With the recent development of the COVID-19 vaccinations and distribution underway, we are anticipating some questions and co-parenting issues relating to this vaccine. As Chicago family law and divorce attorneys, we are making sure we can address any co-parenting disagreements that come up when we are faced with parents who disagree about vaccinating their children. This type of disagreement is not new, there are parents who have different views on childhood vaccinations, but COVID-19 had added an extra layer. Even if you are or have been against vaccinating your children, are you going to allow the COVID-19 vaccine?
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Are COVID-19 Vaccinations a “Substantial Change in Circumstances”?
In the event you have an Allocation or Custody Judgment that provides that one parent makes the medical decisions, and that parent has chosen not to vaccinate the children, COVID-19 raises the issue of a substantial change in circumstances where you may want to ask the court to modify that provision and allow discussion about the COVID-19 or allow the other parent, who does want to have their child receive this particular vaccination, make medical decisions. Parents may ask if they can modify their agreement to carve out specifically the issue of vaccines, and I say that is possible and may be the prudent thing to do.
COVID-19 Vaccine Not Yet Approved for Children
At this point, because the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children, there is no rush to have anything modified but it is time to talk with the other parent about your thoughts and concerns about the vaccine.
If you are in the process of negotiating a parenting agreement you can anticipate this and talk with your attorney about adding a provision about the vaccination. If you already have a parenting order in place you should review it and read the language regarding medical decisions. If you feel that you may need to ask the Court to modify the terms of the medical decision provisions, you will have to take all steps necessary per your agreement before you file something with the court. Often that is a communication requirement that you communicate your concerns to the other parent and if that does not resolve the issue then you move to mediation.
Putting your concerns in writing to the other parent addressing your thoughts and beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccine is a good first step. You may receive confirmation from the other parent with the same beliefs and concerns. If they have other beliefs and feel differently then it is a good time to get into mediation to discuss with a neutral party who will assist you in discussing this. If mediation fails to result in an agreement, then you may have to file a motion asking the Court to assist you with a modification of the terms due to this substantial change in circumstances.
There was a report done in Chicago by the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute in November of 2020 that revealed that nearly 7 in 10 parents said they were very likely or somewhat likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine for their children if one became available. The study also revealed that the pandemic on its’ own has not been a sufficient reason for parents to have their children vaccinated against the seasonal flu – if parents regularly provided their children with a flu vaccine it seems they may be more likely to agree that their children receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, if the parents did not take their children for an annual flu vaccine, COVID-19 has not changed their minds.
Dealing with the COVID-19 Vaccine and Moving Forward
The harsh reality is that we are going to be dealing with COVID-19 for a long time. It may not only be through the next year 2021 but may be for years. The COVID-19 vaccination may have to be given every year like the seasonal flu vaccine. Most of us are following the guidelines of the Central for Disease Control by staying home, washing our hands, wearing masks, and not gathering in groups. All of this helps keep the spread of the disease down. The vaccine would be another tool to control the spread of this disease. The more people that are vaccinated the closer we get to Herd Immunity. Herd Immunity curtails the spread of the disease when a high proportion of the population is immune to the disease. The more people who are immune to the disease the less it spreads.
The COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing the disease – a disease that has ravaged this country. Moderna has announced that it will begin testing its coronavirus vaccine in children between the ages of 12-17. It is also in the works to require a COVID-19 vaccine to fly – it may be that your passport will have a label or other indication that you have in fact been vaccinated.