Ethos Winter 2022

Page 46

ETHOS . LAW SOCIETY OF THE ACT JOURNAL

Best interests

Family law disputes about Covid-19 vaccination Among the many additional challenges for seperated families during the Covid-19 pandemic was whether or not to vaccinate their children. Elizabeth Reardon discusses several cases where parents sought a judicial determination to settle their disagreement.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic brought about additional challenges for separated families already struggling with shared decision making and spending time arrangements in relation to their children. Covid-19 restrictions and state-based laws, which were inconsistent with existing parenting orders, along with parental concerns about containing the spread of infection, led to much uncertainty and in some cases, contravention of parenting orders and escalation of conflict. Canberrans and families living in the surrounding NSW region faced the same challenges as other ‘border residents’ all over the country — complying with parenting orders which required them to transport

46

children between residences across state and territory borders when the Government health directives prohibited such movement. In early September 2021, the Covid-19 vaccine became available to 12- to 16-year-old children in Australia. From 10 January 2022, vaccine availability was then extended to all children from the age of 5 years. Canberra had one of the highest rates and earliest uptakes of vaccination in the country,1 but not all parents were comfortable with their child receiving the new vaccine. Whether or not to vaccinate children added to the list of contentious issues facing a number of families. In some cases, parents who were opposed to having their children vaccinated against Covid-19, up to

the point of the pandemic, had been generally supportive of vaccination and had vaccinated their children in accordance with ordinary schedules. Of those parents who were specifically hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine, one of the primary reasons given for hesitancy was the lack of proven long-term data available on the safety of the vaccine and the question of whether there would be long term consequences as yet unknown. The known risks and acknowledged possible adverse side effects associated with the vaccine were also an overriding concern. Parents in support of having their children vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccine deferred to the advice of various departments of the Australian Federal Government,