Children aged 12 to 15 will soon be able to access the coronavirus vaccine across the UK, with consent forms being sent to parents via schools.
It is hoped the first jabs in England would take place by 22 September, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said, while Nicola Sturgeon has said they will be rolled out “as soon as possible”.
But what happens if a child wants to have a vaccine, but their parent or guardian does not agree to it?
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has confirmed children will be able to have the jab against their parents’ wishes, but this will only be allowed following a meeting with a clinician.
“On the very rare occasion where there is a difference of opinion between the parent and the 12- to 15-year-old, where the parent for example doesn’t want to give consent but the 12- to 15-year-old wants to have the vaccine, then the first step is the clinician will bring the parent and the child together to see whether they can reach consent,” he told Sky News.
“If that is not possible, then, if the child is deemed to be competent – and this has been around since the ’80s for all vaccination programmes in schools – if the child is deemed to be competent, Gillick competence as it is referred to, then the child can have the vaccine.”
Children under the age of 16 are able to get some medical procedures without parental consent if they are deemed competent to make that decision on their own.
This is checked by the so-called Gillick test, which assesses whether a child under the age of 16 has sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand what is being proposed. The test was introduced after a mother, Victoria Gillick, lost her legal battle to prevent doctors prescribing contraceptives or giving advice on birth control to patients under 16.
Today, if a child is not deemed competent to give consent for themselves, consent must be sought from a person with parental responsibility. But if they are deemed competent, medications – whether that’s the contraceptive pill or the Covid vaccine – can be provided.
There’s no set questions to assess Gillick competency, but professionals need to consider several things when assessing a child’s capacity to consent, according to NSPCC. These include:
the child’s age, maturity and mental capacity
their understanding of the issue and what it involves - including advantages, disadvantages and potential long-term impact
their understanding of the risks, implications and consequences that may arise from their decision
how well they understand any advice or information they have been given
their understanding of any alternative options, if available
their ability to explain a rationale around their reasoning and decision making.
Asked about a 12-year-old potentially taking up their offer of a jab if their parent had not consented, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable about that.
“I think we have to be really careful that we go by the law, and the law clearly states that the child and parent should try to come to an agreed conclusion.
“But if the child wants to go ahead or doesn’t want to go ahead and the parent feels absolutely the opposite, then the clinician involved in administering the vaccine needs to be absolutely sure that the child is competent to make that decision.
“There will be a grade of competency from the age of 16 downwards, so 14 to 15-year-olds may be deemed competent to make that decision on their own, (but) it’s less likely that a 12 or 13-year-old will be deemed competent.”
Zahawi insisted this dilemma would only exist in “very rare occasions”.
“It is very important to remember that the School Age Immunisation Service is incredibly well equipped to deal with this,” he said. “Clinicians are very well versed in delivering vaccinations to 12 to 15-year-olds in schools.”