on issues concerning major decisions on behalf of the child(ren), which would most certainly include vaccinations against COVD-19.
When parents are unable to agree, and assuming that they have joint legal custody as referenced above, the matter would have to be decided by the Courts, in which case the Judge would have to make a determination as to whether or not it is in the child(ren)’s best interest under the circumstances and after consideration of the applicable facts and circumstances for the child(ren) to be vaccinated over the objections of a parent. In essence, the Judge would be tasked with deciding whether the risks presented to the child(ren) by not being vaccinated are outweighed by the benefits of receiving the vaccination.
Accordingly, both parents should be prepared to present competent evidence, including relevant medical evidence, in support of their respective arguments in favor of or against vaccinating the child(ren). While not necessarily determinative, it would also be important to know whether or not the vaccination is required in order for the child(ren) to attend the public school, as well as any particular religious beliefs or affiliations on the part of the involved parties that might be relevant to the issue of vaccinations that might present a basis for a legal exemption.
The decision to vaccinate clearly raises interesting family law issues, and it is important that you consult with an attorney who has experience with such matters in order to know your rights and responsibilities.
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected].
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